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Friday, February 7, 2014

Snowden Docs: British Spies Used Sex and 'Dirty Tricks' - NBC

By Matthew Cole, Richard Esposito, Mark Schone and Glenn Greenwald, Special Contributor 

British spies have developed “dirty tricks” for use against nations, hackers, terror groups, suspected criminals and arms dealers that include releasing computer viruses, spying on journalists and diplomats, jamming phones and computers, and using sex to lure targets into “honey traps.”

Documents taken from the National Security Agency by Edward Snowden and exclusively obtained by NBC News describe techniques developed by a secret British spy unit called the Joint Threat Research and Intelligence Group (JTRIG) as part of a growing mission to go on offense and attack adversaries ranging from Iran to the hacktivists of Anonymous. According to the documents, which come from presentations prepped in 2010 and 2012 for NSA cyber spy conferences, the agency’s goal was to “destroy, deny, degrade [and] disrupt” enemies by “discrediting” them, planting misinformation and shutting down their communications.

Both PowerPoint presentations describe “Effects” campaigns that are broadly divided into two categories: cyber attacks and propaganda operations. The propaganda campaigns use deception, mass messaging and “pushing stories” via Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and YouTube. JTRIG also uses “false flag” operations, in which British agents carry out online actions that are designed to look like they were performed by one of Britain’s adversaries.

In connection with this report, NBC is publishing documents that Edward Snowden took from the NSA before fleeing the U.S., which can be viewed by clicking here and here. The documents are being published with minimal redactions.

The spy unit’s cyber attack methods include the same “denial of service” or DDOS tactic used by computer hackers to shut down government and corporate websites.

Other documents taken from the NSA by Snowden and previously published by NBC News show that JTRIG, which is part of the NSA’s British counterpart, the cyber spy agency known as GCHQ, used a DDOS attack to shut down Internet chat rooms used by members of the hacktivist group known as Anonymous.

Civil libertarians said that in using a DDOS attack against hackers the British government also infringed free speech by individuals not involved in any illegal hacking, and may have blocked other websites with no connection to Anonymous. While GCHQ defends the legality of its actions, critics question whether the agency is too aggressive and its mission too broad.

Eric King, a lawyer who teaches IT law at the London School of Economics and is head of research at Privacy International, a British civil liberties advocacy group, said it was “remarkable” that the British government thought it had the right to hack computers, since none of the U.K.’s intelligence agencies has a “clear lawful authority” to launch their own attacks.

“GCHQ has no clear authority to send a virus or conduct cyber attacks,” said King. “Hacking is one of the most invasive methods of surveillance.” King said British cyber spies had gone on offense with “no legal safeguards” and without any public debate, even though the British government has criticized other nations, like Russia, for allegedly engaging in cyber warfare.

But intelligence officials defended the British government’s actions as appropriate responses to illegal acts. One intelligence official also said that the newest set of Snowden documents published by NBC News that describe “Effects” campaigns show that British cyber spies were “slightly ahead” of U.S. spies in going on offense against adversaries, whether those adversaries are hackers or nation states. The documents also show that a one-time signals surveillance agency, GCHQ, is now conducting the kinds of active espionage operations that were once exclusively the realm of the better-known British spy agencies MI5 and MI6. READ MORE >