HAVEN HELP US? Industrial-scale leaker and accused traitor Edward Snowden announced from his refuge in Russia last week that he has created a new phone app (appropriately called “Haven.”) The app is allegedly designed to protect laptop computers from physical tampering. Snowden claims the app will protect human rights activists and others by using Android phone sensors to alert them if someone tries to mess with their nearby laptop. Skeptics might think Snowden’s Russian protectors have put a backdoor in the app.
SAN FRANCISCO SPY NEST: A lengthy and intriguing story in ForeignPolicy.com recently relates the “Secret History of the Russian Consulate in San Francisco.” The Trump administration ordered the place shuttered back in August in retaliation for Putin booting 755 personnel out of U.S. diplomatic facilities in Russia. The article paints a picture of a spy hub that was busy exfiltrating sensitive information from Silicon Valley and elsewhere. TCB expert and former Russia-hand Steven Hall is quoted in the article, lauding the closure of the site. “Russia has a ‘long and successful record of using legal travelers’ for intelligence-gathering purposes,” Hall said. “`This ranges, for example, from someone who gets a visa to do a scholarly presentation to someone who says they want to visit Napa Valley on their vacation.’”
TELL US WHAT YOU REALLY THINK: A week ago, former CIA Director John Brennan had a Twitter account with zero tweets and a handful of followers to his credit. Then on Dec. 21, he posted a tweet criticizing the Trump administration’s reaction to the United Nations Security Council vote regarding Jerusalem. Brennan said the threats to retaliate showed that Trump “expects blind loyalty and subservience from everyone – qualities usually found in narcissistic, vengeful autocrats.” Less than a week later the tweet had been “liked” more than 76,000 times, retweeted 37,000 and Brennan had collected 60,000 followers.
TOUCHY, TOUCHY: The U.S. Navy blamed “an inadvertent keystroke” for a Christmas morning tweet that contained just the name: “Julian Assange.” For reasons still unexplained, Assange’s Twitter account disappeared briefly on Dec. 25, creating speculation among some folks that Santa had delivered the WikiLeaks leader a lump of coal. Someone on duty during the holiday in the Navy Office of Information’s “Digital Media Engagement Team” apparently engaged their Twitter finger too quickly and sent out Assange’s name, before quickly deleting the post. Not quickly enough, though — vigilant Twitter watchers grabbed screenshots of the two-word tweet. Some folks thought Navy personnel might have been the Grinches who stole Assange’s account. But apparently not – they were just noting that Julian was in the news.
BAD FORGERY: Speaking of the Navy, the sea service recently unveiled a new slogan: “Forged by the Sea.” The motto reportedly was the work of the Navy’s advertising agency, Young and Rubicam, and replaces the old “Global Force for Good” as catch phrase. In a press release, Navy officials said they tested the slogan with focus groups and that it was the unanimous choice (which makes you wonder how bad the alternatives were). What they didn’t adequately think through was the fact that “Forged by the Sea” was already a registered trademark owned by Alyson Pacini, a Cape Cod jeweler. The Navy tried to buy the trademark from her, but she declined. The Navy says it will keep using the phrase – they just won’t make any jewelry emblazoned with it.
POCKET LITTER: Bits and pieces of interesting/weird stuff we discovered:
- Not a creature was stirring: As Christmas approached, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, FBI Director Christopher Wray and NSA Director Michael Rogers issued a rare joint statement in support of the reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Near as we can tell, it got lost in the holiday cheer, with few mentions in major media outlets.
- Santa Baby: On Christmas Day, the Vice Media website “Broadly” published a story that reminded us that the late-singer Eartha Kitt, who recorded the tune “Santa Baby” in 1953, was the subject of CIA intelligence (or gossip) collection in the 1960s. A New York Times report in 1975 said that, after Kitt created a stir in the White House with anti-Vietnam war remarks during the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, the CIA circulated rumors that Kitt had “a very nasty disposition” and acted like “a spoiled child, very crude and having a vile tongue.”
NETWORK NEWS: Not a day goes by when members of The Cipher Brief Network aren’t making news. Here are just a few examples from this week:
- Failed Deterrence: Former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell and former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, writing in the Washington Post, said Russia has never stopped its cyberattacks on the U.S. “True deterrence requires policies that prevent adversaries from achieving their objectives while imposing significant costs on their regimes,” they wrote. “So far, [the U.S. has] done neither.” Morell also appeared on CBS News This Morning on Wednesday, talking about the many things the U.S. could be doing to defend against Russian meddling – things we are not doing now.
- What have we got to lose? Former senior CIA Russia-hand John Sipher was on PBS NewsHour, saying that Russian electoral attacks are not just about the past election, but “so far, the Obama administration and the Trump administration have not found a way to make it clear to Mr. Putin that there is a price to pay for this. And so, as there’s not a price to pay for him — something that threatens something that he cares about — it’s going to continue.”
- Talking about talking about talks: John McLaughlin, former acting CIA director, was interviewed on NBC Nightly News on Tuesday, regarding Russia’s offer to broker talks between the United States and North Korea. McLaughlin opined that it is in Putin’s interest to appear to be a statesman and that, if talks were initiated, they initially would be just “talks about talks.”
- Odds and Ends: Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander (and current Dean at the Fletcher School at Tufts) Admiral James Stavridis was on MSNBC Monday morning, applauding the Trump administration’s decision to finally provide lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine and laying odds on a conflict with North Korea, saying the U.S. faces a 10 percent chance of an all-out war on the Korean peninsula.
- Name checked in The Post: David Ignatius, writing in the Washington Post, cited The Cipher Brief in a piece about Iran’s cyber threat. The well-respected columnist mentioned a recent TCB article which reported that Iran cyber hackers are poised to strike if President Trump shreds the nuke deal.
WHAT’S ON THEIR NIGHTSTAND?
“Blood Profits is a new book published by St. Martin’s Press, written by Cipher Brief contributor and illicit trade expert Vanessa Neumann. She recounts her own education about illicit trade, including her first trip to Lebanon, where she boldly asked for an introduction to Hezbollah — and met them, among other unexpected adventures. She explains how consumers need to be aware that when they purchase illegal goods, that can translate to supporting organized crime and terrorists. The Venezuelan-born American also mixes in personal anecdotes from Caracas, and maps out what she contends is a Venezuelan state supported by narco-terrorism. The book is making major waves in the anti-Nicolas Maduro expat community in New York, Miami and D.C.” — Kim Dozier, Executive Editor of The Cipher Brief
SECURITY QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
“This is like a simmering pot. What’s going to happen is around the world, Palestinians who one day hope to have a country, other Arabs who thought the U.S. was a real backer, are going to express their frustration politically, but they’re also going to express it violently. It’ll simmer to a boil. I fought the Palestinian resistance groups when they were a serious issue, and they can be again.” – Cipher Brief expert Rob Richer on the Trump administration decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.