In the last few years, we have seen the Indian State increase its electronic footprint. With the advent of GSM-mobile telephony, snooping and listening to conversation has become even more easier.
But if you have been a 2ndlooker, this issue of the Snooping and Sneaking State and all its international dimensions has been covered in the last 30 months. Anecdotes and factoids apart, for 2ndlookers, these posts from the The Hindu will be another installment.
In March 1950, the National Security Council of the United States of America issued a top-secret directive that, in ways few people fully understood then or since, transformed our world. “The special nature of Communications Intelligence activities,” it reads, “requires that they be treated in all respects as being outside the framework of other or general intelligence activities. Orders, directives, policies or recommendations of the Executive Branch relating to the collection, production, security, handling, dissemination or utilisation of intelligence and/or classified material shall not be applicable to Communications Intelligence activities.”
Less than two decades after that directive was signed, the U.S. controlled the most formidable system of surveillance the world has ever seen: satellites and listening posts strung across the planet picked up everything from radio-telephone conversations from cars in Moscow to transatlantic telephone conversations and data on India’s nuclear programme. Known as Echelon, the system provided the western powers with an unprecedented information edge over their adversaries.
From data obtained by WikiLeaks, working with an international consortium of media organisations, including The Hindu, and other partners, we have the first real public domain insights into how much more advanced — and how much more widely available — this surveillance system has become.
The South African firm Vastech, for example, offers systems that can capture data flowing across telecommunications and internet networks in multiples of ten gigabites, and scan it for pre-determined parameters — the voice of an individual; a particular language; a phone number; an e-mail address. The Indian companies, Shoghi and ClearTrail, The Hindu found, market systems that can capture giant volumes of traffic from mobile phone and satellite networks and subject it to similar analysis. France’s Amesys is among several companies to have provided equipment like this to states like Libya — enabling their parent state access to the buyer’s own communications, through electronic back-doors, but at the price of allowing them to spy on dissidents, with often horrific consequences. (via The Hindu : Opinion / Op-Ed : The art and science of communications intelligence).
In the summer of 1999, an officer at a Research and Analysis Wing communications station in western India flipped a switch, and helped change the course of the Kargil conflict. RAW’s equipment had picked up Pakistan’s army chief and later military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, speaking to his chief of staff, General Muhammad Aziz, from a hotel room in Beijing. “The entire reason for the success of this operation,” the RAW officer heard General Aziz saying on May 29, 1999, “was this total secrecy.” He probably smiled.
For the first time, India had hard evidence that Pakistan’s army, not jihadists, had planned and executed a war that had brought two nuclear-armed states to the edge of a catastrophic confrontation. RAW’s computers established that the voices were indeed those of Generals Musharraf and Aziz, pinpointed their locations – and undermined Pakistan’s diplomatic position beyond redemption.
India’s strategic community finally awoke to the possibilities of modern communications intelligence, and unleashed a massive effort to upgrade the country’s technical capabilities. A new organisation, the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), was set up; scientists in the Indian Institutes of Technology were tapped, and quiet efforts to acquire technology worldwide were initiated.
Late into the night the 26/11 attacks began in Mumbai, that investment paid off: equipment flown in from New Delhi by the Intelligence Bureau allowed investigators to intercept the assault team’s communications with the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s headquarters in Pakistan. Police forces across the country have since scrambled to purchase similar equipment, making India one of the largest markets for global vendors.
But this isn’t good news: India has no appropriate legal framework to regulate its vast, and growing, communications intelligence capabilities. There is almost no real institutional oversight by political institutions like Parliament — which means there is a clear and imminent danger that the technology could undermine the very democracy it was purchased to defend. (via The Hindu : News / National : The government’s listening to us).
Earlier this year, as Islamist-led Libyan insurgents swept into Tripoli, fascinating new insights emerged into how Muammar Qadhafi’s regime had used state-of-the-art communications intelligence equipment to shore up the murderous dystopia he had built.
The French firm Amesys, documents first reported by The Wall Street Journal showed, had supplied the regime with capabilities to intercept electronic traffic involving Libyan dissidents half-way across the world. The documents — in essence, operator training manuals — contained a list of targets, which had been redacted. But Owni, a, a French media group that partnered with The Hindu in the WikiLeaks-Spy Files investigation, succeeded in using electronic means to recover the data. (via The Hindu : News : How technology helped build a dystopia).
Mr. Assange warned that with entire populations being subjected to surveillance nobody anywhere in the world was safe anymore.
“In traditional spy stories, intelligence agencies like MI5 bug the phone of one or two people of interest. In the last 10 years systems for indiscriminate, mass surveillance have become the norm. Intelligence companies such as VASTech secretly sell equipment to permanently record the phone calls of entire nations. Others record the location of every mobile phone in a city, down to 50 metres. Systems to infect every Facebook user, or smart-phone owner of an entire population group are on the intelligence market,” said a statement on official WikiLeaks Spy Files site. (via The Hindu : News / International : Big Brother is everywhere now).