Jerry Jackson

Posts Tagged ‘Surveillance’

Desperately seeking the CIA’s secret house

In Military, Osama Bin Laden, Police State, Society, World News on May 7, 2011 at 8:10 pm


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A still of 2004 Osama bin Laden video

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It was some time after Friday prayers, and in Mohammad Umar‘s barber shop a crowd had gathered to wait for a trim, hide from the rain and share the latest gossip. There was plenty to talk about.

The latest piece of news at the end of a week in which it had been revealed Osama Bin Laden had practically been their neighbour, was that a covert CIA surveillance team had also lived among them, unnoticed and unknown. Nobody was inclined to believe either proposition could be true.

“We have been living here for such a long time, so we know everything. We have been here and we have never seen such people,” claimed shopkeeper Kurram Khan, above the gentle chatter of a radio and the noise of scissors snipping through hair.

US officials have revealed that in addition to whatever satellite wizardry they employed to monitor Bin Laden, the al-Qa’ida leader had for months also been under surveillance from a team of agents, who rented a house close to his and monitored his compound using telephoto lenses, listening equipment and infra-red imaging equipment designed to look for possible escape tunnels that may have been built beneath the three-storey property.

One report in an US newspaper said the surveillance effort was so extensive and costly the CIA had to go to Congress late last year and ask for millions of dollars of additional funds for the project. The surveillance team, operating from behind tinted windows, was reportedly put in place last summer and stayed until the operation by Navy Seals to capture or kill Bin Laden.

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“The CIA’s job was to find and fix,” an unidentified US official told The Washington Post. “The intelligence work was as complete as it was going to be, and it was the military’s turn to finish the target.”

The surveillance team apparently spotted a man taking regular walks through the compound’s courtyard and because of that he was given the name “the pacer”, though they were never able to confirm he was Bin Laden. If it was, then he was lucky for the opportunity to get some fresh air: it was reported yesterday that one of Bin Laden’s wives, Amal Ahmed Abdullfattah, told Pakistani investigators she had been at the compound for five years, during which time she had never left the upper floors.

So in which house in the Thanda Choha neighbourhood might a CIA surveillance team have been able to go about its business? As the rain worsened and started to turn the narrow lanes into thick mud, The Independent unfurled its umbrella and went in search.

One house that seemed to have a good location and was high enough to provide a decent view of the back of the Bin Ladens’ compound was owned by the family of Waqas Abbassi. Things got more exciting when he revealed that, until quite recently, the upstairs floor had been occupied by a family of Pashtun-speaking Afghans. Could they have been CIA operatives? Perhaps, but after clambering to the upstairs room, hopes were somewhat dashed when it was revealed there was only one small window, and it did not look out over the compound.

Last night suspicion fell on a cream-coloured property with a clear view of Bin Laden’s compound and large windows looking towards the green, double gates of his building. However, the property remains inside a police cordon that Pakistani officials are enforcing around the al-Qa’ida leader’s compound.

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For now, the CIA’s latest secret may remain that for a while longer.


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The Fourth Amendment is Going Dark

In Internet Censorship on February 19, 2011 at 4:42 pm


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FBI Badge & gun.

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In 1994 the FBI decided it needed a surveillance system built into the telephone network to enable it to listen to any conversation with the flip of a switch. Congress obliged by passing the Communication Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), forcing the telecoms to rebuild their networks to be “wiretap ready.” Seventeen years later, law enforcement is asking to expand CALEA to include the Internet, claiming that its investigative abilities are “going dark” because people are increasingly communicating online.

The parameters of this proposal are very unclear, but some scary ideas have been bandied around.

Expanding CALEA would force companies to re-engineer all of their communications software to have a surveillance back door that could be easily accessed by law enforcement. This back door would apply to every form of peer-to-peer communication; from email, to social networking, to video games. The government would have to get a search warrant to utilize the back door, but imagine a world where the government required every home to be built with cameras and microphones pre-installed. Even knowing they could only be “tapped” after probable cause was established, how comfortable would you be?
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Then there is the message this would send to the rest of the world. If this comes to pass, other governments — including repressive regimes like China and Iran — could follow suit, justifiably claiming they were just following our lead. We have seen the role the Internet can play in human rights movements, such as the Green Revolution and the recent demonstrations in Egypt. These would not have been possible if the Internet did not allow for private and anonymous communication.

Nor is it clear this is necessary. Current law provides more than sufficient means for law enforcement to demand assistance of anyone — from a landlord to an internet service provider — in executing a wiretap order. Any company that refused to comply could be held in contempt of court.

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Applying CALEA to online communications would be a sweeping expansion of law enforcement surveillance powers that is unnecessary and chills our First and Fourth Amendment rights. Many of the civil liberties benefits of the Internet — ability to read provocative materials, associate with non-mainstream groups, and voice dissenting opinions — are based on the assumption of practical anonymity. If a surveillance structure is built into the Internet, individuals will lose the freedom and openness that has allowed the Internet to thrive.

Tell Congress to oppose any effort to make the Internet wiretap ready.

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