Last night I got a news push from the Washington Post. It took me more than a second to let the news sink in. You see, I have been advocating Common Cyber Sense for a while and apart from the odd General being ignorant beyond belief, I expected for the most that certain players in the SIGINT game would have their ducks in a row. Yet, the opposite seems to be true when we see ‘NSA contractor charged with stealing top secret data‘ (at https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/government-contractor-arrested-for-stealing-top-secret-data/2016/10/05/99eeb62a-8b19-11e6-875e-2c1bfe943b66_story.html), the evidence becomes blatantly obvious that matters in the SIGINT industry are nowhere near as acceptable as we think they are. The quote “Harold Thomas Martin III, 51, who did technology work for Booz Allen Hamilton, was charged with theft of government property and unauthorized removal and retention of classified materials, authorities said. According to two U.S. officials familiar with the case, he is suspected of “hoarding” classified materials going back as far as a decade in his house and car, and the recent leak of the hacking tools tipped investigators to what he was doing“, so between the lines we read that it took a mistake after a decade for the investigators to find out? No wonder the NSA is now afraid of the PLA Cyber Division!
In this light, not only do I get to tell you ‘I told you so‘, I need to show you a quote from July 1st 2013, where I wrote “So if we consider the digital version, and consider that most intelligence organisations use Security Enhanced Unix servers, then just accessing these documents without others knowing this is pretty much a ‘no no’. EVEN if he had access, there would be a log, and as such there is also a mention if that document was copied in any way. It is not impossible to get a hold of this, but with each document, his chance of getting caught grows quicker and quicker“, so I questioned elements of the Edward Snowden case, because my knowledge of Security Enhanced Unix servers, which is actually an NSA ‘invention’, now it seems to become more and more obvious that the NSA has no flipping clue what is going on their servers. They seem to be unaware of what gets moved and more important, if the NSA has any cloud coverage, there is with this new case enough doubt to voice the concern that the NSA has no quality control on its systems or who gets to see data, and with the involvement of a second Booz Allen Hamilton employee, the issue becomes, have they opened up the NSA systems for their opponents (the PLA Cyber division being the most likely candidate) to currently be in possession of a copy of all their data?
If you think I am exaggerating, then realise that two people syphoned off terabytes of data for the term of a decade, and even after Snowden became visible, Harold Thomas Martin III was able to continue this for an additional 3 years, giving ample worry that the NSA needs to be thoroughly sanitised. More important, the unique position the NSA had should now be considered a clear and present danger to the security of the United States. I think it is sad and not irony that the NSA became its own worst enemy.
This is seen not in just the fact that Harold Thomas Martin III moved top secret data home, whilst he was at work a mere FSB or PLA intern could just jimmy the front door and copy all the USB devices. So basically he was potentially giving away data on Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) systems, which would be nice for the PLA Cyber Unit(s), as they did not have the capacity to create this themselves. So whilst they were accused for allegedly trying to get a hold of data on the laptop of Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez (2008), they possibly laughed as they were just climbing into a window and taking all day to copy all the sweet classified data in the land (presumption, not a given fact). So he in equal measure pissed off the US, India and Russia. What a lovely day that must have been. In that regard, the Affidavit of Special Agent Jeremy Bucalo almost reads like a ‘love story’. With statements like “knowingly converted to his own use, or the use of another, property of the United States valued in excess of $1,000“. Can we all agree that although essential and correct, the affidavit reads like a joke? I mean that with no disrespect to the FBI, or the Special agent. I meant that in regard to the required personal viewed text: “Harold Thomas Martin III, has knowingly and intentionally endangered the safety and security of the United States, by placing top secret information and its multi-billion dollar value in unmonitored locations“, I do feel that there is a truth in the quote “The FBI’s Behavioural Analysis Unit is working on a psychological assessment, officials said. “This definitely is different” from other leak cases, one U.S. official said. “That’s why it’s taking us awhile to figure it out.”“. It is my personal view that I agree with this, I agree because I think I speculatively figured out the puzzle. He was a reservist, Reserve Navy and a Lieutenant at 51. So the Navy might not see him as ‘full’ or ‘equal’, this might have been his way, to read these documents at night, knowing that they will never have this level of clearance for such an amount of Top Secret information. With every additional document he would feel more in par with Naval Captains and Admirals, he would feel above all the others and if there was ever a conversation with people who did know, he had the option to leave the slightest hint that he was on that level, perhaps stating that he was also an NSA contractor. He star would suddenly be high with Commanders and higher. It is a personal speculation into the mind of Harold Thomas Martin III.
When we look at 18 U.S. Code Chapter 115 – TREASON, SEDITION, AND SUBVERSIVE ACTIVITIES. We see at paragraph 2381 “Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States“, now if we see the following elements ‘giving them aid and comfort within the United States‘ and the other elements are clearly stated as ‘or’ a case of treason could be made. In my view a person like that was guilty of treason the moment Top Secret materials were removed or copied from there assigned location and without proper clearance moved to an unsecure location. As an IT person Harold Thomas Martin III should have known better, there is no case of presumption of innocence. The fact that I made a case that he might have a mental issues does not mitigate it in any way, to do this in excess of a decade and even more insidious to do this for years after Edward Snowden got found out is also matter of concern.
The NSA has a sizeable problem, not just because of these two individuals, but because their servers should have has a massive upgrade years ago, in addition, the fact that contractors got away with all this is in equal measure even more insulting to a failing NSA. I can only hope that GCHQ has its ducks properly in a row, because they have had 3 years to overhaul their system (so tempted to put an exclamation mark here). You see, we have all known that for pretty much all of us, our value is now data. No longer people, or technologies, but data and to see 2 cases at the NSA, what was once so secret that even the KGB remained clueless is now, what we should regard as a debatable place. This should really hurt in the hearts of those who have faithfully served its corridors in the past and even today. In addition, the issues raised around 2005 by the CIA and other agencies regarding the reliability of contractors is now a wide open field, because those opposing it and those blocking data integration are proven correctly.
This now gets us to a linked matter. You see, it is not just the fact that the government is trailing in this field, because that has been an eternal issue. The issue is that these systems, due to the likes of Harold Thomas Martin III and Edward Snowden could be in danger of intrusions by organised crime.
For those thinking that I am nuts (on the road to becoming a Mars bar), to them I need to raise the issue of USB security, an issue raised by Wired Magazine in 2014. The fact that the USB is not just used to get data out, if malware was added to the stick, if it was custom enough, many malware systems might not pick up on it and that means that whomever got into the house, they could have added software, so that on the next run to copy a project, the system might have been opened up to other events. There is no way to prove that this happened, yet the fact remains that this is possible and the additional fact that this was happening for over 10 years is equally disturbing, because it means that the NSA monitoring systems are inadequate to spot unauthorised activities. These elements have at present all been proven, so there.
I think it is time for TRUSIX to convene again and consider another path, a path where USB sticks get a very different formatting and that its embedded encryption require the user, the location and the hardware id to be encrypted within the stick, in addition the stocks need to work with a native encryption mode that does not allow off site usage. Perhaps this is already happening, yet it was possible for Judas tainted Highwayman Harold to walk away with the goods, so something is not working at present. I am amazed that a system like that was not in place for the longest of times. I certainly hope that Director Robert Hannigan at GCHQ has been convening with his technology directors. In addition that there are some from Oxford and some from Cambridge, so that their natural aversion to the other, will bring a more competitive product with higher quality, which would serve all of GCHQ. #JustSaying
The one part where this will have an impact is the election, because this has been happening during an entire Democratic administration, so that will look massively sloppy in the eyes of pretty much every one, too bad Benghazi emails were not left that much under the radar, because that could have helped the Clinton election campaign immensely. Still, there are technology and resource issues. The fact that Booz Allen Hamilton gets mentioned again is unfortunate, yet this should only be a partial focus as they have 22,000 employees, so statistically speaking the number of transgressions is in that regard insignificant. What is significant is how these two got vetted and passed all their clearances. In addition to this there is the issue of operation centres. You see, if there has been data breaches, have there been system breaches? The question derives directly from the fact that data was taken off site and there were no flags or alerts for a decade. So at this point the valid question becomes whether NSOC and NTOC have similar flaws, which now places US Homeland Security in speculated direct data dangers. My consideration in this regard came from earlier mentions in this article. If any US opponent has a clue in this regard, what would be the repercussions, in addition, the question (due to my admitted ignorance) would be, did Edward Snowden have any knowledge of Harold Thomas Martin III, if so, was this revealed in any conversation Snowden would have had with a member of the FSB (there is absolutely no doubt that they had a ‘conversation’ with Edward Snowden whilst he was in sunny Moscow. If so, what data dangers is Homeland Security facing? If data was copied, it is not impossible that data was moved. If that has happened, any data event with any specific flag?
Now the next example is purely fictional!
What if conditionally an <!important> (or whatever flag the NSA uses in their data sets) was added or removed? If it was used to give weight to certain data observations, like a cleaning pass, the pass would either be useless, or misdirecting. All possible just because Harold Thomas Martin III had to ‘satisfy’ his ego. This is not whether it happened or not, this is about whether it was possible, which would give added voice to the NSA issues in play and the reliability of data. This is a clear issue when we consider that false journalistic stories give way to doubt anything the journalist has written, any issue with a prosecutor and all those cases need reviewing, so do you think it is any different for IT people who have blatantly disregarded data security issues? This is not some Market Researcher who faked response data, this is collected data which would have been intervened with, endangering the people these systems should protect. As stated, this is speculative, but there is a reality in all this, so the NSA will need to sanitise data and sources from the last 10 years. There is no telling what they will dig up. For me it is interesting to see this regarding Snowden, because I had my issues with him and how he just got data away from there. Now there is a chance that the NSA gets to rename their servers to NSA_Siff_01 to NSA_Siff_nn, wouldn’t that be the rudest wake up call for them? I reckon they forgot the old rules, the one being that technology moves at the speed of your fastest employee + 1 and the human ego remain the most dangerous opponent when it involves security procedures.