MatrixLeaks: December 2013

FBI spying through a Web Camera



   - FBI has had secret webcam spying technology 'for several years'
   - Technique activates a webcam without turning on the recording light
   - The same malware has been used illegally by 'ratting' hackers


The US government has been able to secretly spy on its citizens through their computer’s webcams for several years, it has been revealed.

The FBI has long been able to activate a computer’s camera without triggering the ‘recording light’ to let the owner know the webcam is on, a former assistant director of its tech division has said.

Their usage of remote administration tools (RATs) comes to light as the world's most powerful technology firms call on Barack Obama to curb government spying on internet users.

Eye spy: The FBI can activate a computer¿s camera without letting the owner know it is recording, a former employee has revealed

The FBI have been able to use the spyware technology for years and have put it in place in terrorism cases or the most serious criminal investigations, Marcus Thomas, former assistant director of the FBI’s Operational Technology Division in Quantico, told the Washington Post.

Although the FBI reportedly uses 'ratting' sparingly, they have been rejected remotely activating video feeds on at least one occasion, in Houston, Texas, in December last year.

The FBI were investigating a suspect in a bank fraud case, but the presiding judge ruled that the risk of accidentally obtaining information of innocent people was too great.

Hacking into webcams using remote administration tools, also known as ‘ratting’, to spy on women and ‘enslave’ them by controlling their computers and secretly filming and taking pictures is not a new phenomenon but has grown in the past year.

Earlier this year, tech site Arstechnica revealed that one of the 'slave forums' had 23 million total posts, where ‘ratters’ boasted about their ‘slaves’ posting pictures, mainly of women, unaware that they were being watched.

The FBI team use the same technique as ratters, by infecting the computer with a malicious software – ‘malware – through phishing.

By sending an email with a link, which could be to a website, an image or a video, the user is tricked into downloading a small piece of software onto their machine.

Once installed, the malware allows the FBI to take control of the computer and the webcam at any time, working similarly to the system large corporations use to update software and fix IT problems.

Here's looking at you, kid: The malware is activated by emailing a link which tricks the computer user to download a spying software onto their machine

‘We have transitioned into a world where law enforcement is hacking into people’s computers, and we have never had public debate,’ Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union told the Post.

‘Judges are having to make up these powers as they go along.’

Earlier today, CEO’s of Apple, Facebook, Google, AOL, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo united to call on the US government to cease online spying on its citizens.

The open letter to the President and Congress reads: 'We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But this summer's revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide.

'The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual - rights that are enshrined in our Constitution. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It's time for change.

The rare show of unity by usually fierce competitors is seen as a reflection of the damage in public confidence inflicted by leaks from Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower.

Earlier this year he revealed how U.S. and British spy agencies were able to harvest huge amounts of data - including emails and search history - on millions of people by tapping into internet servers.






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Apartheid Amnesia



   How the GOP conveniently forgot about its role in propping up a white supremacist regime

On Nelson Mandela's 95th birthday, the world is celebrating the former South African president and cheering for his recovery. The U.S. Congress even managed a rare display of bipartisanship for the occasion, with members of both parties taking turns to laud Mandela as they stood in front of the Statue of Freedom in Emancipation Hall. "At times it can almost feel like we are talking about an old friend," said Rep. John Boehner (R-OH.) "He never lost faith in the strength of the human spirit," added Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).Today, Nelson Mandela is a celebrated elder statesman that both Democrats and Republicans heap praise on.

This wasn't always the case. When Mandela was imprisoned and struggling to end apartheid, the Republican Party -- through the policies of the Reagan administration and the work of party activists -- opposed U.S. sanctions against the white supremacist regime. Though they didn't support apartheid by any means, they turned a blind eye towards the cruelty of the system and failed to support Mandela in his time of greatest need. Today, Republicans will cheer on Mandela, but the Republican Party's historical relationship with South Africa, and Mandela in particular, exposes a sad chapter in the history of the American right.


In 1985, Mandela's 22nd year in prison, then South African President P.W. Botha gave a speech affirming apartheid's rejection of "one-man-one-vote" and defending Mandela's imprisonment. The infamous "Rubicon Speech" fueled ongoing rioting in South Africa and prompted the African National Congress (ANC), Mandela's party, to call for the United States to impose sanctions.

President Ronald Reagan and the American right were not sympathetic to that request. "Our relationship with South Africa ... has always over the years been a friendly one," Reagan said in a 1985 radio interview, rejecting any change in policy. Televangelist Jerry Falwell went one step further and visited South Africa the week after Botha's speech to insist that sanctions were opposed "in every segment of every [South African] community."

Right-wing ambivalence toward apartheid in the 1980s was a product of South African support for the United States during the Cold War. In 1969 and early 1970, President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, then national security advisor, formulated a policy of increased communication with and relaxed criticism of the white regime. The apartheid system was unlikely to change anytime soon, the Nixon administration thought, so there was little point in pressuring a valuable ally who was working with the United States to contain Soviet influence in Africa.

When Reagan came to office in 1981, he launched a policy of "constructive engagement" with South Africa designed by Chester Crocker, his assistant secretary of state for African affairs. In line with Nixon's policy, constructive engagement was intended to deepen ties between the United States and the apartheid government in South Africa by prioritizing trade. Crocker was a true believer in the power of trade to open up the country to reform: It would eventually become too expensive to discriminate against blacks in the workplace, he thought.

Officially, the goal of the Reagan administration was to end apartheid. But its behind-the-scenes work revealed a startling degree of comfort with the South African regime -- or at least ignorance of how apartheid worked. For a July 1986 speech to the World Affairs Council in Washington D.C., Reagan rejected a moderate State Department draft and instead instructed his speechwriter, Pat Buchanan, to draft a version arguing that Mandela's African National Congress (ANC) employed "terrorist tactics" and "proclaims a goal of creating a communist state." (Buchanan later dismissed Mandela as a train - bomber and defended the hardline position.) Reagan himself never seemed to really understand the moral repugnance of apartheid. He  described the system in a 1988 interview with ABC's Sam Donaldson as "a tribal policy more than ... a racial policy."


While the Republicans were dragging their feet, the Democrats were leading the fight against apartheid. In 1985, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) went on a tour of South Africa that included a visit with Winnie Mandela to discuss her imprisoned husband. Upon his return, Kennedy introduced the Anti-Apartheid Act that eventually became law. In July 1986 hearings, then Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) thundered at Secretary of State George Shultz: "I'm ashamed of this country that puts out a policy like this ... I'm ashamed of the lack of moral backbone to this policy."

As it became clear that constructive engagement was failing, even moderate Republicans began to shift. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-KS) and Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) broke with Reagan and argued for a sanctions program. Eventually, in 1986, the Senate passed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act with enough votes to override Reagan's veto. "I think he is wrong," said Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), explaining his break with the administration. "We have waited long enough for him to come on board."

Reagan, however, was not alone. An expansive Republican network supported a hardline stance on South Africa. From the Heritage Foundation to Republican lobbyists to the televangelists leading the religious right, the Republican Party -- with a few courageous exceptions -- didn't think that ending apartheid was as important as maintaining economic relations with South Africa.

The conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation was the main source of intellectual fodder for this position. During the debate over sanctions, Heritage's director of foreign policy studies, Jeff Gayner, argued that the United States should "cease advocating the release of Nelson Mandela" because of his links to terrorism and communism. Michael Johns, the African and Third World affairs policy analyst at Heritage (who would later go on to be a leading spokesman for the Tea Party, carried on the fight even after sanctions had been passed, arguing that capitalism was "the most efficient and promising anti-apartheid program."

Lobbyists hired by the South African regime also played a role in the perpetuation of the idea of Mandela as a threat. These groups lobbied and publicly attacked politicians who opposed the South African regime's interests. Republican operatives Marion Smoak and Carl Shipley led an aggressive campaign in 1982 to defeat Rep. Howard Wolpe (D-MI) because of his support for sanctions. Later, Smoak and Shipley hired now-Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) as a lobbyist after he returned from his Mormon mission in South Africa.


Some of today's most recognizable political operatives also played a role in pushing the apartheid government's agenda. In 1985, following his term as national chair of College Republicans, Grover Norquist was brought to South Africa for a conservative conference, where he advised a pro-apartheid student group on how to more effectively make its case to the American public. While there, he criticized anti-apartheid activists on American college campuses: Apartheid "is the one foreign policy debate that the Left can get involved in and feel that they have the moral high ground," he said, adding that South Africa was a "complicated situation."

A young political operative named Jack Abramoff was also involved. From 1986 to 1992, South African intelligence services spent $1.5 million per year to fund the International Freedom Foundation, a lobbying group championing South Africa where Abramoff served as president. One of the group's missions was to delegitimize Mandela's ANC by linking it to Soviet communism. It was Abramoff who oversaw the full-page newspaper ads taken out by the organization attacking Mandela and who helped organize House committee hearings on the dangers of the ANC. When a 1995 Newsday investigation revealed the South African intelligence backing for the operation, Abramoff and advisory board members -- including Sens. Jesse Helms (R-NC) and James Inhofe (R-OK) -- pled ignorance.

But those who came closest to open support for apartheid were televangelists from the religious right. The socially conservative policies of the Afrikaans regime made South Africa a special cause for many televangelists. Jerry Falwell praised the "Christian country" for its abortion policy in the 1980s, and after his 1985 visit, called for "reinvestment" by U.S. companies and urged his followers to buy Kruggerand coins to help boost the South African economy.

Jimmy Swaggart, another popular televangelist, told his viewers that the conflict in South Africa was nothing less than a struggle between Christian civilization and the Antichrist. In his presidential campaign in 1988, televangelist Pat Robertson called advocates for sanctions the "allies of those who favor a one-party Marxist Government in South Africa." After his race ended, he became even more direct: "There needs to be some kind of protection for the minority which the white people represent now," he said in 1992. And in 1993, he said on his show, "I know we don't like apartheid, but the blacks in South Africa, in Soweto, don't have it all that bad." At a time when the Dutch Reformed Church, the traditional theological backer of apartheid, was reversing its position, the American religious right provided new religious cover -- and they made the case to millions of Americans who tuned into their shows.

When Nelson Mandela was freed from jail in 1988, Republicans tried to sweep their support for his erstwhile jailers under the rug. President George H.W. Bush hosted Mandela at the White House and praised him as "a man who embodies the hopes of millions." Mandela gave a speech to Congress at which the assembled legislators, including many who had once voted against economic sanctions, interrupted him with three standing ovations and 12 rounds of applause.

Today, leaders of both parties have once again cheered for Mandela. What he really could have used was their help when he was imprisoned on Robben Island, trying to end apartheid.






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WikiLeaks - Secret Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP)



   WikiLeaks releases draft of highly-secretive multi-national trade deal

Details of a highly secretive, multi-national trade agreement long in works have been published by WikiLeaks, and critics say there will be major repercussions for much of the modern world if it's approved in this incarnation.

The anti-secrecy group published on Wednesday a 95-page excerpt taken from a recent draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a NAFTA-like agreement that is expected to encompass nations representing more than 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product when it is finally approved: the United States, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, New Zealand and Brunei.

US President Barack Obama and counterparts from 11 other prospective member states have been hammering out the free trade agreement in utmost secrecy for years now, the result of which, according to the White House, would rekindle the economies of all of those involved, including many countries considered to still be emerging.

“The TPP will boost our economies, lowering barriers to trade and investment, increasing exports and creating more jobs for our people, which is my number-one priority,” Obama said during a Nov. 2011 address. The deal, he said, “has the potential to be a model not only for the Asia Pacific but for future trade agreements” by regulating markets and creating opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses in the growing global marketplace.


Upon the publication of an excerpt obtained by WikiLeaks this week, however, opponents of the act are insisting that provisions dealing with creation, invention and innovation could serve a severe blow to everyone, particularly those the internet realm.

Although the TPP covers an array of topics — many of which have not been covered by past agreements, according to Obama — WikiLeaks has published a chapter from a draft dated August 30, 2013 that deals solely on Intellectual Property, or IP, rights. Previous reports about the rumored contents of the TPP with regards to IP law have raised concern among activists before, with the California-based Electronic Frontier Foundation going as far as to warn that earlier leaked draft text suggested the agreement “would have extensive negative ramifications for users’ freedom of speech, right to privacy and due process and hinder peoples' abilities to innovate,” all of which is being agreed upon without any oversight or observation. Indeed, the thousands of words released by WikiLeaks this week has concreted those fears and has already caused the likes of the EFF and others to sound an alarm.

The IP chapter, wrote WikiLeaks, “provides the public with the fullest opportunity so far to familiarize themselves with the details and implications of the TPP,” an agreement that has largely avoided scrutiny in the mainstream media during its development, no thanks, presumably, to the under-the-table arguments that have led prospective member states to the point they’re at today.

Julian Assange, the Australian founder of the whistleblower site who has been confined to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for over a year now, had particularly harsh words for the TPP in a statement published alongside the draft release.

“If instituted, the TPP’s IP regime would trample over individual rights and free expression, as well as ride roughshod over the intellectual and creative commons,” Assange said. “If you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent; if you farm or consume food; if you’re ill now or might one day be ill, the TPP has you in its crosshairs.”

Within the IP chapter, the partaking nations in one excerpt agree to "Enhance the role of intellectual property in promoting economic and social development,” but elsewhere suggest that the way in which such could be accomplished would involve serious policing of the World Wide Web. Later, the countries write they hope to “reduce impediments to trade and investment by promoting deeper economic integration through effective and adequate creation, utilization, protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights, taking into account the different levels of economic development and capacity as well as differences in national legal systems.”


“Compared to existing multilateral agreements, the TPP IPR chapter proposes the granting of more patents, the creation of intellectual property rights on data, the extension of the terms of protection for patents and copyrights, expansions of right holder privileges and increases in the penalties for infringement,” James Love of Knowledge Ecology International explained after reading the leaked chapter. “The TPP text shrinks the space for exceptions in all types of intellectual property rights. Negotiated in secret, the proposed text is bad for access to knowledge, bad for access to medicine and profoundly bad for innovation.”


Opponents have argued in the past that stringent new rules under the TPP with regards to copyrighted material would cause the price of medication to go up: potentially catastrophic news for residents of member state who may have difficulties affording prescriptions. Public Citizen, a Washington-based consumer advocacy organization, has warned that US Trade Representatives privy to the TPP discussions have demanded provisions that “would strengthen, lengthen and broaden pharmaceutical monopolies on cancer, heart disease and HIV/AIDS drugs, among others, in the Asia-Pacific region.” Indeed, the leaked chapter suggests drug companies could easily extend and widen patents under the TPP, prohibiting other countries from producing life-saving pills and selling them for less. Outside of the world of medicine, though, the implications that could come with new copyright rules agreed upon my essentially half of the world’s economy are likely to affect everyone.


                                            Protests against the TTP in New Zealand

"One could see the TPP as a Christmas wish-list for major corporations, and the copyright parts of the text support such a view," Dr. Matthew Rimmer, an expert in intellectual property law, told the Sydney Morning Herald. "Hollywood, the music industry, big IT companies such as Microsoft and the pharmaceutical sector would all be very happy with this."

WikiLeaks wrote in response that the enforcement measures discussed have “far-reaching implications for individual rights, civil liberties, publishers, internet service providers and internet privacy, as well as for the creative, intellectual, biological and environmental commons.”


“Particular measures proposed include supranational litigation tribunals to which sovereign national courts are expected to defer, but which have no human rights safeguards,” warned WikiLeaks. “The TPP IP Chapter states that these courts can conduct hearings with secret evidence.”


According to the whistleblower site, the IP chapter also includes provisions that rehash some of the very surveillance and enforcement rules from the abandoned SOPA and ACTA treaties that were left to die after public outrage halted any agreement with regards to those legislation.


“The WikiLeaks text also features Hollywood and recording industry inspired proposals – think about the SOPA debacle – to limit internet freedom and access to educational materials, to force internet providers to act as copyright enforcers and to cut off people’s internet access,” Burcu Kilic, an intellectual property lawyer with Public Citizen, explained to the website TorrentFreak.

SOPA, or the Stop Online Privacy Act, was abandoned last year after massive public campaign thwarted the US Congress’ attempt to censor access to certain internet sites where copyrighted content may be incidentally hosted. One of the bill’s biggest opponents, Kim Dotcom of file-sharing sites Megaupload and Mega, was quick to condone WikiLeaks for their release of the TPP draft and condemned those responsible for drafting a bill that he warned would have major consequences for all if approved, including residents of New Zealand such as himself.

According to WikiLeaks, the Obama administration and senior heads of state from other potential TPP nations have expressed interest in ratifying the agreement before 2014. All of that could now be put in jeopardy.


Secret Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) - WikiLeaks - see here













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