TIME intelligence

WikiLeaks Claims Afghanistan Under NSA Surveillance

The secret-spilling group says Afghanistan is the country The Intercept declined to name out of concern that doing so could stoke violence

The National Security Agency records every cell phone call in Afghanistan, claims the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, which named the country despite the fact that other news organizations did not out of concern that doing so could lead to violence.

The Intercept, a media organization founded by journalists with access to classified documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, reported Monday that the NSA records all cell phone calls in the Bahamas and one unnamed country. The Intercept chose not to release the name of the country, the outlet said in its report, due to “credible concerns that doing so could lead to increased violence.” WikiLeaks responded to The Intercept’s report by criticizing the decision to redact the country’s name and said it would do so itself 72 hours later.

That threat led many to wonder if it meant WikiLeaks has obtained access to documents leaked by Snowden or if someone with access to the documents gave someone at WikiLeaks the name of the country in question. As the leak site Cryptome noted earlier, it may be that WikiLeaks simply believes that the mystery country is Afghanistan given the already-public information available.

An earlier report on the documents from The Washington Post did not name any of the countries involved.

TIME intelligence

Bill Curbing NSA Passes House As Advocates Demand More

Boehner NSA Bill
Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, departs after speaking to the media after the House passed the USA Freedom Act, an NSA reform bill aimed at restricting access to American's phone records, at the US Capitol in Washington, May 22, 2014. Jim Lo Scalzo—EPA

Privacy groups unhappy with late changes pulled their support from the bill at the last minute

The House passed legislation Thursday to curtail the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ phone records, but the compromise bill left civil liberties groups and privacy advocates unhappy and vowing to fight for stronger reforms in the Senate.

The vote came a year after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden set off a global debate about American surveillance practices by leaking a trove of documents detailing them. Privacy groups pulled their support for the bill before it came to a vote, but it still passed 303-120.

“The House is the beginning of the conversation,” said Mark Jaycox, a legislative analyst with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “The House wanted to pass something quickly and as a result really watered it down. Now we’re at the Senate where we’ll have to present a stronger bill and where hopefully a stronger bill will move.”

In the days before the USA FREEDOM Act passed the House, support for the bill among the civil liberties groups and tech companies that once championed it all but vanished. Groups that had been lobbying hard on behalf of the bill for months, like EFF, The Center for Democracy and Technology, and the Reform Government Surveillance Coalition, a consortium on tech giants including Facebook and Google, all yanked their endorsements at the 11th hour. Reform advocates were steamed about tweaks made in committee that they felt unacceptably broadened the scope of who and what the NSA can monitor, and also by the elimination of a measure that would have created a privacy advocate on the secretive court that oversees the NSA.

“What happened was the bill changed at the last minute,” said Harley Geiger, senior counsel with the Center for Democracy and Technology. “It changed at the last stop before going to the house floor.”

Lawmakers who supported the measure took turns Thursday emphasizing that it would end the “bulk collection” of Americans’ communications. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), who chairs the House committee that deals with intelligence matters, called it a “sweet spot” compromise with “strong bipartisan” support. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said the bill had its shortcomings but was a step in the right direction.

“Let me be clear, I wish this bill did more,” he said. “To my colleagues who lament changes, I agree with you. To privacy groups who are upset about lost provisions, I share your disappointment. The negotiations for this bill were intense, and we had to make compromises, but this bill still deserves support.”

But advocates said the changes left too much open to interpretation and that courts could eventually gut many of the reforms.

“What they’re not doing is defining ‘bulk collection,’” Geiger said.

Amendments to the bill were not allowed as it went from the Rules Committee to a floor vote Thursday.

“All the House of Representatives got was an up or down vote on ambiguous reform on an issue that cause a bona fide international scandal,” Geiger said.

The bill will now go to the Senate, where it will be shepherded by one of its original proponents, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

“Today’s action in the House continues the bipartisan effort to restore Americans’ civil liberties,” Leahy said in a statement after the bill passed. “But I was disappointed that the legislation passed today does not include some of the meaningful reforms contained in the original USA FREEDOM Act. I will continue to push for these important reforms when the Senate Judiciary Committee considers the USA FREEDOM Act next month.”

Whether or not Leahy and his allies will be successful in reinserting some of the reforms that originally won civil libertarian support for the USA FREEDOM Act remains to be seen. The Senate has a stronger cohort of establishment Republicans than the House and fewer Tea Party conservatives whose small-government ethos clashes with the notion of expansive domestic surveillance. On the other hand, the measure will have a powerful ally in Leahy.

“At the end,” Geiger said, “it will come down to whether the senate wants to end mass surveillance or not.”

TIME intelligence

WikiLeaks Threatens To Reveal Unnamed Country From Snowden Documents

According to a new report from The Intercept, the NSA records every single cell phone call in the Bahamas and one unnamed country. WikiLeaks says it will name that country in just a few days.

WikiLeaks has threatened to unilaterally release the name of an as-yet unnamed country in which every cell phone call is recorded by the National Security Agency, despite the decision by other news outlets to withhold that information for fear of stoking violence.

That announcement comes after a war of words over Twitter between WikiLeaks and journalists at The Intercept, which reported Monday that the NSA collects cell phone metadata in Mexico, the Philippines and Kenya, and records and keeps for up to a month all cell phone calls in the Bahamas and one unnamed country. The Intercept declined to release the name of that country, the outlet says, due to “credible concerns that doing so could lead to increased violence.” The Intercept report is based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The Intercept is a media group launched earlier this year by a group of journalists including two of those originally granted access to the Snowden documents, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. The existence of this specific NSA recording program, code named MYSTIC, was previously reported by The Washington Post, which declined to name any of the countries involved.

WikiLeaks’ threat to publish the identity of the redacted country, if credible, suggests the organization has obtained access to documents leaked by Snowden or has been informed of the country’s identity by someone with access to the documents. Snowden has said he did not leak documents directly to WikiLeaks, but the key players in both organizations—Greenwald, Poitras, WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange—are well acquainted with one another.

According to the report, the NSA obtained access to the Bahamas’ cell phone networks by piggy backing on access legally obtained by the Drug Enforcement Agency, with the DEA’s cooperation. The Intercept declined to report the code name for a private firm that allows access to cell phone data in the Bahamas due to “a specific, credible concern that doing so could lead to violence.”

The program, codenamed SOMALGET, is part the NSA’s umbrella program MYSTIC, under which, The Intercept reports, the agency also collects metadata on the telecommunications of “several other countries, including Mexico, the Philippines, and Kenya,” similar to the telecom surveillance the NSA conducts in the United States.

Rather than the anti-terrorism work routinely used to justify the NSA’s surveillance activities, SOMALGET, according to NSA documents quoted by The Intercept, exists primarily as a part of the drug war to monitor “international narcotics traffickers and special-interest alien smugglers.”

In a statement to TIME, NSA spokesperson Vanee’ Vines did not deny the existence of the program but said, “The fact that the U.S. government works with other nations, under specific and regulated conditions, mutually strengthens the security of all.” Vines confirmed that the scope of the agency’s mandate extends well beyond counterterrorism efforts.

“The Agency collects data to meet specific security and intelligence requirements such as counterintelligence, counterterrorism, counterproliferation, cyber security, force protection for U.S. troops and allies, and combating transnational crime.”

TIME intelligence

Inside Putin’s East European Spy Campaign

Vladimir Putin Spy
President Vladimir Putin of Russia seen after a Supreme Eurasian Economic Council meeting in Minsk, Belarus on April 29, 2014. Mikhail Metzel—Itar-Tass/Landov

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s well-organized espionage operations from the Baltic Sea to the Caucasus are described as "soft power with a hard edge," but his efforts across the region have been more systematic than the unrest in Ukraine suggests

On Sept. 8, 2012, the Russian Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky participated in the opening of a Russian nationalist organization called the Izborsky Club in the monastery town of Pskov, just across the border from Estonia. His speech itself was not particularly memorable, but the Russian official’s presence at the affair was not lost on the Estonian Internal Security Service, which believes the club’s imperialist message and outreach to ethnic Russians across the border are part of an anti-Estonian influence operation run by Moscow.

The head of the club, Aleksandr Prokhanov, seemed to confirm the Estonian suspicions later that month when he declared, “Our club is a laboratory, where the ideology of the Russian state is being developed. It is an institute where the concept of a breakthrough is created; it is a military workshop, where an ideological weapon is being forged that will be sent straight into battle.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has many such weapons in his irredentist arsenal. The rapid collapse of the pro-Moscow government of Victor Yanukovich in Ukraine brought some of them, like paramilitary force, to the attention of the western public. But Putin’s efforts across the region have been far more systematic and carefully thought out than the recent chaos in Ukraine suggests. Over the last decade, Putin has established a well-organized, well-funded and often subtle overt and covert operation in the vast swath of neighboring countries, from Estonia on the Baltic Sea to Azerbaijan in the Caucuses, say western and regional government officials. “He’s implementing a plan that he’s had all along,” says Clifford Gaddy, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of a biography of Putin.

The operation has been described by local intelligence officials as “soft power with a hard edge” and includes a range of Cold War espionage tools. His Baltic neighbors say, for example, that he has deployed agents provocateurs to stir up their minority ethnic Russian groups which make up 25% of the population in Estonia and as much as 40% of the population in Latvia. They say he has established government-controlled humanitarian front organizations in their capitals, infiltrated their security services and energy industry companies, instigated nationalist riots and launched cyber attacks. The goal, says the Estonian Ambassador to the U.S., Marina Kaljurand, is “to restore in one form or another the power of the Russian Federation on the lands where Russian people live.”

The operation has the secondary, larger goal of undermining and rolling back western power, say U.S. and European officials. And while the greatest threat is to his immediate neighbors, his activities also challenge Europe and the U.S. All NATO countries have committed to each other’s mutual defense, which means the U.S. is treaty-bound to come to Russia’s NATO neighbors, like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, if Putin were to attack.

For now, Putin seems unlikely to risk a direct conflict with NATO. But his espionage efforts in relatively weak NATO countries can be as effective as military action. “If you look at the complex sort of strategy that Moscow has employed in Crimea and in Ukraine it becomes much less clear what constitutes an invasion or measures to destabilize,” neighboring countries, says Sharyl Cross, director of the Kozmetsky Center at St. Edward’s University. That uncertainty about what kind of invasion the Baltics might face could make a strong NATO response impossible.

That in turn, says former CIA chief John McLaughlin, could be even more damaging to the U.S. and Western Europe by fatally undermining one of the most successful peacetime alliances in history. “If he were to challenge NATO in some way that paralyzed us over an Article Five issue, that would be a dagger to the heart of the alliance,” McLaughlin says.

The espionage confrontation between Russia and its Western neighbors started with their independence back in the early 1990s, but it escalated in 2007. In one particularly bad incident, the Estonian government removed a statue of a Russian soldier from central Tallinn in April that year, sparking riots by ethnic Russians. In the wake of the riots, Amb. Kaljurand, who was then the Estonian ambassador to Moscow, was attacked in her car by a mob on her way to a press conference. Days later a massive Distributed Denial Of Service cyber attack was launched against the computer systems of the Estonian government and major Estonian industries. In private meetings with the U.S. Ambassador to Estonia, top Estonian officials said Russia was behind the organization and implementation of all the attacks, according to confidential cables sent to Washington by the U.S. embassy and published by Wikileaks.

The war in Georgia in August 2008, sharpened NATO’s focus on Putin’s threat. Russia declared it was protecting ethnic Russians from a hostile Georgian government, an assertion that was taken as a direct warning by other countries in the region with Russian minorities, including the Baltic States and Ukraine. Around the world, intelligence agencies noticed a shift in Russian behavior, according to other Wikileaks cables. In a meeting between a State Department intelligence officer and his counterpart from the Australian government in Canberra in mid-November 2008, for example, the Australian warned the U.S. that Russia was launching a regional program to destabilize its neighbors and advance its interests. In a secret cable back to Washington, the State official said his Australian counterpart “described the Baltic states and Ukraine as ‘countries that are in Russia’s sights,’ with the dangerous similarities in Moscow’s view of the ethnically Russian population and strategic geography of Crimea to those which motivated its recent actions against Georgia.”

In response to the war in Georgia, the U.S. agreed for the first time that NATO should draw up contingency plans to respond to a Russian attack against the Baltic states. The alliance set about expanding plans known as Operation Eagle Guardian, which were developed to defend Poland, to include Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Russia for its part also stepped up its game. Putin encouraged the Russian parliament to pass a law authorizing him to intervene in other countries to protect ethnic Russians. More subtly, in 2008, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs established a national agency dedicated to advancing Russian interests especially in the former Soviet Union, now known as the Commonwealth of Independent States, and to engaging with and organizing what Moscow calls “compatriots living abroad.” Called Rossotrudnichestvo, the agency performs a variety of traditional cultural roles at embassies around the world. It also helps organize local ethnic Russian groups abroad in ways that unsettle host governments.

According to a report by the Estonian security services, membership in one local ethnic Russian group in Estonia, “Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots” is approved by the Russian Embassy and its activities are guided by the embassy. The purpose of the group “is to organize and coordinate the Russian diaspora living in foreign countries to support the objectives and interests of Russian foreign policy under the direction of Russian departments,” according to the most recent report of the Estonian Internal Security Service. “The compatriot policy aims to influence decisions taken in the host countries, by guiding the Russian-speaking population, and by using influence operations inherited from the KGB,” the report says.

Last October, Mother Jones magazine said the FBI had interviewed Americans who had accepted travel stipends from the office of Russotrudnichestvo in Washington as part of an investigation into potential spying by the Russian agency. The head of the Rossotrudnichestvo office denied the charges and called on the U.S. government to distance itself from the allegations. The FBI and other U.S. agencies declined to comment on the report.

Russia also targets regional businesses and businessmen to establish influence over key sectors, especially energy. Recently, Latvian intelligence identified a top businessman in the energy sector holding clandestine meetings with a Russian intelligence officer operating under diplomatic cover out of the Russian embassy, according to an official familiar with NATO and Latvian intelligence. When Latvian security services reached out to the businessman in an attempt to work with him, his meetings with the Russian official stopped, but his trips to Russia increased. The Latvian intelligence services concluded he was meeting with his Russian handler out of their view, the official says.

Putin has also used his intelligence advantage in neighboring countries to go after NATO itself. After Estonia arrested the former head of its National Security Authority, Herman Simm, in 2009 on charges of spying for Moscow, the Atlantic alliance uncovered and expelled two alleged Russian co-conspirators working at its headquarters in Brussels.

Most recently during the crisis in Ukraine, Putin has stepped up the traditional use of media propaganda, especially on television. The propaganda peaked with outlandish and false accusations of attacks against Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine. Russia’s neighbors have taken a variety of approaches to countering the propaganda, from outright censorship to counter-programming. On Mar. 21, Lithuania banned broadcasts of Gazprom-owned NTV Mir station after it showed a movie that the government said “spread lies about” Lithuania’s move to declare independence from the Soviet Union in early 1991. On Apr. 3, Latvia’s National Electronic Mass Media Council suspended the broadcast rights of Rossiya RTR for three weeks, claiming the station was peddling “war propaganda.”

Estonia, for its part, considered banning Russian broadcasts but opted to leave Russian channels on and instead to compete with a barrage of “counter-programming” through Russian language TV, radio and print media. “If you ban things it creates more interest,” says Amb. Kaljurand, “The better way is to give better facts and the point of view of the West.”

The U.S. and its allies are hardly innocents in the international spy game. The U.S. government uses overt and covert means to influence and organize pro-Western groups in many of the same countries Putin is targeting. It works through cultural and diplomatic channels to recruit intelligence sources around the world and in eastern Europe, and the Ukraine crisis has only heightened that work. Says CIA spokesman Dean Boyd, “The Agency’s strong partnerships throughout the region enable cooperation on a variety of intelligence issues. When a foreign crisis erupts, it’s normal for the CIA to shift into overdrive to ensure that our officers have access to the best available information to support the policy community.”

It is also true that Russia’s western neighbors include some with anti-Russian and anti-Semitic views that are occasionally reflected in political debate. Lithuania and Latvia in particular are noted in repeated U.S. diplomatic cables from the region to Washington for the presence of “strident” anti-Russian and anti-Semitic voices in politics, some of them belonging to powerful figures.

In late April the U.S. deployed 600 troops to the Baltics and Poland, and U.S. and other NATO countries increased air patrols in the Baltics. The largely symbolic deployment was intended to reassure all four countries that the U.S. takes its Article 5 obligations seriously, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said at the time. Likewise, Kirby said, “If there is a message to Moscow, it is the same exact message that we take our obligations very, very seriously on the continent of Europe.”

Even the most nervous Russian neighbors believe Putin’s use of force is likely to stop in Ukraine, but his espionage program is likely to continue. “[He] is using the soft power tools and other forms of indirect coercion and influence against the Baltics states,” says the official familiar with NATO and Latvian intelligence, “He will use all of these tactics.”

That is a particular concern for Moscow’s neighbors as Russians everywhere prepare to celebrate on May 9 Russia’s victory over Nazi Germany. “If we have a little bit of rioting that will make people become scared and they’ll say maybe we need to find an accommodation with the Russians,” the official says.

TIME intelligence

Snowden Expects to Stay in Russia

Edward Snowden, the former contractor responsible for leaking a massive amount of classified National Security Agency information, believes Moscow will extend his temporary asylum status, which is set to expire in June, his lawyer said

Edward Snowden, the former contractor responsible for leaking a massive amount of classified National Security Agency (NSA) information, believes the temporary asylum granted him in Russia will be extended, his lawyer said on Wednesday.

“Obviously, he misses America and would like to be able to come home,” said his attorney Jesselyn Radack. “We just don’t see that happening in the near future.” Radack said “prospects are good” that the Kremlin will renew Snowden’s asylum status, which expires in June, Reuters reports.

Snowden fled to Hong Kong and then to Moscow after leaking what authorities estimate to be about 1.7 million classified documents revealing extensive NSA programs, including both foreign and domestic mass-surveillance activities that have sparked fierce debate both in the U.S. and abroad. He faces a host of serious charges in the U.S., including theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national-defense information and willful communication of classified intelligence to an unauthorized person.

“If the Justice Department would like to talk, we’d be glad to,” Radack said. “He’s not going to come here to be prosecuted for espionage.”

[Reuters]

TIME National Security

NSA Throwdown: John Oliver v. 60 Minutes

Two interviews with the National Security Administration. One by a news program, one by a comedian. Only one of them came through a winner. Here's a "completely unscientific, utterly subjective" play-by-play. Let the scoring begin

In the debut episode Sunday of his new HBO show Last Week Tonight, Daily Show alum John Oliver grilled former National Security Agency chief Gen. Keith Alexander about the spy agency’s controversial surveillance programs. Oliver won praise for being remarkably tough in the segment, especially for a comedian, but it isn’t the first time Alexander sat down for a nationally-televised interview.

In December last year, Alexander granted unprecedented access to the CBS News program “60 Minutes,” including an extensive interview with the top spook himself. The “60 Minutes” segment on the NSA scored extraordinary access into a notoriously secretive organization but at perhaps too high a cost. The segment was panned for being remarkably easy on the agency, especially for a venerated investigative news program.

TIME wanted to see how tough-for-a-comedian stacked up against easy-for-a-venerated-news-program. So we did a completely unscientific, utterly subjective match up to help weigh the two interviews against one another. (Full disclosure: TIME is currently owned by Time Warner, the same parent company that owns HBO, though that will change in the coming months.)

Behold, the comedian-journalist throwdown of the century (or the week, or the day, anyway): John Oliver v. 60 Minutes.

1. On the reach of the NSA’s programs.

Among the low points of 60 Minutes correspondent John Miller’s interview with Alexander was when Miller asks if the NSA’s phone records collection constitutes spying on Americans and basically answers his own question. “You don’t hear the call?” Miller says, offering Alexander his answer. “You don’t hear the call,” Alexander repeats, to the surprise of no one. Miller didn’t see the point in pressing the issue any further. And while Alexander’s answers were not strictly untrue as a logistical matter, the NSA’s collection of phone metadata, including call duration, timestamp, and phone numbers, is not trivial, which John Oliver proves with one piercing retort.

“But that’s not nothing. That’s significant information. Otherwise you wouldn’t want it.”

Point Oliver

2. On the status of NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

When Oliver asks Alexander what he’d like Snowden to know right now “other than significantly less,” the spy chief says he’d like to show the leaker the immense damage he’s done. Oliver might have asked Alexander to offer any example or evidence rather than the tired old unverifiable claims.

60 Minutes made a journalistic score by revealing a rift at NSA over whether or not Snowden should be offered amnesty if he can stop any more of his leaks from being published. While Alexander said he was opposed to that idea, his subordinate Rick Ledgett, the guy in charge of the task force charged with assessing damage from the leaks, said the exact opposite.

Point 60 Minutes.

3. On whether or not the NSA has broken the law.

Oliver asks Alexander if the NSA has ever done anything illegal, to which the general says no, not in his time at the helm. He goes on to say that though an NSA employee may have made a “mistake” from time to time, “In every case, to my knowledge, everyone except for 12 individuals stepped forward at the time they made those mistakes.”

Oliver to the rescue. “Right. But you can’t say ‘everyone except for 12,’” he says. “That’s like saying ‘I’ve never killed anyone apart from those three people I have buried under my patio at home.”

60 Minutes asks Alexander about a judge in the secret court that oversees NSA activities who expressed concern about the agency “systematically” violating its court-authorized boundaries. Alexander responds, “There was nobody willfully or knowingly trying to break the law,” and Miller just leaves it at that. In fact, at least two judges on the secret court were privately aghast at the regularity of NSA infractions, including one who wrote of “daily violations” in the phone records program over a period of two years.

Point Oliver.

4. On damage to the NSA brand.

Whereas the 60 Minutes report begins to feel a little infomercially, with the unchallenged claims and the correspondent Miller fawning over the brilliance and Rubik’s cube skills of NSA employees he meets on his admittedly extraordinary journey into the bowels of the spy agency, John Oliver drives right at the obvious point that the NSA’s image has been badly tarnished. He suggests a change to the comparatively unblemished name “Washington Redskins,” or to a picture of a kitten in a boot named Mr. Tiggles. Watching Gen. Keith Alexander coo “Mr. Tiggles” and giggle over the picture makes the entire thing worth it all on its own. Also, Alexander’s suggestion that the NSA take on the tagline “The only agency in government that really listens” is, come on, pretty golden.

Point Oliver.

Oliver: 3. 60 Minutes: 1.

Sorry 60 minutes. You just got bested by a comedian in his first day on the job.

TIME intelligence

Cold War Tit-for-Tat 2.0

Russia's new Tu-214 reconnaissance aircraft. Oleg Belyakov

Squabbling—over who can see what—threatens a Colder War

Last week, Moscow canceled a scheduled U.S. surveillance flight over Russia, apparently to keep prying U.S. eyes from scouting out Moscow’s forces huddling along its border with Ukraine.

This week, Washington is debating whether or not to bar a new Russian spy plane, the Tu-214, from flying over U.S. territory as part of the same 22-year-old arms verification regime.

The two actions aren’t linked. In fact, some U.S. officials say Moscow’s cancellation was due to poor weather and will be rescheduled. But it’s interesting that in both nations, there seems to be a push to deny the other from flying an unarmed aircraft, designed to monitor military movements, across its home turf.

The idea sure beats secret American U-2 flights. The Soviets shot down Francis Gary Power’s U-2 over its territory in 1960, triggering an international showdown that could have led to war. The U.S. initially denied the plane’s mission, but was forced to recant when Moscow publicly revealed the plane, and Powers, to the world.

The 1992 Open Skies treaty lets sensor-laden aircraft fly over other nations with 72 hours’ notice (so that sensitive items can be shielded from view) to confirm compliance with arms-control pacts and monitor troop movements. Russia and Sweden are the only two nations that have flown such aircraft over the U.S. according to the Pentagon.

Four members of the Senate intelligence committee recently warned that Russia has built reconnaissance aircraft that will “support digital photograph equipment, sideways-looking synthetic aperture radar, and infrared equipment,” and cautioned against letting them over the U.S.

“We strongly urge you to carefully evaluate the ramifications of certification on future Open Skies observation flights and consider the equities of key U.S. Government stakeholders,” said the letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, signed by Senators Dan Coats, R-Ind., Mark Warner, D-Va., Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. “The invasion of Crimea and Moscow’s ongoing efforts to destabilize Ukraine using subversive methods is sufficient enough to counsel further review, irrespective of any technical concerns that may exist.”

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., chairman of the House intelligence panel, is also concerned. “Putin’s attempt to upgrade Russia’s sensing capabilities now is particularly problematic,” he said in an Apr. 11 letter to Obama. “I have serious concerns about the technical advantages Russia would gain.”

Sounds ominous. But the treaty’s language already permits infrared devices and sideways-looking synthetic aperture radar.

As for “digital photographic equipment”—when was the last time you loaded a roll of film into a camera? The U.S. government wants to do the same thing as you: “Technology advancements have made film cameras increasingly obsolete and, consequently, the United States is actively preparing for the transition to digital electro-optical sensors,” the State Department says in its assessment of the Open Skies treaty.

True, the U.S. is lagging behind the Russians in this area. “Based on current projections, the earliest the Air Force will fly an observation mission with digital cameras is the fall of 2017,” a member of the service’s International Treaty Compliance Office said last year.

Beyond that, any new capabilities have to be approved by all 34 signers of the treaty—and they must be commercially available to all of them.

The notion that one side has some technological edge that the other must thwart is what sparked the Cold War. These latest warnings, unless there is some missing element not being shared with the public, carry disturbing echoes of that time.

Knowledge beats ignorance. That’s why “trust, but verify” was Ronald Reagan’s superpower mantra. That’s even more true when trust is in short supply.

TIME intelligence

Snowden: Putin Must Be Held Accountable for Surveillance, Too

Edward Snowden, displayed on television screens, asks a question to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a nationally televised question-and-answer session, in Moscow, Thursday, April 17, 2014.
Edward Snowden, displayed on television screens, asks a question to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a nationally televised question-and-answer session, in Moscow, Thursday, April 17, 2014. Pavel Golovkin—AP

NSA leaker Edward Snowden explains in an op-ed why he asked Russian President Vladimir Putin about mass surveillance during a live televised Q&A yesterday, writing he did it to get a response "on the record, not to whitewash him”

Edward Snowden says he asked Vladimir Putin on live TV if Moscow conducts NSA-style surveillance on Russian citizens in order to get Putin’s answer on the record—not, as his critics charged, to be a prop for Kremlin propaganda.

“I was surprised that people who witnessed me risk my life to expose the surveillance practices of my own country could not believe that I might also criticize the surveillance policies of Russia, a country to which I have sworn no allegiance, without ulterior motive,” Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked details of its mass domestic surveillance programs, wrote in an op-ed published in the Guardian on Friday.

Snowden was criticized after he asked Putin during an annual Q&A session on Thursday if Russia spies on its own citizens in a way similar to what the U.S. National Security Agency does. In that exchange, Putin denied Moscow conducts mass domestic surveillance, saying, “We do not allow ourselves to do this, and we will never allow this. We do not have the money or the means to do that.” Snowden was lambasted in some corners for apparently setting Putin up for a denial with a pre-packaged softball question.

But Snowden, who is living under temporary asylum in Russia says he asked the question knowing Putin would lie in his response in order to replicate the famous exchange between U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, in which Clapper falsely claimed the U.S. does not conduct mass surveillance on Americans.

“I asked Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, a question that cannot credibly be answered in the negative by any leader who runs a modern, intrusive surveillance program,” Snowden wrote.

TIME Ukraine

The 600 Years of History Behind Those Ukrainian Masks

An armed man stands next to a barricade in front of the police headquarters in Slaviansk
A masked separatist stands guard outside a government building in Slavyansk. Gleb Garanich / Reuters

`Maskirovka’ has been a part of the Russian military since before there was a Russia

The reporter asked the masked pro-Russian separatist in the Ukrainian city of Slavyansk a simple question: why are you wearing a mask?

“I’m sorry,” he responded, “but it’s a stupid question.”

It sure is for anyone who pays attention to how Russia fights.

The mask-wearing militants who have appeared in eastern Ukraine and taken over government buildings represent the latest face of Russia’s tradition of maskirovka (mas-kir-OAF-ka). It’s a word literally translated as disguise, but Russia has long used it in a broader sense, meaning any military tactic that incorporates camouflage, concealment, deception, disinformation—or any combination thereof.

It describes everything from manufacturing tanks in automobile factories to shielding them under tree branches near the battlefield. It can be used to hide soldiers with smoke screens, and to build warships under awnings. It includes sending soldiers in white uniforms to invade snowbound Finland during World War II and creating mock weapons and bridges in hopes of drawing enemy fire away from the real thing.

The Soviets bought 100mm artillery pieces from Germany before the war. The Germans cranked the Russians’ use of those guns in their planning on how to invade Russian as part of Operation Barbarossa. But when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the Soviets surprised them with much more powerful 130mm guns. In a classic maskirovka move, the Russians had scrapped the guns they bought from Germany as they built their own bigger weapons.

Maskirovka (which is rooted in the English word, mask) is designed to sow confusion and frustration among opponents by denying them basic information.

A pro-Russia protester stands at a barricade outside a regional government building in Donetsk
A pro-Russian protester mans a barricade outside a government building in Donetsk. Konstantin Chernichkin / Reuters

The anonymous troops in eastern Ukraine say only that they’re “Cossacks,” but Ukrainian and Western officials believe many of them are led by Russian special forces. Yet the murkiness of their origin and sponsors inflates their menace, and makes it more difficult to figure out how to deal with them. Snipping puppet strings between Ukraine and Moscow may be easier than controlling indigenous separatists operating independently. A combination of both complicates matters still further.

“It’s hard to fathom that groups of armed men in masks suddenly sprang forward from the population in eastern Ukraine and systematically began to occupy government facilities,” U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s top commander, said Thursday. “It’s hard to fathom because it’s simply not true. What is happening in eastern Ukraine is a military operation that is well planned and organized and we assess that it is being carried out at the direction of Russia.”

Maskirovka may be conducted in any environment to deny information to sensors,” a 1988 Pentagon study of the technique said. What’s on display in Ukraine is maskirovka in its most basic form: physical masks, known as balaclavas (named for their use at the Battle of Balaclava, a Ukrainian town near Sevastopol, during the Crimean War) are designed to deny humans’ most fundamental sensor—the eye—critical information about the person on the other side (to complicate matters, some Ukrainian supporters also are wearing masks).

If the West won’t come to Ukraine’s aid even if columns of Russian tanks are streaming toward the capital of Kiev, they’re sure not going to lift a (trigger) finger against masked men operating in the shadows.

Think of it as a crafty way of getting your way. Russia is conducting a slow-motion invasion of Ukraine without thousands of troops riding hundreds of tanks. Instead, handfuls of Russian agents are whipping up nationalistic fervor among disgruntled eastern Ukrainians of Russian stock. Beyond the masks, the “troops” wear no insignia to betray under whose flag they’re acting.

It used to be that states waged wars. But since the end of the Cold War, so-called “non-state actors”—like al Qaeda—have loomed large. Now on the streets of Ukraine, non-state actors are acting on behalf of a state.

Maskirovka, Russian military texts say, must be seamless and complete. The Soviet Union used it to sneak their nuclear-tipped missiles into Cuba in 1962. But the Soviets didn’t bother to conceal the construction of their launch sites, which led U.S. intelligence to figure out what was happening.

Some Russian scholars say maskirovka dates back to the 1380 Battle of Kulikovo Field, 120 miles south of Moscow. Russian Dmitri Ivanovich divided his mounted fighters into two groups: one stood in the open field, vulnerable to attack from the Mongols’ Golden Horde, while the second hid in a nearby forest. Seeing only the Russians on the plains, the Horde’s soldiers attacked, only to be overwhelmed when the second Russian force rushed from their hiding place.

The technique certainly got Ronald Reagan’s attention.

“The Soviet Union has developed a doctrine of `maskirovka’ which calls for the use of camouflage, concealment and deception (CC&D) in defense-related programs and in the conduct of military operations,” Reagan wrote in October 1983’s National Security Decision Directive 108. “Several recent discoveries reveal that the Soviet maskirovka program has enjoyed previously unsuspected success and that it is apparently entering a new and improved phase.” The Top Secret document, declassified by the U.S. government three years ago, didn’t detail those successes.

Fast-forwarding to today, how can the West combat Russia’s penchant for maskirovka in Ukraine? Seeing as some credit Reagan for prevailing in the original Cold War, perhaps his orders in that 1983 directive offer a clue. “The Director of Central Intelligence,” he wrote, “in cooperation with other Departments and Agencies as appropriate, will:”

The rest of the directive is blacked out.

Think of it as a bit of Amerimaskitovka.

 

TIME National Security

The Guardian and Washington Post Nab Pulitzer For Snowden Coverage

Edward Snowden Speaks To The Guardian
The Guardian/Getty Images

Coverage of leaked information on mass surveillance from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden helped The Guardian and The Washington Post win journalism's most prestigious award

The 2014 Pulitzer Prize for public service journalism was awarded Monday to The Washington Post and The Guardian’s U.S. edition for their reporting on National Security Agency leaks from its former contractor Edward Snowden.

According to the Pulitzer committee, each media organization was awarded journalism’s highest honor “for its revelation of widespread secret surveillance by the National Security Agency, marked by authoritative and insightful reports that helped the public understand how disclosures fit into the larger framework of national security.”

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden first approached documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras with his cache of documents. Poitras assisted Snowden in bringing the documents to The Washington Post and Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian, which first published reports about the leaks. Both papers share this year’s Pulitzer for their ongoing coverage of Snowden’s leaks, which have shed new light on the agency’s tactics and operations, and provoked a vigorous international debate on the rights and wrongs of government surveillance.

In response to Monday’s news, Snowden said in a statement, “Today’s decision is a vindication for everyone who believes that the public has a role in government. We owe it to the efforts of the brave reporters and their colleagues who kept working in the face of extraordinary intimidation, including the forced destruction of journalistic materials, the inappropriate use of terrorism laws, and so many other means of pressure to get them to stop what the world now recognizes was work of vital public importance.”

Other winners included the Boston Globe, which was honored for its breaking news coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013; the novelist Donna Tartt, whose novel The Goldfinch won the fiction award; and The Oregonian newspaper in Portland, which was honored for its editorial writing.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser