German Terror Suspect was previously under surveillance, in and out of jail, and scheduled for deportation

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Media are reporting that the terror suspect, Anis Amri, in the recent German truck attack was in and out of jail and had been under surveillance for several months before the attack. German intelligence services will no doubt face tough questions over their handling of the case because while they seem to have been aware that Amri was a security risk they were unable to figure out what exactly he may have been planning. Cases like this one demonstrate that while surveillance can help identify a possible security threat, good analysis is still of critical importance. Collecting all kinds of data only goes so far. It’s still too early to tell if German intelligence did fall short but it will be a difficult few months for them, to say nothing of the criticism Merkel will face. As one of the seemingly last outspoken liberal voices in the EU, Merkel has been facing a resurgent right-wing presence in the EU and even in Germany. This attack won’t make things easier for her given that media is reporting Amri was a Tunisian asylum seeker. The alt-right will no doubt paint all with the same brush and Merkel will likely find it harder to maintain a rational and sensible policy when it comes to refugees and migrants.

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U.K.’s Snooper’s Charter Suffers Blow, Indiscriminately Storing People’s Personal Information May Not Be OK After all – Who knew?

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The U.K. passed the Investigatory Powers Act (or Snooper’s Charter as it has become known) in November and most in North America seem not to have noticed. They should pay attention because they can be sure the U.K.’s intelligence partners in Canada and the U.S. would like to do similar things on this side of the Atlantic. In Canada, the government seems to be gradually trying to warm the population up to accepting more surveillance powers. What made the Snooper’s Charter so contentious? Take your pick. Service providers are required to store details about everything you do online for 12 months, websites you go to, emails you sent, things you bought, you name it. What’s more it gives the government the power to hack, intercept, and monitor everyone.

The old “if you don’t have anything to hide why do you care” argument is really running out of gas when something this intrusive becomes law. It’s akin to people having to prove they are law abiding by allowing the government access into every personal facet of their lives. If people haven’t done anything wrong, why are they being watched? We have gone from people being under surveillance because we have a reasonable belief they might do something illegal to “well everyone might do something illegal – someday.” As J. Edgar Hoover made clear all those years ago, at the dawn of the Cold War, people also don’t have to do anything illegal but embarrassing for the state to one day use it against you. Ever gone to a website you regretted? Downloaded something you shouldn’t have? Made that online purchase you wish you could take back? Should the government know about those things if there’s no threat to national security? The new law was challenged in the U.K. and the issue ended up in the EU’s highest court where the court ruled that indiscriminately retaining emails was illegal. In essence the court was sending the message that such surveillance and violation of citizens’ privacy rights shouldn’t be decided by government ministers but by courts and trained judges. Who knew?

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Rogers and TekSavvy Push Back Against Expanded Powers

(Sean Gallup/Getty)

Both Rogers and TekSavvy, two telecom companies in Canada, have made it clear to the Canadian government they don’t see a justification for expanded police surveillance powers. The current Liberal government had issued a discussion paper considering an expansion of surveillance power for police. The new powers would include warrantless access to customer IP information, having telecom companies build back-doors to intercept communications, storing customer data, and building backdoors into encryption. As of yet the government has not provided adequate explanation or justification for the powers. The surveillance infrastructure has grown immensely since the days of the Cold War but this seemingly slavish devotion to the logic that expanded surveillance will keep people safe is wearing thin. It presents itself as a quicker and easier way to gather intelligence but is increasingly becoming a booming industry in and of itself more than a solution to keeping people safer as the targets of such surveillance seem to be, more often than not, law abiding citizens.

The surveillance of the internet and phone systems has grown so dramatically and is so well known, it is hard to contemplate that any would be terrorist or foreign espionage agent worth their salt would be broadcasting their plans out in the open. Encryption back-doors serve to benefit not only intelligence agencies but also hackers and those engaged in cyber-espionage attacks. All too often we are now seeing individual attacks with minimal planning but that can still generate headlines of the kind that have recently occurred in Jordon, Turkey and Germany. Expanded internet surveillance offers no protection against this. If the powers are needed the government has to justify them. Telling the public there are bad people in the world or that Canada’s allies have similar powers isn’t good enough. If the case can’t be made then the expanded powers should be reconsidered. Lawmakers would be wise to remember that hard cases make bad laws.

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Intelligence Community Refusing to Brief Congress on Alleged Russian Hacks

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Republican members of Congress are claiming that intelligence agencies are not briefing Congress about the alleged Russian cyber attacks that occurred during the U.S. election. The CIA raised the alarm about alleged Russian hacking but it now finds itself in a similar spot as FBI director James Comey who during the election went back and forth on investigating Clinton about her emails. The CIA is faced with a President-Elect that benefited from these alleged hacks (though he likely would have won anyway) and is doubting the claims, a Democratic Party that wholly endorses the findings and a Republican party that is not as united over Trump winning as they might like to be. The CIA risks being accused of playing politics over the issue and that’s exactly what is starting to happen. They are in a sensitive spot. Ultimately, to clear themselves of allegations of playing favorites, they should be speaking to Congress about the alleged hacks. There’s really no easy way out of the situation but at least by briefing Congress the CIA can try and minimize the accusations of partisanship that are plaguing the community.

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U.S. Plans on Taking Action For Russia’s Alleged Hacking

(Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Barack Obama announced today that the U.S. would respond to alleged Russian hacking at a time of its choosing while President-elect Trump continues to play politics over the issue, completely missing the point that regardless of the fact he was the beneficiary of the alleged hacking, the allegations of Russia meddling in U.S. elections is a major breach of security. On this issue it’s the U.S. intelligence services that should be getting recognition for their efforts if the allegations can be proven. They’ve publicly demonstrated their commitment to maintaining the integrity of U.S. democracy regardless of political stripe and that deserves to be noticed. It is presently President-Elect Trump that is creating a feud with the nation’s intelligence community and mainly because they are doing the job the nation expects of them. A concern going forward is how much control Trump will try to wield over the intelligence community. History has far too many examples of how badly things can go when governments have tried to have their security services slavishly obey their policy directives.

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The Canadian PICNIC Wiretapping Program

How long has Canada and its American and U.K. allies been involved in wiretapping? According to new declassified documents, longer than you might think.

Read about it here:
CBC
CBC
Story by The Canadian Press

Download some of the PICNIC docs here.

In the file you will find 3 documents from the collection I am working from. One is the details of the agreement with Bell for the RCMP to continue wiretapping. A letter from the RCMP about the program and a draft letter for the Prime Minister to give to Bell Canada. And third is a letter from Peter Dwyer formerly of MI6 discussing wiretapping and revealing how the U.S. and U.K. have also been secretly doing it.

What makes PICNIC new?

For years we have had a limited understanding of wiretapping in the Cold War and even beyond. There have been sporadic mentions of wiretapping pre-1970s in the McDonald Commission volumes but nothing extensive or substantial. I spoke at length with Martin Friedland who prepared a report on The Official Secrets Act for the McDonald Commission (which led to the creation of Canada’s civilian intelligence agency CSIS) and he too was quite surprised at this find. What makes it new is not that wiretapping occurred in the Cold War, but that the federal government was deeply involved in the creation of a wiretapping program against potential subversives.

This 178 page file documents how the government planned to hide it from the public, how it could fool Parliament to keep it hidden, and this extended right up to the Prime Minister. The pdf you can download on this site is a sample of this larger file. The documents summarize the agreement with Bell Canada to construct a surveillance network that the RCMP would pay rent for and also reveal that the U.S. and U.K. were doing wiretapping and all of this was designed to be hidden from the public and the courts. None of this has ever been uncovered. What we don’t know is how large it became and on this issue I think it’s best for all scholars in this field of history to cooperate and coordinate on getting the remaining documents out into the public so we can properly assess Canada’s wiretapping history. The secret order 3486 also could be interpreted as a founding document of sorts for signals intelligence in peacetime in Canada and we have a whole other issue with the Privy Council Office refusing to discuss it.

UPDATE: 3486 has been released! Read it and download your own copy Here

In development is a database on what I have regarding PICNIC. All files I have will be made public. Check the site for more updates.

Do you know where historians can find out more about this program? Do you know of archival sources we should request to see? Let us know.

CBC’s The National on PICNIC

Appearance on CBC The National

CBC's The National segment on Canadian wiretapping

Posted by Dennis Molinaro on Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Canadian PICNIC Wiretapping Program

Read and watch more about Canada's secret and decades long wiretapping program

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