• “Dark Internet” inhibits law enforcement’s ability to identify, track terrorists

    For several months, Islamic State militants have been using instant messaging apps which encrypt or destroy conversations immediately. This has inhibit U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies from identifying and monitoring suspected terrorists, even when a court order is granted, because messaging companies and app developers say they are unable to unlock the coded conversations and/or do not have a record of the conversations. “We’re past going dark in certain instances,” said Michael B. Steinbach, the FBI’s top counterterrorism official. “We are dark.”

  • Senate passes surveillance reform

    The U.S. Senate yesterday voted 67-32 to pass the House’s USA Freedom Act which would end the NSA collection of bulk metadata of Americans’ phone records. The bill will now head to the White House for the president to sign. The USA Freedom Act shifts the responsibility for keeping the phone records from the government to hundreds of separate phone carriers – but important questions remain. Thus it is not entirely clear how many records the carriers will keep, and for how long, and under what circumstances will they allow law enforcement to view these records. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), the Senate majority leader, who supported the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, said that the USA Freedom Act is “a resounding victory for those who currently plotted against our homeland. It does not enhance the privacy protections of American citizens, and it surely undermines American security by taking one more tool from our war fighters, in my view, at exactly the wrong time.”

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  • Broad NSA surveillance powers, granted in 2006, expired on midnight

    The NSA’s broad domestic surveillance authority, granted to the agency when the Patriot Act was first reauthorized in 2006, expired on midnight after the Senate failed to extend Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which governs surveillance, or approve the House’s USA Freedom Act, which modified Section 215. The Senate did vote, 77-17, to take up the House bill on Tuesday. The failure of the Senate to do extend or modify the NSA’s surveillance power was the result of the unyielding position of Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), and also the result of a miscalculation by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), the majority leader, who believed that the prospect of the expiration of Section 215 would lead opponent of the surveillance programs, supporters of the current program, and supporters of the House’s USA Freedom Act to agree to a few weeks extension of Section 215 to allow for more negotiations among senators and between senators and House member. The Senate did vote, 77-17, to take up the House bill on Tuesday. It remains to be seen, however, how many, and what type, of amendments McConnell would allow to be brought to the floor, and, if some of these amendments are approved, whether House members would agree to any modifications to the USA Freedom Act.

  • Giant surveillance blimp to protect Capitol building

    Lawmakers want to make the Capitol building more secure after existing security measured failed to detect or stop Douglas Hughes who, on 15 April, flew his gyrocopter into the Capitol manicured lawn. Some of these lawmakers want to deploy the Tethered Aerostat Radar System, or TARS – a giant blimp carrying 2,000-pounds radars that can spot an aircraft at a distance of 200 miles. Several TARS are already deployed along the U.S.-Mexico border, and along a 340-mile stretch of the Atlantic coast stretching from North Carolina to Boston. The blimp loiters at about 10,000 feet – but in order not to mar the Washington, D.C. skyline, lawmakers suggest acquiring a blimp which can hover at a higher altitude.

  • Tech companies urge rejection of push by FBI, DOJ for electronic devices “backdoors”

    In a 19 May letter to President Barack Obama, a group of Silicon Valley tech companies, cyber-security experts, and privacy advocacy groups urged the president to reject the implementation of “backdoors” in smartphone and computer encryption. The letter offered evidence of the  strong objection of the tech industry to demands from the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to allow secret backdoor passages into consumer electronics, which would make it possible for law enforcement to read encrypted private communications and data.

  • House-approved NSA reform bill fails in Senate

    Earlier this morning (Saturday), for the second time in less than a year, the Senate rejected a bill to end the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of American phone metadata records. The House-approved USA Freedom Act failed to reach the 60-vote threshold required to bring the bill to a vote on the floor (the vote was 57-42 in favor – three votes short). The bill’s opponents used different procedural maneuvering, lasting until the early morning hours Saturday, to block the bill itself from coming to a vote. The failure to pass the House bill – or any bill dealing with bulk collection – means that Senate, when it reconvenes on 31 May, will have only a few hours to decide the fate of Section 215 of the Patriot Act – the section which governs data collection and which has given the NSA and FBI broad domestic surveillance powers – before it expires on midnight that day. Senate GOP caucus is deeply divided on the issue, but House Republicans and Democrats exhibit a rare accord.

  • Lawmakers pledge to continue supporting Center of Excellence for drone research

    Lawmakers pledge to continue support for FAA Center of Excellence (COE) for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) selected the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE), a consortium of universities headed by Mississippi State University (MSU), to lead the UAS COE. The FAA expects the COE to begin research in 2015 and be fully operational in 2016 in its exploration of evolving new technological developments regarding unmanned aircraft and their uses, including detect-and-avoid technology, low-altitude operations safety, privacy safeguards, and other areas. Research will also involve the deployment of UAS for emergency response, biofuel and clean fuel technologies, law enforcement activities, and agricultural and environmental monitoring.

  • House overwhelmingly votes for overhauling NSA phone metadata bulk collection program

    The House yesterday voted overwhelmingly to ban the bulk collection of American phone metadata, as lawmakers increase the pressure to reform one of the more controversial data collection programs of the National Security Agency (NSA). The program was revealed as a result of Edward Snowden’s leaks. The House voted 338-88 in favor of the USA Freedom Act — the second time the House has voted for a more restrictive data collection scheme. Supporters of surveillance reform are more confident that there will be a majority in the Senate to support a similar measure. The House bill has already gained the support of the White House and the intelligence community. The Senate does not have much time, as the Patriot Act – which includes Section 215 which governs the NSA surveillance program – expires at the end of the month. Leading civil liberties organizations, however, have criticized the bill as not going far enough.

  • The FBI violated its own rules in surveillance of anti-Keystone XL pipeline activists

    More than eighty pages of internal FBI documents dated from November 2012 to June 2014, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal that the FBI breached its own investigation rules when it spied on protesters opposing the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Agents in the FBI’s Houston field office failed to get approval before they cultivated informants and opened files on pipeline protesters — a violation of guidelines designed to prevent the agency from becoming excessively involved in sensitive political issues.

  • DHS deportations undermine efforts to get immigrants to provide leads on radical suspects

    DHS counterterrorism teams rely on cooperation from immigrant communities to obtain leads on radical individuals and pending terrorism plots, but many of these communities are becoming more wary of federal law enforcement as the number of deportations increase. “It’s ironic that you’ve got them coming in and trying to get information from our communities even as they’re detaining and deporting us at an alarming rate,” says one immigration activist. “That trust is just not going to be there. You can’t have it both ways.”

  • Drones could reach one million U.S. flights a day in twenty years

    The United States will reach one million unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) flights per day within the next twenty years, given the right regulatory environment, according to new economic research. Only hobbyists and the do-it-yourself community now are allowed to fly UAS in the United States, enough to fuel a robust U.S. consumer market with the potential to reach $250 million by 2018. However, if the FAA remains on track to complete its line-of-sight rules for commercial operators within three years, the research foresees another $200 million in growth. Additionally, with the continued development of “sense and avoid” technology and FAA rules that foster “beyond-line-of-sight” operations, the U.S. UAS industry could become a $1 billion market.

  • U.S. Navy successfully demonstrates autonomous, swarming UAVs

    A new era in autonomy and unmanned systems for naval operations is on the horizon, as U.S. Navy officials last month announced recent technology demonstrations of swarming unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — part of the Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) program. LOCUST can launch swarming UAVs to autonomously overwhelm an adversary.

  • Court rules NSA bulk metadata collection exceeded Patriot Act’s Section 215

    On Thursday, a three-judge panel from the New York-based 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned an earlier ruling by Judge William Pauley, which found that the controversial NSA bulk collection of domestic phone metadata was legal and could not be subject to judicial review. That section, which the appeals court ruled the NSA program exceeded, will expire on 1 June. The judges did not address the issue of whether the NSA program violated the Constitution, instead waiting for Congress to decide how to proceed after the program’s 1 June expiration.

  • NSA accepts proposed Congressional curbs on bulk data collection

    The NSA’s domestic bulk phone metadata collection program, authorized under Section 215 of the U.S.A. Patriot Act, is set to expire on 1 June. Congress is now gearing up to pass new legislation, called the USA Freedom Act, to curb the NSA’s ability to store domestic phone metadata, instead keeping the information with telecommunications companies. NSA officials have welcomed the proposed restrictions, saying many within the agency doubted the effectiveness of its bulk metadata collection program.

  • New mathematical logic to help intelligence services cope with uncertainty

    Intelligence analysts are constantly struggling with the reliability of circumstantial evidence. The sources may be unreliable or directly misleading. When intelligence services in one country attempt to find out what another country is planning to do, they need to take into account the credibility of the information. The fact that the information tends to be incomplete and the circumstantial evidence often is contradictory does not make things any easier. “It is therefore essential to assess all information, evidence, facts and circumstances in a way that reflects this situation,” says a Norwegian mathematician who has developed a new type of mathematical logic to help improve the analytical tools in the hands of intelligence services worldwide. The U.S. Army has already expressed its interest and the new approach.