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Al-Qaeda Used Basic Codes, Calling Cards, Hotmail 285

Posted by Soulskill
from the if-only-the-nsa-watched-the-wire dept.
jd writes "In startling revelations, convicted terrorist Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri admitted that Al Qaeda used public telephones, pre-paid calling cards, search engines and Hotmail. Al-Marri 'used a '10-code' to protect the [phone] numbers — subtracting the actual digits in the phone numbers from 10 to arrive at a coded number.' The real story behind all this is that the terrorists weren't using sophisticated methods to avoid detection or monitoring — which tells us just how crappy SIGINT really is right now. If the NSA needs to wiretap the whole of the US because they can't break into a Hotmail account, you know they've got problems. FindLaw has a copy of al-Marri's plea agreement (the tech-related information begins on page 12), and the LA Times has further details on his case."
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Al-Qaeda Used Basic Codes, Calling Cards, Hotmail

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  • The real story behind all this is that the terrorists weren't using sophisticated methods to avoid detection or monitoring â" which tells us just how crappy SIGINT really is right now. If the NSA needs to wiretap the whole of the US because they can't break into a Hotmail account, you know they've got problems.

    No, no I don't know that they have problems. You have presented little to no proof they have problems. So your suggestion is that they not only wiretap the whole US but also break into every e-mail account they suspect of terrorist activity?

    Yes, sometimes the simplest precautions can thwart the greatest and most expensive intelligence gathering equipment and teams. You have to live with that. I am not defending their actions to wiretap all or even part of the United States but, please, tell us how they were supposed to know that this was the Hotmail account they wanted to crack without doing anything illegal to get this information. I mean, hindsight is 20/20 but you apparently have some gift so tell us how you would have known which e-mail account to crack into. Boy, it sure must be easy to criticize a case when you know just enough details to make you a genius investigator.

    I guess I didn't expect to find the kind of stupidity on the front page of Slashdot complaining that the National Security Agency's civilian e-mail surveillance isn't up to snuff while sneaking in a jab about their phone surveillance being too pervasive.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 02, 2009 @09:31AM (#27798019)

      SIGINT isn't the right tool for tracking terrorist cells anyway. They don't generate enough signals.

      I mean, you can tap and analyze every cable satellite and radio transmission in the world and still be completely oblivious to a small group of people in a basement somewhere.

      What's needed is informers, agents and detective work.

      • by terraformer (617565) <tpb@pervici.com> on Saturday May 02, 2009 @09:57AM (#27798141) Journal
        But that's hard...
      • by elucido (870205) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @09:59AM (#27798155)

        If they just look at the NSA's electric bill they will see that the NSA is primarily focued on detecting signals. You'd expect that any terrorist with half a break would avoid using signals.

        There is no technological way to fight terrorism, technology helps the troops in the field but it does not do the job. Humans have to do the job. Just like we cannot expect AI or robots to fight crime. Humans have to do the real work.

      • SIGINT will never be as good as a man on the ground. Our national intelligence agencies have become scared of taking risks. A satellite doesn't risk capture and torture. After all, there are 89 stars in the CIA wall, and no one wants to add another one during peacetime. But you just can't help think what we could have done if we maintained our aggressiveness with HUMINT during peacetime. A white guy named John Walker Lindh [wikipedia.org] was able to walk into Pakistan and get a face-to-face meeting with Bin Laden after a few months. Now Al Qaeda is all on guard so it's tough to compromise them. But peacetime would have been the best time to break into their organizations, though civil liberty folks might freak out.

      • "The bread is blue".

        (Let's see how 'SIGINT' decodes that...)

        • by russotto (537200) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @10:33AM (#27798377) Journal

          "The bread is blue".

          (Let's see how 'SIGINT' decodes that...)

          The FDA will be there shortly to confiscate your unlicensed penicillin.

        • by dgatwood (11270)

          "The bread is blue".

          They're giving illegal campaign contributions under the table to the Democrats. Quick! We have to bust them or they might win the next election. Time to wiretap half the U.S.

          But seriously, this doesn't tell us that they have problems. It tells us that all the wiretapping in the world probably wouldn't have helped significantly with the terrorism problems, which suggests that unless the Bush administration's members were all incredibly dumb, the wiretapping probably had some other rea

      • by synthespian (563437) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @10:43AM (#27798439)

        SIGINT isn't the right tool for tracking terrorist cells anyway. They don't generate enough signals.

        Yeah, I think you might be right. I suspect what this really means is that they're incapable of actual, old-style spy-work. Here's what a CIA Near-East operative said:

        "The CIA probably doesn't have a single truly qualified Arabic-speaking officer of Middle Eastern background who can play a believable Muslim fundamentalist who would volunteer to spend years of his life with shitty food and no women in the mountains of Afghanistan. For Christ's sake, most case officers live in the suburbs of Virginia. We don't do that kind of thing." A younger case officer boils the problem down even further: "Operations that include diarrhea as a way of life don't happen."

        That's from The Atlantic's The Counterterrorist Myth:

        http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200107/gerecht [theatlantic.com]

        Pay some unmarried dude 20 million a year to live this shitty life in return for his services and, additionally, pay well some willing prostitues to be shipped in secret CIA planes to have fun with him secretly - call it "operation secret panties". Are there too many religious right-wingers at the CIA for ideas like this to stick?

      • by Garwulf (708651) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @10:55AM (#27798509) Homepage

        Back last summer, I took a grad school course in Signals Intelligence, and one of the things I had to read was a paper by Matthew Aid titled "All Glory is Fleeting," which was about the use of Sigint prior to 9/11. It was quite a surprising paper, because the one word I would never have thought to use for Al-Qaeda was "incompetent."

        But, in fact, in their early years, they were. Up until about 1997 or 1999, their signals discipline was nonexistent. They gave bin Laden a satellite phone (because, frankly, Afghanistan is the worst possible place in the world to try to run an international terrorist "organization" from - I say "organization" because Al-Qaeda doesn't strictly exist as an organization...it is instead a network of networks with very loose ties from one cell to another), and the NSA listened in to every phone call. And, by the way, in these phone calls, the various terrorists talked openly about their operations. So, the NSA passed the information on to the appropriate police force, and terrorist ops went bad, one after the other.

        At some point, though, Al-Qaeda clued in to the fact that the satellite phone was being listened to. One story goes that the Washington Post leaked it, and terrorists read the newspapers too. So, the phone went silent, other means of communication were used, and Al-Qaeda ops actually began to work.

        Sigint isn't easy to sort through at the best of times, though. You have to first pick out the signal (relevant material) from the noise (irrelevant material and deception), and then figure what the signal actually means. So, if a Saudi under suspicion talks on the phone about going to the United States for a "business meeting," it could mean that he's meeting members of a terrorist cell...or going to an actual business meeting...or he could be cover for somebody else going to the terrorist meeting. Incompetent Al-Qaeda was easy when it came to sorting the signals from the noise - current Al-Qaeda isn't.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by failedlogic (627314)

          Wether or not it is true that the Washington Post leaked the story, this is/was an invaluable technique. Maybe it was leaked on purpose. Who knows.

          I wouldn't put it past some media channels from leaking secret or classified information. I'm all for freedom of the press, but if it impedes security, saves lives and helps the military, I think there is a moral and legal obligation to not talk about it. I don't care if its leaked or revealed - with permission - from the agency dealing with the information. Its

      • by lixee (863589)
        No. What's needed is threatening, bombing and invading foreign countries.

        Any patriot worth his/her salt knows that.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        What's needed is informers, agents and detective work.

        Maybe the NSA should just start posting on 4chan.

    • Twitter (Score:5, Funny)

      by Swizec (978239) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @09:41AM (#27798065) Homepage
      If we could just somehow get most everyone in the world addicted to frequently publishing short bursts of information on a public channel, more specifically answers to the "What are you up to?" question ...

      Twitter is the NSA's answer to wiretapping allegations. That's why it's able to grow so quickly without a business model.
    • It's one thing to wiretap a bunch of people who grew up with and rely on technology. It's another thing to wiretap people who operate with or without technology. I don't think wiretapping can stop terrorism but I'd like to see some instances of success.

      I'm tired of the government claiming we need all these spy powers and invasions of privacy, when they offer no proof that any of this has ever served a military objective. Maybe it serves political objectives but what are the military objectives and rationale

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by SIR_Taco (467460)

      al-qaeda-mailing-list@hotmail.com might have given it away.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Hurricane78 (562437)

      No, no I don't know that they have problems. You have presented little to no proof they have problems. So your suggestion is that they not only wiretap the whole US but also break into every e-mail account they suspect of terrorist activity?

      Man do I love it, when people arrogantly just interpret things like they want, and then attack others for the meaning of that interpretation... :\

      Your problem seems to be, that you did not notice that there is another option, than just doing global wiretapping or e-mail-account cracking on everybody they "suspect".
      What i think GP meant, and what I think is right, is that to work as intended, the NSA should have determined the "terrorists" good enough to get a fully acceptable court-order, which then would g

    • How you obtain that they are planning to attack the country from the inside?
      Well, wanna know how I would have done it?

      I would have made some of my agents building a fake terroristic organization, and building contacts. I would have started that not after 9/11, but as soon as I heard Al-Quaeda existed, and did hate the US.

      Then by the time they were actively planning to go on the planes, my agents would sit right next to them, knowing all their friends.

      With all the proof you need to do whatever you like with

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by burnin1965 (535071)

      No, no I don't know that they have problems. You have presented little to no proof they have problems. So your suggestion is that they not only wiretap the whole US but also break into every e-mail account they suspect of terrorist activity?

      Taking it a bit further, contrary to the claims of "startling" revelations in the simplicity of Al Quaeda counter intelligence techniques it should be of no surprise. And who in the United States intelligence agencies claimed the NSA was not capable of and did not crack

  • While the rise of Al Qaeda and the need to keep on top of terrorist networks helped put the NSA in the spotlight, the scope of its interception capabilities has expanded regardless of the threat of terrorism. James Bamford's Body of Secrets [amazon.com] charts the rise of massive interception in the 1990s and links much of the NSA's activity to economic espionage against foreign businesses, as Clinton wanted to "level the playing field." The NSA was just returning to the happy-go-lucky violation of privacy for the gain of a few that Carter put at bay in the 1970s.

    Certainly there's been plenty of ink spilled about how a more serious attempt to stop Al Qaeda would involve greater human intelligence, but the CIA found its clandestine services cut just as the NSA became favoured.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Z00L00K (682162)

      What NSA can do is analyze communication patterns to see if two suspects addresses the same site and possibly the same page and are making posts. If that's on twitter or on slashdot or whatever doesn't matter.

      They may be able to prove some relation if that is a repeated pattern and that the posts seems to be containing out of context information.

      Maybe NSA is scanning for all "off-topic" replies at slashdot to get their hands on information.

      To actually decrypt data takes a lot more because it requires contex

  • Ban it! (Score:5, Funny)

    by lastninja (237588) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @09:22AM (#27797985)
    Ok thats it! We need to ban public telephones, pre-paid calling cards, search engines and Hotmail! I have also heard that the terrorist eat food! If we ban all production of food we will starve those bastards to death! Who is with me!
    • Re:Ban it! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by inviolet (797804) <slashdot AT ideasmatter DOT org> on Saturday May 02, 2009 @10:21AM (#27798303) Journal

      Ok thats it! We need to ban public telephones, pre-paid calling cards, search engines and Hotmail! I have also heard that the terrorist eat food! If we ban all production of food we will starve those bastards to death! Who is with me!

      As the NSA, FBI, and CIA are involved, you CANNOT trust this plea bargain. The defendants in this case could've agreed to say such things whether or not they are true.

      And why would the NSA, CIA, and/or FBI want them to say such a thing? Why in the world would the Powers That Be want to demonize these anonymous forms of communication?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ashtophoenix (929197)
      I am okay with banning hotmail.
  • by Vinegar Joe (998110) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @09:27AM (#27798009)

    On TV, intelligence agencies can break any code before the commercial break. In real life, it's a little bit different.

  • by yttrstein (891553)
    This is not a surprise of any kind to those of us who work in the security field. This is another clear cut case of something that used to be called "crating" (no idea if its called the same thing now), which is basically when you get a bunch of really smart people together, stick them on government payroll, and then don't allow them to talk to anyone outside the crate until all they produce is irrelevant garbage.

    Then the government complains that their intelligence is crap. The reason their intelligence
    • The US intelligence agencies and the government in general are not keeping up with the private sector in terms of pay. It's obvious that to attract the best talent to do the most important jobs in the world, you have to give them first rate pay. That being said, the pay for working CIA is definitely going to be better than any of the other government agencies around the world. The US government will give more money than some of these other governments so from a government perspective the pay isn't so bad.

      Fr

      • by DeadChobi (740395) <(DeadChobi) (at) (gmail.com)> on Saturday May 02, 2009 @01:30PM (#27799469)

        Exactly.

        How does the author propose we detect whether a 10-digit number is a telephone number, or even that it has been shifted in such a manner? The more sophisticated ciphers seem like they would be easier to detect than 10-coding simply because of the nature of telephone numbers as containing little specific information.

        The real question is, how many different permutations of 10-digit telephone numbers in suspect areas exist, and how many of these numbers can be decoded from the simply coded telephone number. We know now that it's ten-coded, but even if we assumed some other numerical shift, or even a digit-dependent shift of some kind, we might still be looking at a huge number of possibilities.

        I challenge him or her to answer the following questions about the following ten-digit number:
        2213684949

        Is it a telephone number?
        Is it encoded in some way?
        How is it encoded?
        How do we know that we have guessed the encoding method correctly?
        How can we reverse the decoding?

        The people who try to trivialize this sort of work are ignorant, and have little to no training in the fields that they lambast.

        And on the subject of pay for a different manner of service, why do we try to attract people qualified to teach Mathematics and Science by raising the bar for the qualifications but keeping the pay at the same level for 10 years?

        Because taxpayers want something for nothing.

    • by Lifyre (960576)

      As someone who is interested in some of the Analyst jobs at the CIA what are the civilian equivalents?

      I like the civilian meritocratic model better than the federal beaurocratic model for pay, benefits, and rewards but haven't found the same type of jobs available in the civilian market. This would interest me greatly and I would appreciate a responce here or in my email (this username at gmail).

      -Lify

      • by sjbe (173966) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @11:25AM (#27798705)

        As someone who is interested in some of the Analyst jobs at the CIA what are the civilian equivalents?

        Competitive Intelligence. Go to some meetings of SCIP [scip.org] if you get the chance. It's not uncommon for ex-CIA/FBI/etc analysts to end up doing competitive intelligence because the skill sets overlap significantly. Having financial/accounting as well as research skills (think library research) and phone skills are basically pre-requisites.

        Most large companies have some sort of competitive intelligence group though they call it various things. IBM, Ernst & Young, Price-Waterhouse, Microsoft, Deloitte, Anheuser-Busch, Boeing, and many more. It's essentially a job writing strategy memos and presentations for company big-wigs. Not a bad gig if you have the interest.

        • by Lifyre (960576)

          I'm military currently, have a BS in Physics/Chem and the start of an MBA. I was looking towards the CIA as the next step in a career because a couple of their analyst positions had compelling descriptions. I would love having a had in helping make a business/unit more competitive. The us vs them thing just works for my motivation.

          Thanks very much for the pointer. I'll check out SCIP especially after I get back stateside.

    • by SirLurksAlot (1169039) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @10:12AM (#27798241)

      So the CIA guy went home with half a dozen apple-faced applicants who were only too glad to take a ridiculously tiny salary for their huge amounts of effort, all in the name of protecting the American Way.

      So really, what they hired were a bunch of pinheads prone to blind patriotism and the eating of ramen noodles.

      What an arrogant way of looking at things. Not everyone is motivated by money you know, and just because someone may have a job that pays great doesn't mean they are somehow smarter than someone who's job don't pay so great. It just means they are more concerned with making a buck than with making a difference. Look at all the highly motivated people in the FOSS community, do you fault them for putting so much effort into open source projects for little to (more commonly) no compensation?

      And now here we are, everyone they couldn't afford to hire telling them that none of this is any sort of surprise, and them being all kinds of surprised. It'd be funny if it wasn't so pathetic.

      Were you part of the investigation? Did you have any inkling of what could've been done to catch them sooner? If they answer is no then you hardly have any right to criticize them. If the answer is yes then what kept from helping out? Oh wait, it was the money, right?

      • by Eli Gottlieb (917758) <eligottlieb AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday May 02, 2009 @10:26AM (#27798337) Homepage Journal

        Were you part of the investigation? Did you have any inkling of what could've been done to catch them sooner? If they answer is no then you hardly have any right to criticize them. If the answer is yes then what kept from helping out? Oh wait, it was the money, right?

        Yeah, here's how you catch terrorists: you train intelligence agents in detective work and in the languages you expect your enemies to use. Then you send people to infiltrate the terrorist cells.

        But that requires paying humans a living wage to do real, human work! We can't do that! We'll have to rely on SIGINT machines.

      • by fastest fascist (1086001) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @10:37AM (#27798401)
        By offering low wages, government agencies thin down the pool of potential workers they can draw from. Of course they have a responsibility to spend wisely, and certainly personnel costs will add up to impressive sums, but this is military and intelligence we're talking about. The US government spends quite a lot on equipment. Personnel and hardware are both assets (although one would hope the human assets are considered less expendable than the material ones), why is it OK to spend significant portions of a country's GDP on one type of asset in order to increase security and then skimp on another type of asset?
        • Personnel and hardware are both assets (although one would hope the human assets are considered less expendable than the material ones), why is it OK to spend significant portions of a country's GDP on one type of asset in order to increase security and then skimp on another type of asset?

          I'm not saying it is. In fact I would say it was a huge mistake to put more effort into using SIGINT than what is put into recruiting highly skilled agents. This is a case of having a hammer and seeing every problem as a

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 02, 2009 @10:48AM (#27798461)

        Speaking as someone who does work in a gov. agency, as part on the IT (no, not the IT you are thinking, it means something else to spooks), money is important. Yes, we get the plenty of folks willing to take lower pay because they feel like they are doing something with a purpose. But, and this is a big but, there are many people who won't or can't take an entry level position. Think about that rock star coder in Silicon Valley who has gotten bored and wants a new challenge? Could she apply for the CIA? Not if she has a mortgage. Can't do it. She might be willing to take a 30% pay cut to do it. It would be a stretch, but she could make her mortgage, but not the 50% that the service requires. This sort of thing might sound trivial. But there are very talented people making this calculus every day.
        The other thing to realize is that the salary of an analyst or officer is really a small percentage of the total cost. It costs something like $400K/year to support many of our overseas officers. If we bumped their salary by $50/year you would certainly attract people from a much wider pool. And the cost would be minimal.

        • I'm not saying that money shouldn't be a factor, but I would hope that it isn't the only factor. As for myself I worked hard to earn my degree and I work hard to earn my living. I have a family to support so I completely understand that people want to be compensated enough to live comfortably and to be able to provide for their families. By that same token we are talking about jobs which are paid for with taxpayer money, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that the pay might be lower than what is offered in t

    • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmai l . c om> on Saturday May 02, 2009 @10:20AM (#27798295) Homepage

      So, let me understand this - you've never actually worked for the CIA, instead rejecting their offer, yet you know exactly what goes inside the CIA based on the fact that you place money as a higher consideration and rejected their offer?
       
      Not to mention the logical contradictions in your writeup - the applicants/hire cannot both be 'really smart' (as in your first paragraph) and 'pinheads' (third paragraph). I smell stereotyping and more than a little self aggrandizement.

    • Then the government complains that their intelligence is crap. The reason their intelligence is crap is straightforward: They underpay people who aren't qualified to do the job in the first place. I'll never forget the CIA's little career day at my University, many a winter moon ago, when I asked the spook behind the little folding card table how much a job in intelligence paid. 33K to start, he said. I laughed and moved on to the next table, where someone in the private sector was offering 100K for a similar, but much more interesting position that I didn't have to move to Virginia to take.

      So the CIA guy went home with half a dozen apple-faced applicants who were only too glad to take a ridiculously tiny salary for their huge amounts of effort, all in the name of protecting the American Way.

      Damn, is there any field left where employers will pay well for quality employees? Why do all jobs nowadays seem to expect that you'll take a ridiculously small salary because you work for some cause?

    • that the salary offered was intentionally low? Maybe, just maybe, they're looking for people willing to serve their country regardless of wages. $33,000/year to start is horribly low for a degreed job, I'll agree. That said, it is a livable wage especially if you love what you're doing and you make liberal use of the office cafeteria for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Long hours worked, sure, but I think that's par for the course at that place.
  • Or you know... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Darkness404 (1287218) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @09:33AM (#27798031)

    because they can't break into a Hotmail account, you know they've got problems

    Well, presumably they couldn't break into it because they didn't get a warrant. This is a Good Thing in principle. You don't want the government randomly breaking into e-mail accounts that are "suspect" do you? Then there is always the question of how do you know what e-mail it is? Unless they were subscribing to some terrorist newsletter, how do you distinguish a terrorist from an ordinary person?

    • What you are saying is they cannot legally/overtly break into the account without a warrant. But as a part of a covert operation yes they can, because the operation itself is classified and off the books, nobody knows it ever took place.

    • by RAMMS+EIN (578166)

      ``You don't want the government randomly breaking into e-mail accounts that are "suspect" do you?''

      Actually, I rather assume they do that. And that they are not the only ones.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 02, 2009 @09:42AM (#27798071)


    10: INPUT "WHO ARE THE INFIDELS", A$
    20: PRINT "1. DEATH TO ", A$
    30: INPUT "ARE THE PEOPLE STILL ENRAGED?", B$
    40: IF B$ = "N" or "n" THEN GOTO 10
    50: PRINT "2. ..."
    60: PRINT "3. Profit!"
    70: END

  • by Manip (656104) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @09:44AM (#27798079)

    While discussing this exact type of crime with a cop (of sorts) who deals with this stuff day to day, his opinion can be summarised as followed:
      - Throw away cell phone sim cards are good
      - Throw away cell phones are better (Unique ID)
      - Letter writing is safer than using a phone
      - Having a conversation is safer than writing a letter

    I am paraphrasing him now but he said something like "I would never touch a piece of technology if I didn't want to get court."

    PS - Terrorist cells are unique and individual.

    • Actually if you have a conversation you can be recorded.

      However, if when you meet your contact you put up a tent then all go inside and use ASL you can be sure no one can listen in.

  • Terrorists are dumb (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    It's because terrorists are stupid [slate.com].

    • by dbcad7 (771464)

      I'm too lazy to read all those reasons why terrorists are dumb.. To me the most obvious reason they are dumb, is because as a way to get what you want it has like zero success rate, and usually does more to hurt their cause than help it.. It turns what might be a legitimate complaint that reasonable people would address, into just the ravings of madmen that people ignore.

      If terrorist were smart.. they'd spend their money on lawyers and media, and things that could create sympathy to what they are trying to

  • by east coast (590680) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @09:56AM (#27798131)
    I don't know where this concept came from that this crime had to be high tech.

    I know, I know, the initial response from some was that the alleged terrorists weren't smart enough to come up with this and some morons ate that up. Even this past winter I had someone tell me that the terrorist plot was too sophisticated for a non-government entity.

    There is nothing surprising about this. Aside from piloting the planes this plan had all the sophistication of a junior high word problem in a mathematics course.

    "If Habbib leaves Boston at 7:20 AM and Mohammad leaves Washington D.C. at 7:35 AM what time will they get to The World Trade Center?"
    • by elucido (870205)

      Sophistication does not beat simplicity. The people in government who are worried about sophisticated uses of technology are using this for fear mongering so they can reduce freedom of speech online. I don't think sophistication is necessary to accomplishing a mission. And I think the terrorists are highly mission oriented and who would use whatever tool for the job. I think it's the teenage American kid who would likely look for the most sophisticated technology to accomplish the most simple of tasks.

      If we

  • The Vigenere Cipher [wikipedia.org], We're all fucking doomed.

    Brush up on your Koran. Get your wife into the habit of wearing a black bedsheet and walking 6 feet behind you. Because the Terrists are gonna take over when they discover Renaissance Era encryption. If the world has spent billions responding to a bunch of thugs who used simple methods to cause murderous mayhem, then when they use slightly more sophisticated means to accomplish their aims, we will have to spend TRILLIONS to defeat them. TRILLIONS I TELL YOU!

  • by downix (84795)
    Let's see the Al Qaeda inbox a moment:

    230 dead as storm batters Europe -- Storm Botnet
    Make Money Fast ---- Dave Rhodes
    REQUEST FOR URGENT BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP ----- Nigel Soladu
    LETS BOMB TWIN TOWERS ---- Osama Bin Laden
    Magically grow 3"!!! ---- Miraclgrowz
    I AM FORMER MINISTER OF FINANCE FOR BANK OF NIGERIA ---- CLEMET OKON

    How did they plan anything like this?
  • The dastardly part of all this is that the NSA/CIA may not be allowed to disclose all of their successes. Methods and processes that produce good intelligence have to be protected from public disclosure. For all we know, Hotmail has been cracked and the NSA/CIA made a false disclosure to get the terrorists all happy about their ability to elude the vaunted three-letter agencies. I mean, when the FBI makes an arrest based on an informant, they make sure to bust the informant as well, even making sure to smack him around a little so as to allay his concerns.

    It's entirely possible that the intelligence organizations suck, but perhaps they have successes that we would not know about for decades. The "secret killing program" in Iraq sounds like one of those things.

    • by ducomputergeek (595742) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @10:32AM (#27798373)

      That's true. For every 999 plots they successfully foil, you only hear about the one that got through.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

        That's true. For every 999 plots they successfully foil, you only hear about the one that got through.

        I'm pretty sure that's not true. Why? Because a couple of times each year we hear about a new terrorist plot that was foiled. Except when you look into the details it always turns out to be little more than a joke. Like the Sears Tower Plot in Miami [wikipedia.org] or the Fort Dix Plot or the [wikipedia.org] JFK Airport Plot [wikipedia.org] and don't forget the huge media circus surrounding the arrest of Jose Padilla [wikipedia.org] a guy who couldn't even keep a job working at taco bell but was purported to be plotting an attack even deadlier than 9/11. Basically

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by NeutronCowboy (896098)

      I'm perfectly happy to accept that we only know about the 0.1% of the cases where sigint failed. However, the failures that we have were ones where human intelligence was completely absent, and actually ignored. What this story shows is that you should never rely only on sigint to find out what your enemies are up to. Unfortunately, there has been a massive infatuation at the management level and up with electronics and toys, rather than the dirty business of putting shoes on the ground.

  • by crmartin (98227) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @10:12AM (#27798245)

    how completely clueless it is. Let's see ...

    (1) The NSA doesn't wiretap the US. For all the hysteria, the NSA is only looking at calls crossing the border. Inside the US its FBI, and the Feebies are very jealous of that.

      And it certainly doesn't wiretap the whole US, because there's so much ohone traffic and 0.999999 of it is uninteresting.

    (2) Could the NSA hack -- could DoJ simply subpoena -- the contents of a hotmail account? You bet ... but which hotmail account? alQaedaDeathtoAmerica@hotmail.com? Or fluffibuni387? Or what?

    (3) Now, with prepaid phone cards etc. If I'm getting this, you're saying NSA is bad because they can't get intel from something like a prepaid phone. Now think it through: Achmed al Boomaboom goes into WalMart, and buys condoms, a bag of Fritos, and a prepaid phone. He makes six "busines" calls, talking in code words, calls a hooker, and throws the phone away. How is the NSA supposed to figure out which phone it is, and capture the phone calls, before he pitches the phone.

    More to the point, how can they intercept those phone calls without intercepting all calls, or at least all prepaid cell calls?

    • by russotto (537200)

      (1) The NSA doesn't wiretap the US.

      Evidentally you've been living in a cave. Remember the big flap about AT&T putting in special rooms for NSA to tap traffic from? Those rooms were in the US, and the traffic was not limited to international traffic by any means.

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Inside the US its Canada, the UK, Australia.
      They spy for the USA in the USA, the USA spies in the UK, Canada, no laws broken then...
      Voice matching is very interesting. They dont have to care about the phone.
      Just have a known voice on one end. Then add the new voice to the database.
      Track the phone if its in use for a few days.
      Sneak and peek at any locations the phone stays.
      The whole US network is about voices, phone numbers and locations.
      Public phones would be covered by cameras too.
      Once they have
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      The NSA doesn't wiretap the US.

      How trusting you are. AT&T is well-known to have produced "secret" (whistleblown) facilities for taps specifically for the use of the US government. You really think they're only using them to tap international calls?

      More to the point, how can they intercept those phone calls without intercepting all calls, or at least all prepaid cell calls?

      What I hope you're saying here is that the whole thing is pointless...

    • ...the NSA is only looking at calls crossing the border.

      That makes me feel sooooo much better. Note that they also get to intercept Internet traffic (including those top-secret, unbreakable Hotmail accounts).

      We shouldn't be shocked that the NSA can't access a Hotmail account. We know damned well that they can, if they know which one they're breaking into. What's shocking is that we gave up these pervasive surveillance powers under grave warnings by politicians and self-styled experts. Clearly, those p

  • "If the NSA needs to wiretap the whole of the US because they can't break into a Hotmail account, you know they've got problems. "

    Maybe they don't care about that. Maybe they are after something else entirely. And you have been fooled by the excuse of Al-Quida. You don't know what Intel they are after. Probably gaging how much people are pissed off about taxes, or NY flyby coverups or such.

    Its called Strategy.

  • . If the NSA needs to wiretap the whole of the US because they can't break into a Hotmail account, you know they've got problems.

    Leaving aside generic Slashdot-brand Microsoft-hating, why should a Hotmail account be particularly easy to break into? Besides, I'm sure Microsoft would quite happily co-operate with any investigation, providing the NSA access to a suspected terrorist's account on demand, thereby circumventing the need for any "breaking in".

  • Your above average 'teacher' knows not to trust anything electronic.
    Electronics are for the students. If caught?
    "It enters the lines on its forum or else it gets the hose again."
    Not much use to the CIA.
    Yahiya Ayyash, "the Engineer" had his cell phone turned into a bomb in 1996.
    Dzokhar Dudayev (President of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria) was killed via laser-guided missiles when he was using a satellite phone in 1996.
    The NSA is said to have helped.
    The idea that *any* leadership material would touc
  • Why don't 'Al-Qaeda' use PKI encoded Usenet messages like the rest of the security services? And what ever you do don't draw attention to yourself by engaging in fraudulent activities. And of course the evidence he was a sleeper agent was he did absolutely nothing at all ..
  • This just goes to show how full of sh*t those who said, "I've got nothing to fear, I've not done anything wrong, support the government [waterboarding/wiretapping/warring/whatever] to keep us safe", actually are.

    The PATRIOT act, erosion of constitutional freedoms, secret courts, extranational torture, gutting of privacy protections, every thing that the government did since 9/11 was to increase their control over US citizens, not to protect them from maniacs using aircraft as cruise missiles.

    Funny how getti

  • The left is aghast at federal firms monitoring conversations... but the same left would have absolutely no problem with forcing vehicle inspections, requiring employers and banks to hand your income to the federal government, beating the heck out of the swiss to allow access into foreign bank accounts, tracking the flow of carbon to monitor everything we burn, allowing uav overflights to monitor co2 emissions, all in the name of saving the planet and ensuring businessman pay their taxes and the planet is sa

  • by anonieuweling (536832) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @11:06AM (#27798575)
    El qaeda etc are all fake reasons. They still want to snoop all your internet, wiretap youir phone, log your mobile phone, etc. Call it NWO, Big brother or whatever. The Qaeda reason is just a media buzz-word.
  • "alleged al-Qaida operations mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed intended to use his free Hotmail account [yahoo.com] to direct a U.S.-based operative to carry out an attack .. He used a "10-code" to protect the numbers -- subtracting the actual digits in the phone numbers from 10 to arrive at a coded number, according to a person close to the investigation"

    "Qatari citizen Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a computer science graduate [historycommons.org] student at Illinois's Bradley University .. a bachelor's degree from Bradley University in P
  • COMINT, not SIGINT (Score:3, Informative)

    by gatkinso (15975) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @12:05PM (#27798947)

    But then again, why confuse the author?

  • IRC? (Score:4, Funny)

    by failedlogic (627314) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @01:02PM (#27799285)

    The summary (I did not RTFA), there is no mention of using IRC. Though in one of the channels the other day, Osama was there!

    Here's the transcript as I remember it:

    #WindowsHelp
    IBeenHiding > mi Windoze crashed, hlp!
    j89423432 > fu noob, g00gle it!
    IBeenHiding >???? need hlp plz!
    j89423432 > ha ha ha !!!!
    IBeenHiding > shut up! i am da Al-Queda leadr
    j89423432 > ????
    IBeenHiding > it is me Osama
    j89423432 > F U! No you're not!
    IBeenHiding > stop it. I am Osama you ass!
    j89423432 > ok i believe u
    IBeenHiding > thnk u, kneel b4 me!
    j89423432 > look behind u
    IBeenHiding > ???? is that u
    j89423432 > this is da CIA
    IBeenHiding > oh shit!
    j89423432 > UR dead!
    IBeenHiding has left the chat room

  • by fantomas (94850) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @05:01PM (#27800873)

    I'm really surprised the postings here are all debating whether or not the methods of communication claimed to be used this guy and his colleagues are secure or not, and debates about NSA.

    How about questioning if this is what was actually used? Maybe he's just making it up because he's had enough of the conditions he was kept in and will say anything to get away from Guantanamo Bay. I'm not saying he was tortured, but if you put me in a military prison for five years, flew me out to Morocco for some "hard questioning", repeatedly made me feel like you were going to drown me ("waterboarding"[1]), smacked my head against a wall multiple times ("headbanging"[2]) and locked me in a small cage with insects I had a phobia about and told me they might bite me [3] I might well just say anything I thought you wanted me to.

    [1]http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/5185835/CIA-waterboarded-Khalid-Sheikh-Mohammed-183-times.html
    [2] http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB123975168816518691-lMyQjAxMDI5MzE5NDcxNTQxWj.html [wsj.com]
    [3] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1170857/Obama-wont-prosecute-CIA-agents-used-insects-waterboarding-sleep-deprivation-terror-suspects.html [dailymail.co.uk]

    When the Daily Mail, a right wing newspaper, suggests the US military are echoing interrogation techniques used in Orwell's "1984" then I think we have to be a little bit critical about believing the credibility of the information gathered in this manner.

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