back to article Brit spymasters: Cheers, Snowden. Terrorists are overhauling their comms

Terrorists in Afghanistan and the Middle East are discussing changing their communication systems as a result of Edward Snowden's revelations, the boss of GCHQ said on Thursday. Sir Iain Lobban, director of the UK's eavesdropping nerve center, made the claims during a meeting in London with MPs and lords on Parliament's …

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      1. jubtastic1
        Holmes

        The problem with your argument

        Is that it requires completely incorruptible security services and government, forever.

        We find ourselves in a situation where our security services and by extension our elected leaders have access to information about us that we might not even be aware of ourselves. In the wrong hands unimaginable levels of pressure could be applied to opposition politicians, judges, policemen, businessmen, journalists, or anyone else that wandered into the firing line.

        Put another way, If your goal was to swiftly switch your country from a western democracy into something more like China or Russia, this dragnet would be your absolute best course of action.

    1. Mephistro
      Flame

      @ AC 7th November 2013 22:34 GMT

      "Do all the paranoid people on here think we simply shouldn't have intelligence services?"

      You don't need to be paranoid to see where this could take us. A government agency with the power to spy on everyone and blackmail everyone? Without effective checks and balances? Working in a deliberately diffuse legal framework that allows said agency to, basically, ignore previous Laws?

      In my opinion, it's either we fight -and defeat- this kind of shit or we'll be building concentration camps inside the next two decades.*

      *: Yes, a Goldwin. So what?

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        @Mephisto

        "You don't need to be paranoid to see where this could take us."

        Where it already has taken us, surely?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "Where it already has taken us, surely?"

          No, the next step beyond full intelligence take is criminal misuse of such database.

          Only in faraway places like Prague & Sofia[0] have the police/lawful intercept/military intelligence collection groups/prime ministers recently been sanctioned for blatant misuse of their citizen-data-capture systems.

          It's the next step that I'm worried about, as I currently trust Rt.Hon's DC & NC as average parliamentarians, the next step is to abuse the search function of your massive database and slightly make things worse for your targets/targetted groups/citizens. (France has admitted that they can keyword search an entire year of their citizens' internet history for a particular phrase or word)[1]

          imagine a national blacklist - much bigger and nastier than the intelligence led Consulting Association Blacklist[2] - with someone nastier than dame Shirley Porter[3] in charge of the keywords and the subtle reverse-lottery prizes - this bad place is a place that UK is coming perilously near with the current NSA/GCHQ TIA fuckup[4]

          but don't worry as Sir Malcolm, KCMG, QC will protect us?[5]

          [0]http://www.novinite.com/articles/149591/Bulgarian+Prosecution+Hints+Spying+Breaches+Begun+with+GERB

          [1]http://owni.fr/2011/08/31/amesys-amnesie-dpi-libye-kadhafi-surveillance/

          [2]http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/oct/12/police-blacklist-construction-workers-watchdog

          [3]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homes_for_votes_scandal

          [4]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_Awareness_Office

          [5]http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/10/31/malcolm-rifkind-isc-snowden-guardian_n_4184238.html "Rifkind ...barely knows what day of the week it is"?

          1. BrownishMonstr

            Re: "Where it already has taken us, surely?"

            Sigh, the country's in the shitter. Let's scrap it and start again. Britain 2.0.

    2. DiViDeD

      Unfortunately, in the kind of world we live in, intelligence services are part of the package. But it seems this is no longer a case of operations to determine threats to national security, or to track known terrorists/criminals/paedophiles/liberals.

      I don't accept your two implied arguments here:

      1. There is no indication of ANYONE 'making a call' about privacy. It seems our intelligence services are in a mad dash to collect absolutely every bit of data, no matter how insignificant, about absolutely everyone on the bloody planet, and then store it forever. That's not 'making a call', it's indiscriminate snooping.

      2. You appear to believe there are only two options here: to collect absolutely everything about everybody, or to collect no data at all. Surely those are only options for people who are incapable of applying any common sense or judgement, and if that's the sort of person our intelligence services are recruiting these days, maybe it's high time we turned the spotlight on them.

      And THANKYOU El Reg for the edit button. Sometimes the rabid froth obscures the screen and hides my typos.

    3. T. F. M. Reader

      the limits ... are something worthy of debate

      Those limits are the only thing that is being debated. Everything else in your post is a figment of your imagination.

    4. a53

      Land of the free ?

      So in your eyes, we're all guilty until we manage the impossible task of proving ourselves innocent. And as that's a position that could obviously change at any time, we're all permanently guilty.

      The argument you're making has an analogy: That of wholesale fishing in our oceans which all but wiped out huge varieties of fish stocks from which they're struggling to recover. Short term thinking that has decimated fishing boat numbers.

      Not a world I want to live in.

  1. Petersbear

    Remember when Bin Laden knew his sat phone was being tracked he moved to courier using a USB device. That is why it took so long to track him down. We can argue about the way the USA tracked him down and killed him but tracking was delayed by several years.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    EDWARD SNOWDEN LEAKS COULD HELP AUSTRALIA WIN THE ASHES!

    1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

      Have an upvote. This is far more believeable than what the spooks are saying.

      1. James Hughes 1

        Only if you believe the Aussies have the remotest chance of winning the Ashes...

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They left out the kitten-stranglers!!

    They left out the kitten-stranglers!!s societal damage due to kitten snuff film rackets, can we?

    Intelligence, yes. Surveillance with due process, sure! Forming the basis of a modern police state, Hell no!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dear GCHQ outpost of NSA

    What's the excuse for not tracking down those who 'suicided' David Kelly and one of your own, Gareth Williams, and those who murdered the al-Hilli family. All of which are very 'spooky' affairs.

  5. Roger Stenning
    Headmaster

    I'm not...

    ...about to comment on the report, other have already done that to death. I will, however, say that you need a better dictionary. You do not spell it "defense". That's the American spelling. Over here, old boy, we spell it "defence".

    1. DiViDeD

      Re: I'm not...

      Well said sir! Have an upvote for being my kind of pedant!

      Or is that 'up-vote'? Up Vote'? 'Vote Up'? just 'Vote'? and should it be 'kind' or 'sort'?

      Bugger this grammer naziism is tough!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I'm not...

        It's "Nazism".

      2. Irony Deficient

        grammer?

        Grammar.

  6. Old Handle

    Don't Forget

    Their definition of "terrorist" includes journalists, so this news isn't as alarming as it first appears, and in fact may be a good thing.

    1. Mephistro
      Devil

      Re: Don't Forget

      "Their definition of "terrorist" includes journalists"

      True! . But that gets balanced, somehow, by that funny definition of 'torture' that doesn't include waterboarding. ;-)

  7. Graham Marsden
    Facepalm

    "We have seen chat among terrorist groups...

    "...discussing how to avoid what they now perceive to be vulnerable," said Sir Iain.

    Thus revealing valuable intelligence to the Terrorists...

    1. dogged

      Re: "We have seen chat among terrorist groups...

      And clearly, they're not fixing the right things or MI6 wouldn't have seen it.

  8. MrDamage Silver badge

    Upgrading?

    They are probably downgrading more than likely.

    Going back to the good old snail mail approach, using a cipher that is disguised as a recipe for Aunty Fatima's Goat and Lentil stew.

  9. Nick Kew

    A cunning plan ....

    So the whole Snowden thing is really a charade. Shake peoples belief in cryptographic security, and nudge those who have something to hide towards denying themselves the power of modern communications. Granny Weatherwax would be proud of the headology.

    Well, maybe. I wouldn't care to say, one way or the other. But if "NSA can work around internet crypto" were true (beyond what they can get by traditional blackhat methods like social-engineering), then surely talking it up like this is the *last* thing either the spooks or the politicians would be doing.

  10. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    State Secret? Or Well Known Leak?

    I have no idea who thought it was a good idea to have the public figureheads of national intelligence and cyber security and virtual protection and Parliamentary watch dogging parade their significant inadequacies and vast swathes of global control inexpertise on television for all to see and hear, but to imagine that its impact and damage to national security and international reputation be any less than that which is being attributed to Snowden memorabilia, is to be fooling oneself to an idiotically dangerous and easily manipulated degree.

    So, who was that bright spark/shadowy mole?

    And quite why none or all of the three stooges didn’t unambiguously reply to that unnecessarily revealing Parliamentary ISC chaired request with a robust and COSMICally understood “FCUK OFF”, is surely something which identifies all instrumental and starring in the show as unfit for present rapidly evolving security protection office and most definitely its developing revolutionary formats with revised hyperdriver protocols for More Purposeful Future Greater IntelAIgent Games Use in Beta AIMissionary Expeditions.

    And No, that is not a BAE Program and Cyber Project‽. And Yes, that is not yet a BAE Program and Cyber Project‽.

    1. M Gale

      Am I high?

      Because that Martian post nearly made sense.

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: Am I high?*

        Am I high?

        Because that Martian post nearly made sense. .... M Gale Posted Friday 8th November 2013 06:10 GMT

        Nearly made sense, M Gale? What be the hurdle to your leap in understanding with what can now be easily done for the primitive and primeval prime and sub-prime being with Creative CyberSpace Command and Control of IT and Media for Virtual Reality AIMissions with Communications and Computers .... Quantum Field Global Operating Devices?

        Oh, and still no acknowledgement of receipt of message introducing such as the above and Sublime Application of ProgramMING from this government money pit/crazy quango/mad sinecure/rad phish/empty head office ...... cyber@ukti.gsi.gov.uk

        * Give yourself a break, MG, and accept that you are probably getting smarter because of what you read and are being fed/seeded with.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Pint

        Re: Am I high?

        It made as much, or more, sense than quite a few of the posts above it. Personally, I can usually spot a martian post, and therefore skip it, within the first sentence. This time, I got all of the way to M Gale's post before without noticing.

    2. Valeyard

      Re: State Secret? Or Well Known Leak?

      Aw man that reminds me. I've still to write that greasemonkey script to get rid of you.

      Keep going though, fill those GCHQ servers up with junk for us, you damn fine figure of a man

      *wipes away a tear proudly*

  11. Schultz
    WTF?

    Let me get this straight

    The spooks were allowed to secretly spy with the explicit job to catch terrorists. They misused that freedom to spy on all and sundry. An upright citizen from the land of the free saw this misuse of authority and revealed it. As a result, the spooks' work got harder. Sounds like some heads should roll: Who authorized the excessive spying? Who allowed the system to grow to ridiculous proportions without checks and balances -- causing the public outrage driving the whole affair? Who neglected the security of the whole thing to a point that a single sysadmin can bring down the whole thing? There is a lot of blame to go around, but none of it belongs to Mr Snowden.

  12. Chris Sake
    FAIL

    Sir Iain

    Security by obscurity is NOT security.

  13. titleist

    Gingerbread and Snowden

    Disclosure I don't work for the NSA, a couple thread contrarian thoughts to stir the pot:

    1. The first question blasting out of everyone's mouth after a 911 - " What the f*ck was the NSA doing? Lives were lost and they got too aggressive. Just don't swing the pendulum too far the other way I doubt your gingerbread recipe is that precious and if it is it shouldn't be on the internet.

    2. Snowden is part hero / part traitor, there must have been sympathetic audiences inside the government he could have aired concerns to first instead of broadcasting to the world. Instead caused damage and living in Russia / lost credibility.

    Trev

    1. James Hughes 1

      Re: Gingerbread and Snowden

      1. Even wehen spying on the whole world,m they still managed to miss 9/11

      2. How do you find a sympathetic audience, even if there is one? Choose the wrong one, and you go straight to jail, do not pass go, and do not collect £200

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Gingerbread and Snowden

      Well, we've now seen and heard from a lot of the big cheeses in the system to whom Snowden would have had to complain. I don't hear any of them sounding sympathetic, do you?

      Which of them has said "Yeah, that Snowden was spot-on. We really do need to cut back this spying stuff, silly of us not to see that before. It's just a pity he didn't draw our attention to it a bit earlier, then we could have done something." ?

  14. Lapun Mankimasta

    " The GCHQ director rarely, if ever, speaks in public, just like his staff, but he added: "I don't think secret means sinister." "

    And this after they tell us, "If you're not doing anything wrong, you've got nothing to hide" and the like. I take it as read that he's just confessed to criminal intent.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "battle sexual exploitation of children"

    I've seen people describe this as not a matter of National Security. But this is Serious Business. After all the future of a nation depends on its children, and if we don't protect our children then we don't protect our future. Thus making this a matter of National Security.

    On next post I will explain how not recycling an used paper pad is a matter of National Security too, and how for our own good our purchases of paper pads must be tracked.

    Be assured the GCHQ, NSA and other countries' government agencies are diligently working to track your pads, and due to recent traitorous revelations from terrorist Snowden they will justifiably be requesting an increase in budget in order to protect National Security.

    Yes, a few radicalized minds have said Snowden is a patriot and not a terrorist. But I ask you, do you feel safer after that bad man Snowden leaked National Secrets endangering National Security? Do you feel safe? You don't! He's spreading fear! Terrorist I say! Burn him! Burn him!

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Happy

      "Yes, a few radicalized minds have said Snowden is a patriot and not a terrorist. But I ask you, do you feel safer after that bad man Snowden leaked National Secrets endangering National Security? Do you feel safe? You don't! He's spreading fear! Terrorist I say! Burn him! Burn him!"

      Nice parody.

      Have an upvote.

  16. JCitizen
    Pirate

    I can only look at it in 911 eyes...

    Did we know that terrorists were in the US training on airplane simulators - yes - why did we not react? - purposeful disengagement created by abuse in the past during the '60s and '70s war with the "Weathermen" anti-war movement and other so called radical groups like the Black Panthers. - So all we needed was a small tweak in the US to avoid, or at least mitigate past abuse, but still share just enough information to bust the terrorists. Why did we need the 'The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004'? We didn't - we just needed a small tweak! Leave it up to shrill cry babies to get the evil empire started! We don't need no stinking Home Land Security, we already had the upper hand - this NSA thing is a violation of our 4th, 5th, and 10th Amendment rights in the US Constitution. Mark my words - they will rue the day they did this! They already are!

  17. DJO Silver badge

    Hypocrisy

    "We have seen chat among terrorist groups discussing how to avoid what they now perceive to be vulnerable," said Sir Iain.

    So Snowdon was a traitor for revealing that the spooks are using various methods to spy on the terrorists while Sir Iain has in that statement revealed that they definitely are listening in to wherever the bad folks are discussing these matters in which case his revelation is far more damaging. Or he was making it up and was guessing the bad folk are discussing in which case he is guilty of misleading Parliament which is treason.

  18. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    Both GCHQ and NSA are outgrowths of WWII agencies whose remit was "collect all."

    Trouble is neither of them seems to have dialed it down since.

    If they were honest they'd say "We couldn't spy on everyone 24/7/365 because the technology was not up to it not because we didn't want to. But now the tech is up to it, so we can."

    Funny how spooks away play the "Nothing to hide, nothing to fear" card is it not?

    Politicians should all know the reply is "Give me 6 lines from an honest man, and I'll find something to hang him."

    Note the "crime" in the latter case is simple. I don't like him.

    And that's his only crime. The rest is simply finding a "legal" excuse to hang him.

  19. JaitcH
    WTF?

    The Three Monkeys on display

    Why should ANYONE believe this Pony & Cart show - except gullible people?

    Obviously they have learnt from the US version with 'Clap-Trap' Clapper and Alexander admitting to lying. Likely pre-scripted questions with the force of cotton-balls. Just another act in Security Theatre.

    And what was the purpose ... to accuse an American of leaking UK secrets?

    That their 'secrets' leaked out was the problem with NSA and NSA' ability to keep things confidential. These things should have been kept on a UK-controlled server.

    Given that Ms. Manning had previously outed all the secrets from the State Department, The Three Monkeys should have wised up and had a chat with their friends in the USA. Obviously they failed in their duty.

    One thing for sure, never have either UK or US security agencies ever stood so exposed.

    Thank you, Edward Snowden.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    here's THE proof

    a transcript of a conversation held by the Terrorist 1 and Terrorist 2 (undisclosed identity, as it's an operational matter, as you all MUST clearly understand) at an undisclosed location (see above, but we can make an exception: it's in AFGAHNISTAN!). The conversation went like this:

    T1:

    Dude, this guy Snowden gave me and idea, man!

    T2:

    Oh, like to beef up our security measures, right?

    T1:

    yeah, exactly.

    T2:

    Done. Where would we be without Snowden, huh?

    T1:

    Yeah, Snowden, he's our savior, man!

    T2:

    With Snowden we'll be able to bring the death to the infidels, at last!

    T1:

    Snowden rulez!

    T2:

    yeah, Snowden, SNOWDEN, SNOWDEN...

  21. teebie

    "The spy chief said he would only go into the specifics if the committee held a session closed to journalists and the public"

    Because speaking in front of someone with an ounce of credulity would "harm... britain... terrorists... paedophiles...etc"

    "34 terrorist plots had been thwarted in the UK "

    Thwarted by whom? I bet several of the ones that were actual plots were by the 'terrorists' themselves.

    I can't remember the source (*), so don't think this is reliable, but I heard a story of bombers strapping on their vests, then having one last group hug...a very last group hug. The tag line was something to do with the downside of supporting a cause that hates education.

    (*) and sadly searching "terrorist hug explosion" was no use outside of band-naming duties.

  22. w lutchman

    bill

    These aholes must think us all simpletons who are convinced in our tiny little moronic minds that the terrorist community never had any idea whatsoever that the nsa gchq et all were spying on them, and were quite happily paying them no attention until the nasty little man exposed it all.

    Is this what we are paying them for? Where's Frank spencer / Fred carno when you need them?

  23. This Side Up

    Maybe...

    if NSA and GCHQ had targeted the terrorists instead of slurping all and sundry they wouldn't have had the whistle blown on them.

  24. JaitcH
    FAIL

    The Three Monkeys on display

    Why should ANYONE believe a Pony & Cart show - except gullible people?

    Obviously they have learnt from the US version with Clap-Trap Clapper and Alexander admitting to lying. Likely pre-scripted questions with the force of cotton-balls. Just another act in Security Theatre.

    And what was the purpose ... to accuse an American of leaking UK secrets?

    That their 'secrets' leaked out was the problem with NSA and NSA' ability to keep things confidential. These things should have been kept on a UK-controlled server.

    Given that Ms. Manning had previously outed all the secrets from the State Department, The Three Monkeys should have wised up and had a chat with their friends in the USA.

    Obviously the Monkeys don't understand/accept they have broken the public trust and they have much work to do to restore even a modicum of trust.

  25. Dropper

    words fail me..

    "spies don't go out into the field and report back two months later with a new blonde"

    Does this mean the terrorists have indeed won? I thought it was the duty of every spy (male or female) to be a sex-crazed, hedonistic gambler with a drinking problem. It saddens me that this might not be true.

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