Bloomsbury, 423 pp., $30.00
On a remote edge of Utah's dry and arid high desert, where temperatures often zoom past 100 degrees, hard-hatted construction workers with top-secret clearances are preparing to build what may become America's equivalent of Jorge Luis Borges's "Library of Babel," a place where the collection of information is both infinite and at the same time monstrous, where the entire world's knowledge is stored, but not a single word is understood. At a million square feet, the mammoth $2 billion structure will be one-third larger than the US Capitol and will use the same amount of energy as every house in Salt Lake City combined.
Unlike Borges's "labyrinth of letters," this library expects few visitors. It's being built by the ultra-secret National Security Agency—which is primarily responsible for "signals intelligence," the collection and analysis of various forms of communication—to house trillions of phone calls, e-mail messages, and data trails: Web searches, parking receipts, bookstore visits, and other digital "pocket litter." Lacking adequate space and power at its city-sized Fort Meade, Maryland, headquarters, the NSA is also completing work on another data archive, this one in San Antonio, Texas, which will be nearly the size of the Alamodome.
Just how much information will be stored in these windowless cybertemples? A clue comes from a recent report prepared by the MITRE Corporation, a Pentagon think tank. "As the sensors associated with the various surveillance missions improve," says the report, referring to a variety of technical collection methods, "the data volumes are increasing with a projection that sensor data volume could potentially increase to the level of Yottabytes (1024 Bytes) by 2015." Roughly equal to about a septillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) pages of text, numbers beyond Yottabytes haven't yet been named. Once vacuumed up and stored in these near-infinite "libraries," the data are then analyzed by powerful infoweapons, supercomputers running complex algorithmic programs, to determine who among us may be—or may one day become—a terrorist. In the NSA's world of automated surveillance on steroids, every bit has a history and every keystroke tells a story.
In the near decade since September 11, the tectonic plates beneath the American intelligence community have undergone a seismic shift, knocking the director of the CIA from the top of the organizational chart and replacing him with the new director of national intelligence, a desk-bound espiocrat with a large staff but little else. Not only surviving the earthquake but emerging as the most powerful chief the spy world has ever known was the director of the NSA. He is in charge of an organization three times the size of the CIA and empowered in 2008 by Congress to spy on Americans to an unprecedented degree, despite public criticism of the Bush administration's use of the agency to conduct warrantless domestic surveillance as part of the "war on terror." The legislation also largely freed him of the nettlesome Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA). And in another significant move, he was recently named to head the new Cyber Command, which also places him in charge of the nation's growing force of cyber warriors.
Wasting no time, the agency has launched a building boom, doubling the size of its headquarters, expanding its listening posts, and constructing enormous data factories. One clue to the possible purpose of the highly secret megacenters comes from the agency's British partner, Government Communications Headquarters. Last year, the British government proposed the creation of an enormous government-run central database to store details on every phone call, e-mail, and Internet search made in the United Kingdom. Click a "send" key or push an "answer" button and the details of the communication end up, perhaps forever, in the government's data warehouse to be scrutinized and analyzed.
But when the plans were released by the UK government, there was an immediate outcry from both the press and the public, leading to the scrapping of the "big brother database," as it was called. In its place, however, the government came up with a new plan. Instead of one vast, centralized database, the telecom companies and Internet service providers would be required to maintain records of all details about people's phone, e-mail, and Web-browsing habits for a year and to permit the government access to them when asked. That has led again to public anger and to a protest by the London Internet Exchange, which represents more than 330 telecommunications firms. "We view...the volume of data the government now proposes [we] should collect and retain will be unprecedented, as is the overall level of intrusion into the privacy of citizenry," the group said in August.
Unlike the British government, which, to its great credit, allowed public debate on the idea of a central data bank, the NSA obtained the full cooperation of much of the American telecom industry in utmost secrecy after September 11. For example, the agency built secret rooms in AT&T's major switching facilities where duplicate copies of all data are diverted, screened for key names and words by computers, and then transmitted on to the agency for analysis. Thus, these new centers in Utah, Texas, and possibly elsewhere will likely become the centralized repositories for the data intercepted by the NSA in America's version of the "big brother database" rejected by the British.
Matthew M. Aid has been after the NSA's secrets for a very long time. As a sergeant and Russian linguist in the NSA's Air Force branch, he was arrested and convicted in a court-martial, thrown into prison, and slapped with a bad conduct discharge for impersonating an officer and making off with a stash of NSA documents stamped Top Secret Codeword. He now prefers to obtain the NSA's secrets legally, through the front door of the National Archives. The result is The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security Agency , a footnote-heavy history told largely through declassified but heavily redacted NSA reports that have been slowly trickling out of the agency over the years. They are most informative in the World War II period but quickly taper off in substance during the cold war.
Aid begins his study on the eve of Pearl Harbor, a time when the entire American cryptologic force could fit into a small, half-empty community theater. But by war's end, it would take a football stadium to seat the 37,000 military and civilian "crippies." On August 14, 1945, as the ink dried on Japan's instruments of surrender, the linguists and codebreakers manning the thirty-seven key listening posts around the world were reading more than three hundred diplomatic code and cipher systems belonging to sixty countries. "The American signals intelligence empire stood at the zenith of its power and prestige," notes Aid. But within days, the cryptanalysts put away their well-sharpened pencils and the intercept operators hung up their earphones. By the end of December 1945, America's crypto world had shrunk to 7,500 men and women.
Despite the drastic layoffs, the small cadre of US and British codebreakers excelled against the new "main enemy," as Russia became known. The joint US-British effort deciphered tens of thousands of Russian army and navy messages during the mid-to-late 1940s. But on October 29, 1948, as President Truman was about to deliver a campaign speech in New York, the party was over. In what became known within the crypto world as "Black Friday," the Russian government and military flipped a switch and instantly converted to new, virtually unbreakable encryption systems and from vulnerable radio signals to buried cables. In the war between spies and machines, the spies won. The Soviets had managed to recruit William Weisband, a forty-year-old Russian linguist working for the US Army, who informed them of key cryptologic weaknesses the Americans were successfully exploiting. It was a blow from which the codebreakers would never recover. NSA historians called it "perhaps the most significant intelligence loss in US history."
In the 1970s, when some modest gains were made in penetrating the Russian systems, history would repeat itself and another American turncoat, this time Ronald Pelton, would again give away the US secrets. Since then, it has largely been a codemaker's market not only with regard to high-level Russian ciphers, but also those of other key countries, such as China and North Korea. On the other hand, the NSA has made significant progress against less cryptologically sophisticated countries and, from them, gained insight into plans and intentions of countries about which the US has greater concerns. Thus, when a Chinese diplomat at the United Nations discusses some new African venture with a colleague from Sudan, the eavesdroppers at the NSA may be deaf to the Chinese communications links but they may be able to get that same information by exploiting weaknesses in Sudan's communications and cipher systems when the diplomat reports the meeting to Khartoum. But even third-world cryptography can be daunting. During the entire war in Vietnam, writes Aid, the agency was never able to break the high-level encryption systems of either the North Vietnamese or the Vietcong. It is a revelation that leads him to conclude "that everything we thought we knew about the role of NSA in the Vietnam War needs to be reconsidered."
Because the book is structured chronologically, it is somewhat difficult to decipher the agency's overall record. But one sees troubling trends. One weakness that seems to recur is that the agency, set up in the wake of World War II to prevent another surprise attack, is itself frequently surprised by attacks and other serious threats. In the 1950s, as over 100,000 heavily armed North Korean troops surged across the 38th parallel into South Korea, the codebreakers were among the last to know. "The North Korean target was ignored," says a declassified NSA report quoted by Aid. "North Korea got lost in the shuffle and nobody told us that they were interested in what was going on north of the 38th parallel," exclaimed one intelligence officer. At the time, astonishingly, the Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSA), the NSA's predecessor, didn't even have a Korean-language dictionary.
Unfortunately for General Douglas MacArthur, the codebreakers were able to read the communications of Spain's ambassador to Tokyo and other diplomats, who noted that in their discussions with the general, he made clear his secret hope for all-out war with China and Russia, including the use of nuclear weapons if necessary. In a rare instance of secret NSA intercepts playing a major part in US politics, once the messages were shown to President Truman, MacArthur's career abruptly ended.
Another major surprise came in the 1960s when the Soviet Union was able to move large numbers of personnel, large amounts of equipment, and many ballistic missiles to Cuba without the NSA hearing a peep. Still unable to break into the high-level Soviet cipher systems, the agency was unaware that the 51st Rocket Division had packed up and was encamped in Cuba. Nor did it detect the move of five complete medium-range and intermediate-range missile regiments from their Russian bases to Cuba. And it had no knowledge that Russian ballistic missiles were on Cuban soil, being positioned in launchers. "Soviet communications security was almost perfect," according to an NSA historian.
The first clues that something unusual was happening had come in mid-July 1962, when NSA analysts noticed record numbers of Soviet cargo and passenger ships heading for Cuba. Analysis of their unencrypted shipping manifests led the NSA to suspect that the ships were delivering weapons. But the nuclear-armed ballistic missiles were not detected until mid-October, a month after their arrival, and not by the NSA; it was the CIA, acting on information from its sources in Cuba and Florida, that ordered the U-2 reconnaisance flight that photographed them at launch sites on the island. "The crisis," Aid concludes, "was in fact anything but an intelligence success story." This is a view shared by the agency itself in a candid internal history, which noted that the harrowing events "marked the most significant failure of SIGINT [signals intelligence] to warn national leaders since World War II."
More recently, the NSA was unaware of India's impending nuclear test in 1998, the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, and the 1998 bombing of two of America's East African embassies. The agency first learned of the September 11 attacks on $300 television sets tuned to CNN, not its billion-dollar eavesdropping satellites tuned to al-Qaeda.
Then there is the pattern by which the NSA was actually right about a warning, but those in power chose to ignore it. During the Korean War, the AFSA picked up numerous indications from low-level unencrypted Chinese intercepts that the Chinese were shifting hundreds of thousands of combat troops to Manchuria by rail, an obvious signal that China might enter the war. But those in charge of Army intelligence simply refused to believe it; it didn't fit in with their plans.
Then, by reading the dispatches between India's well-connected ambassador to Beijing and his Foreign Office, it became clear that China would intervene if UN forces crossed the 38th parallel into North Korea. But again, says Aid, the warning "was either discounted or ignored completely by policymakers in Washington," and as the UN troops began crossing the divide, Chinese troops crossed the Yalu River into North Korea. Even when intercepts indicated that the Chinese were well entrenched in the North, officials in Washington and Seoul remained in a state of disbelief, until both South Korean and US forces there were attacked by the Chinese forces.
The pattern was repeated in Vietnam when NSA reporting warned on January 25, 1968, that a major coordinated attack would occur "in the near future in several areas of South Vietnam." But neither the White House, the CIA, nor General William Westmoreland at US military headquarters in Saigon believed it, until over 100,000 North Vietnamese and Vietcong troops launched their Tet offensive in the South five days later on January 30. "The [NSA] reports failed to shake the commands in Washington and Saigon from their perception," says an NSA history. Tragically, Aid notes, at the end of the war, all of the heroic Vietnamese cryptologic personnel who greatly helped the NSA were left behind. "Many," the NSA report reveals, "undoubtedly perished." It added, "Their story is yet untold." Then again in 1973, as in Korea and Vietnam, the NSA warned that Egypt and Syria were planning "a major offensive" against Israel. But, as Aid quotes an official NSA history, the CIA refused to believe that an attack was imminent "because [they thought] the Arabs wouldn't be 'stupid enough' to attack Israel." They were, they did, and they won.
Everything seemed to go right for the NSA during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which the agency had accurately forecast. "NSA predicted on December 22 , three full days before the first Soviet troops crossed the Soviet–Afghan border, that the Russians would invade Afghanistan within the next seventy-two hours," writes Aid, adding, "Afghanistan may have been the 'high water mark' for NSA."
The agency also recorded the words of the Russian fighter pilot and his ground controllers as he shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007 in 1983. Although the agency knew that the Russians had accidently mistaken the plane for a potentially hostile US military aircraft, the Reagan administration nevertheless deliberately spun the intercepts to make it seem that the fighter pilot knew all along that it was a passenger jet, infuriating NSA officials. "The White House's selective release of the most salacious of the NSA material concerning the shootdown set off a firestorm of criticism inside NSA," writes Aid. It was not the first time, nor would it be the last, that the NSA's product was used for political purposes.
The most troubling pattern, however, is that the NSA, through gross incompetence, bad intelligence, or deliberate deception through the selective release of information, has helped to push the US into tragic wars. A prime example took place in 1964 when the Johnson administration claimed that two US Navy destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin, one on an eavesdropping mission for the NSA, were twice attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats. Those attacks were then used to justify the escalation of American involvement in the Vietnam War. But Aid cites a top-secret NSA analysis of the incident, completed in 2000, which concluded that the second attack, the one used to justify the war, never took place. Instead, NSA officials deliberately withheld 90 percent of the intelligence on the attacks and told the White House only what it wanted to hear. According to the analysis, only intelligence "that supported the claim that the communists had attacked the two destroyers was given to administration officials."
Not having learned its lesson, in the lead-up to the war in Iraq the NSA again told the administration only what it wanted to hear, despite the clearly ambiguous nature of the evidence. For years beforehand, the agency's coverage of Iraq was disastrous. In the late 1990s, the Iraqis began shifting much of their high-level military communications from radio to buried fiber optic networks, and at the same time, Saddam Hussein banned the use of cell phones. That left only occasional low-level troop communications. According to a later review, Aid writes, NSA had "virtually no useful signals intelligence on a target that was one of the United States' top intelligence priorities." And the little intelligence it did have pointed away from Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction. "We looked long and hard for any signs," said one retired NSA official. "We just never found a 'smoking gun' that Saddam was trying to build nukes or anything else." That, however, did not prevent the NSA director, Lieutenant Gen. Michael V. Hayden, from stamping his approval on the CIA's 2002 National Intelligence Estimate arguing that Iraq's WMDs posed a grave danger, which helped prepare the way for the devastating war.
While much of the terrain Aid covers has been explored before, the most original areas in The Secret Sentry deal with the ground wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the NSA was forced to marry, largely unsuccessfully, its super-high-tech strategic capabilities in space with its tactical forces on the ground. Before the September 11 attacks, the agency's coverage of Afghanistan was even worse than that of Iraq. At the start of the war, the NSA's principal listening post for the region did not have a single linguist proficient in Pashto or Dari, Afghanistan's two principal languages. Agency recruiters descended on Fremont, California, home of the country's largest population of Afghan expatriates, to build up a cadre of translators—only to have most candidates rejected by the agency's overparanoid security experts. On the plus side, because of the collapse of the Taliban regime's rudimentary communications system, its leaders were forced to communicate only by satellite phones, which were very susceptible to NSA monitoring.
Other NSA tactical teams, Aid explains, collaborated on the ground with Special Forces units, including in the mountains of Tora Bora. But it was a new type of war, one the NSA was not prepared for, and both Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar easily slipped through its electronic net. Eight years later, despite billions of dollars spent by the agency and dozens of tapes released by bin Laden, the NSA is no closer to capturing him or Mullah Omar than it was at Tora Bora in 2001.
Disappointingly, the weakest section of the book, mostly summaries of old news clips, deals with what may be the most important subject: the NSA's warrantless eavesdropping and its targeting of American communications. There is no discussion, for example, of the agency's huge data-mining centers, mentioned above, currently being built in Utah and Texas, or to what extent the agency, which has long been confined to foreign and international communications, is now engaged in domestic eavesdropping.
It is a key question and we have no precise answer. By installing its intercept rooms in such locations as AT&T's main switching station in downtown San Francisco, the agency has physical access to domestic as well as international communications. Thus it is possible that the agency scans all the e-mail of both and it may also eavesdrop on the telephone calls of both for targets on its ever-growing watch lists. According to a recent Justice Department report, "As of December 31, 2008, the consolidated terrorist watchlist contained more than 1.1 million known or suspected terrorist identities."
Aid's history becomes thin as it gets closer to the present day and the archival documents dwindle, especially since he has no substantial first-person, on-the-record interviews. Beyond a brief mention, he also leaves other important aspects of the NSA's history unaddressed, including the tumultuous years in the mid-1970s when it was investigated by the Senate's Church Committee for decades of illegal spying; Trailblazer, the nearly decade-long failure to modernize the agency; and the NSA's increasingly important role in cyberwarfare and its implications in future wars.
Where does all this leave us? Aid concludes that the biggest problem facing the agency is not the fact that it's drowning in untranslated, indecipherable, and mostly unusable data, problems that the troubled new modernization plan, Turbulence, is supposed to eventually fix. "These problems may, in fact, be the tip of the iceberg," he writes. Instead, what the agency needs most, Aid says, is more power. But the type of power to which he is referring is the kind that comes from electrical substations, not statutes. "As strange as it may sound," he writes, "one of the most urgent problems facing NSA is a severe shortage of electrical power." With supercomputers measured by the acre and estimated $70 million annual electricity bills for its headquarters, the agency has begun browning out, which is the reason for locating its new data centers in Utah and Texas. And as it pleads for more money to construct newer and bigger power generators, Aid notes, Congress is balking.
The issue is critical because at the NSA, electrical power is political power. In its top-secret world, the coin of the realm is the kilowatt. More electrical power ensures bigger data centers. Bigger data centers, in turn, generate a need for more access to phone calls and e-mail and, conversely, less privacy. The more data that comes in, the more reports flow out. And the more reports that flow out, the more political power for the agency.
Rather than give the NSA more money for more power—electrical and political—some have instead suggested just pulling the plug. "NSA can point to things they have obtained that have been useful," Aid quotes former senior State Department official Herbert Levin, a longtime customer of the agency, "but whether they're worth the billions that are spent, is a genuine question in my mind."
Based on the NSA's history of often being on the wrong end of a surprise and a tendency to mistakenly get the country into, rather than out of, wars, it seems to have a rather disastrous cost-benefit ratio. Were it a corporation, it would likely have gone belly-up years ago. The September 11 attacks are a case in point. For more than a year and a half the NSA was eavesdropping on two of the lead hijackers, knowing they had been sent by bin Laden, while they were in the US preparing for the attacks. The terrorists even chose as their command center a motel in Laurel, Maryland, almost within eyesight of the director's office. Yet the agency never once sought an easy-to-obtain FISA warrant to pinpoint their locations, or even informed the CIA or FBI of their presence.
But pulling the plug, or even allowing the lights to dim, seems unlikely given President Obama's hawkish policies in Afghanistan. However, if the war there turns out to be the train wreck many predict, then Obama may decide to take a much closer look at the spy world's most lavish spender. It is a prospect that has some in the Library of Babel very nervous. "It was a great ride while it lasted," said one.
The MITRE Corporation, "Data Analysis Challenges" (December 2008), p. 13.
David Leppard, "Internet Firms Resist Ministers' Plan to Spy on Every E-mail," The Sunday Times , August 2, 2009.
"The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Terrorist Watchlist Nomination Practices," US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, Audit Division, Audit Report 09-25, May 2009.
September 25, 2009
By Tom BurghardtSpeaking at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club September 15, Director of National Intelligence Admiral Dennis C. Blair, disclosed that the current annual budget for the 16 agency U.S. "Intelligence Community" (IC) clocks-in at $75 billion and employs some 200,000 operatives world-wide, including private contractors.
Under the program, authorized state, local or tribal officials will be able to access pre-approved data on the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network. However, they won't have the ability to upload data or edit existing content, officials said. They also will not have access to all classified information, only the information that federal officials make available to them.
The non-federal officials will get access via the Homeland Security department's secret-level Homeland Security Data Network. That network is currently deployed at 27 of the more than 70 fusion centers located around the country, according to DHS. Officials from different levels of government share homeland security-related information through the fusion centers. (Ben Bain, "DOD opens some classified information to non-federal officials," Federal Computer Week, September 17, 2009)
OlyPMR member Brendan Maslauskas Dunn said in an interview Monday that he received a copy of the e-mail from the city of Olympia in response to a public records request asking for any information the city had about "anarchists, anarchy, anarchism, SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), or Industrial Workers of the World." (Jeremy Pawloski, "Fort Lewis investigates claims employee infiltrated Olympia peace group," The Olympian, July 27, 2009)
The WJAC is a clearinghouse of sorts of anti-terrorism information and sensitive intelligence that is gathered and disseminated to law enforcement agencies across the state. The WJAC receives money from the federal government.
The substance of nearly all of the WJAC's e-mails to Olympia police officials had been blacked out in the copies provided to The Olympian. (Jeremy Pawloski, "Army e-mail sent to police and accused spy," The Olympian, September 12, 2009)
There has been extensive political debate in the United States on how safe it would be to move Guantanamo's detainees to US soil--but what about their interrogators?
One intelligence officer, Kia Grapham, is hawked by her contracting company to the Washington State Patrol. Grapham's confidential resume boasts of assisting in over 100 interrogations of "high value human intelligence targets" at Guantanamo. She goes on, saying how she is trained and certified to employ Restricted Interrogation Technique: Separation as specified by FM 2-22.3 Appendix M.
Others, like, Neoma Syke, managed to repeatedly flip between the military and contractor intelligence work--without even leaving the building.
The file details the placement of six intelligence contractors inside the Washington Joint Analytical Center (WAJAC) on behalf of the Washington State Patrol at a cost of around $110,000 per year each.
Such intelligence "fusion" centers, which combine the military, the FBI, state police, and others, have been internally promoted by the US Army as means to avoid restrictions preventing the military from spying on the domestic population. (Julian Assange, "The spy who billed me twice," Wikileaks, July 29, 2009)
Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to publishing in Covert Action Quarterly and Global Research, an independent research and media group of writers, scholars, journalists and activists based in Montreal, his articles can be read on Dissident Voice, The Intelligence Daily and Pacific Free Press. He is the editor of Police State America: U.S. Military "Civil Disturbance" Planning, distributed by AK Press.
Computer of alleged Sarah Palin hacker had spyware
The 21 year-old college student charged with hacking former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's Yahoo e-mail account was using a compromised computer that was secretly logging and reporting information without his knowledge, his lawyers say.
In court filings attorneys for David Kernell say that the Acer notebooks that U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents seized from Kernell's Knoxville, Tennessee, apartment last year apparently contained spyware. "The program, which was installed by an unknown method before the computer ever came into Mr. Kernell's possession,uses sophisticated technology to record and report personal information without the user's knowledge," his attorneys state, in a Nov. 30 motion.
Although the court documents do not identify the program, they indicate that the software was reverse-engineered and analyzed within the five forensic reports the U.S. Government produced for this case.Those reports have been filed under seal because they contain personal information.
Kernell is facing a possible five-year prison sentence on a one-count felony computer hacking charge.Prosecutors say that he accessed Palin's personal e-mail account in Sept. 2008, while she was running as a vice-presidential candidate, and used Yahoo's password reset feature to gain access to her mail. Thee-mails were posted online and an anonymous member of the 4chan discussion board named Rubico claimed responsibility for the act.
In her recent autobiography, Palin described the incident as the"most disruptive and discouraging" event of her losing 2008 campaign.
It's not uncommon for computers to be infected with malicious software that logs personal information, said Paul Ferguson a security researcher with anti-virus vendor Trend Micro. In fact, he guesses that one in five PCs have some sort of malicious program on them, giving backdoor access to cyber-criminals.
David Kernell is the son of Democratic Tennessee state representative Mike Kernell. His trial is set to begin on April 20.from CSO Security and Risk blog
Security firms on police spyware, in their own words
But would that government spyware used in that investigation actually be detected by security software? Or would security companies intentionally fail to report it?
To answer that question, CNET News.com performed the following survey.We asked three questions of 13 security companies, ranging from tiny ones to corporations like Microsoft and IBM, and the results are below.
When there is no answer listed for a specific question, the company chose not to answer it. In some cases we followed up with additional questions. We began the survey last Tuesday and asked the final questions on Monday.
Responses from Fran Bosecker, spokeswoman for Grisoft, which publishes the AVG Anti-Virus, AVG Anti-Spyware, and AVG Anti-Rootkit programs, many of which are free. Grisoft has offices in the United States, Czech Republic, and Cyprus.
Question: Has Grisoft/AVG ever had any discussions with any government agency about not detecting spyware or keystroke loggers installed by a police or intelligence agency?
Answer: Not to the best of my knowledge in the U.S. or Europe.
Question: Is it Grisoft/AVG's policy to alert the user to the presence of any spyware or keystroke logger, even if it is installed by a police or intelligence agency?
Answer: So far this is the policy, also based on the valid legislature.
Question: Do these policies vary depending on the country (the U.S. vs. others, for instance)?
Answer: Yes. Current AVG policy is to flag Trojans that exhibit these types of actions. With that said, AVG will of course consider all laws, regulations and compliance rules set forth by the nations and/or local governments to the best of our abilities.
Question: We understand that you have to comply with applicable laws and regulations. But do any laws and regulations currently require security companies to ignore spyware/malware/key loggers placed onc omputers by governmental agencies?
Answer: None that we're aware of in the U.S. or Europe, or at least no law enforcement or agency has asked that we ignore any.
Question: Have you ever received such a court order signed by a judge requiring you to cooperate with law enforcement authorities int erms of not detecting government-installed spyware or delivering government spyware to your users?
Responses from Allison Wagda, director of public relations at Check Point Software, which makes the ZoneAlarm security software, including a Vista version announced last month. Other Check Point products provide disk encryption, firewalls and intrusion detection.
Question: Has Check Point ever had any discussions with any government agency about not detecting spyware or keystroke loggers installed by a police or intelligence agency?
Answer: No, we've never been approached with such a request.
Question: Is it Check Point's policy to alert the user to the presence of any spyware or keystroke logger, even if it is installed by a police or intelligence agency?
Answer: Our goal is to detect malicious software. ZoneAlarm does so by detecting certain behaviors (such as keystroke logging) and alerting the user. We do have a policy whereby legal, legitimate software programs from any third-party vendor can be "whitelisted" from detection upon request. We would afford law enforcement the same courtesy.
Question: In a follow-up conversation, we asked Check Point under what circumstances they would afford that "courtesy."
Anwser:We've never been in the situation, but if the request fell outside of our typical parameters for whitelisting (i.e. having a signed certificate, among other things), then we'd consider on a case-by-case basis.
Question: Have you ever received such a court order signed by a judge requiring you to cooperate with law enforcement authorities in terms of not detecting government-installed spyware or delivering government spyware to your users?
Answer: Not to our knowledge.
From Cnet News
US agency's balloon hunt tests internet accuracy
Old news, the government is watching you ooooooo! Scary. Can they actually do anything with those mountains of data they're collecting though? All those shiny new datacenters that suck more power than neighboring Salt Lake City aren't the epitome of government waste, but it comes pretty damn close. We're all enemies you know! How dare us, want to live free lives, privately seeking out that which makes us happy, we MUST be up to something.
It sure would've been hilarious if 4chan rickrolled Darpa with fake info.
Released November 6, 2009
The paper presents what appears to be a short summary of the"Internet chapter" of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).The summary is supposed to inform member states about the part of ACTA that will deal with internet enforcement and will be discussed at the Seoul meeting of ACTA.
Notably, the "Internet chapter" is being drafted by USTR, a US lead ACTA negotiator group, and its creation process even within the ACTA working group itself, remains obscure. While the US has given a"detailed oral description" of the drafted internet chapter, the draft documents themselves are subject to "confidentiality clauses" between"government agencies" and a "number of private stakeholders". The presented summary is to give "advance-warning" and "preliminary indication of the content" of the upcoming US proposal.
The content of the summary reflect details that have appeared in the media recently, including rights management and especially related enforcement, as well as the US-centric development of enforcement on the Internet.
The Seoul meeting has just ended, having taken place from 4thto 6th of November 2009. The US proposal seems to have been debated there more widely.
|This is to inform MS about the state-of-play of the internet enforcement chapter that|
should be discussed at the next ACTA negotiating round in Seoul, Korea.
On 22-24 September, DG Trade participated in the EU-US IPR Working Group,
which took place in Washington. In a side meeting with the USTR (US lead
negotiators on ACTA), at their request, the US colleagues informed us about the
progress in the preparation of a draft text of the future Internet Chapter of ACTA.
US reported that they have been working on a draft text since the end of the 5th round
(end of July) and that this was basically finalised. However, they are still involved in
internal consultations with other government agencies and a number of private
stakeholders (bound to strict confidentiality clauses), therefore they were not willing
to share with COM (or even to show us) the text at this stage.
USTR indicated that these internal discussions were sensitive due to different points
of view regarding the internet chapter both within the Administration, with Congress
and among stakeholders (content providers on one side, supporters of internet
"freedom" on the other). Consequently, they have to delay the release of the initial
text longer than initially expected. US expects the text to be circulated within the next
2 weeks. COM noted that if the text is received only 4 weeks before the next round,
this will not be sufficient to conclude internal EU discussions and therefore to present
written counterproposals (if any) in Seoul. US acknowledged the issue.
This being said, the US nevertheless provided a detailed oral description of the text.
Below is a report of such description. It is stressed that this report is provided as an
advance-warning and a preliminary indication of the content of US proposal, but since
it results from an oral presentation it may not fully reflect the final draft and should be
The draft internet text is around 3 pages long and it was generally modelled on the
respective section of the recently concluded US-Korea Free Trade Agreement
(KORUS) (Chapter 18), however, in a "simpler" and "shorter" manner. It consists of
the following sections:
Section 1: Baseline obligations inspired by article 41 TRIPs, imposing adequate
and effective legal remedies, as provided in relevant sections of ACTA (civil, penal),
for internet infringements.
Section 2: ACTA members have to provide for third-party liability.
Section 3: Safe-harbours for liability regarding ISPs, based on Section 512 of the
Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), including a preamble about the balance
Info Available at
The DMCA is the US domestic law implementing the WIPO internet treaties and regulating, inter alia, copyright issues on the internet. Available at: thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?c105:6:./temp/~c105fgUiNi::
|between the interests of internet service providers (ISPs) and right-holders. See also|
KORUS Chapter 18.10.30. According to US, the language proposed is somewhere in
the "middle" between the WIPO internet treaties, KORUS and the DMCA, which
probably means that it is more detailed than the first but not as specific as the latter.
ISPs are defined as in Section 512 (k) of DMCA3
On the limitations from 3rd party liability: to benefit from safe-harbours, ISPs need to
put in place policies to deter unauthorised storage and transmission of IP infringing
content (ex: clauses in customers' contracts allowing, inter alia, a graduated
response). From what we understood, the US will not propose that authorities need to
create such systems. Instead they require some self-regulation by ISPs.
This Section 3 should also contain "broad" provisions regarding notice-and-takedown
Section 4: Will focus on technical protection measures (TPMs). Language
inspired by US-Jordan Free-Trade Agreement (article 4.13), as well as by the WIPO
Internet Treaties (articles 11 WCT and 18 WPPT):
- Parties to provide adequate civil and criminal remedies that are specific to
TPM infringements, i.e. treat these as separate offenses form "general"
- TPM infringements would be: (i) prohibition of circumvention of access
controls and; (ii) prohibition of manufacture and trafficking of circumventing
- There will be exceptions to these prohibitions available to ACTA members.
- "Fair use" will not be circumscribed.
- There will be no obligation for hardware manufacturers to ensure
interoperability of TPMs.
Section 5: Will focus on Rights' Management. Language inspired by US-Jordan
Free-Trade Agreement (article 4.13), as well as by the WIPO Internet Treaties
(articles 11 WCT and 18 WPPT):
- Parties to provide adequate civil and criminal remedies for rights' management
- Right' management infringements would be stripping (works?) of rights'
As agreed among ACTA participants, the negotiating papers are not public documents
and therefore should be treated with reserve.
In a new Policy Analysis, Cato Research Fellow Jason Kuznicki examines the ongoing threats to free speech both at home and around the world, from hate-speech laws in the United Kingdom and Canada and university speech codes in the United States, to the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam:
Mind Your Tweets: The CIA Social Networking Surveillance System
by Tom Burghardt
Global Research, October 27, 2009
Antifascist Calling... - 2009-10-24
That social networking sites and applications such as Facebook, Twitter and their competitors can facilitate communication and information sharing amongst diverse groups and individuals is by now a cliché.
It should come as no surprise then, that the secret state and the capitalist grifters whom they serve, have zeroed-in on the explosive growth of these technologies. One can be certain however, securocrats aren't tweeting their restaurant preferences or finalizing plans for after work drinks.
No, researchers on both sides of the Atlantic are busy as proverbial bees building a "total information" surveillance system, one that will, so they hope, provide police and security agencies with what they euphemistically call "actionable intelligence."
Build the Perfect Panopticon, Win Fabulous Prizes!
In this context, the whistleblowing web site Wikileaks published a remarkable document October 4 by the INDECT Consortium, the Intelligence Information System Supporting Observation, Searching and Detection for Security of Citizens in Urban Environment.
Hardly a catchy acronym, but simply put INDECT is working to put a human face on the billions of emails, text messages, tweets and blog posts that transit cyberspace every day; perhaps your face.
According to Wikileaks, INDECT's "Work package 4" is designed "to comb web blogs, chat sites, news reports, and social-networking sites in order to build up automatic dossiers on individuals, organizations and their relationships." Ponder that phrase again: "automatic dossiers."
This isn't the first time that European academics have applied their "knowledge skill sets" to keep the public "safe"--from a meaningful exercise of free speech and the right to assemble, that is.
Last year The Guardian reported that Bath University researchers' Cityware project covertly tracked "tens of thousands of Britons" through the installation of Bluetooth scanners that capture "radio signals transmitted from devices such as mobile phones, laptops and digital cameras, and using the data to follow unwitting targets without their permission."
One privacy advocate, Simon Davies, the director of Privacy International, told The Guardian: "This technology could well become the CCTV of the mobile industry. It would not take much adjustment to make this system a ubiquitous surveillance infrastructure over which we have no control."
Which of course, is precisely the point.
As researchers scramble for a windfall of cash from governments eager to fund these dubious projects, European police and security agencies aren't far behind their FBI and NSA colleagues in the spy game.
The online privacy advocates, Quintessenz, published a series of leaked documents in 2008 that described the network monitoring and data mining suites designed by Nokia Siemens, Ericsson and Verint.
The Nokia Siemens Intelligence Platform dubbed "intelligence in a box," integrate tasks generally done by separate security teams and pools the data from sources such as telephone or mobile calls, email and internet activity, bank transactions, insurance records and the like. Call it data mining on steroids.
Ironically enough however, Siemens, the giant German electronics firm was caught up in a global bribery scandal that cost the company some $1.6 billion in fines. Last year, The New York Times described "a web of secret bank accounts and shadowy consultants," and a culture of "entrenched corruption ... at a sprawling, sophisticated corporation that externally embraced the nostrums of a transparent global marketplace built on legitimate transactions."
According to the Times, "at Siemens, bribery was just a line item." Which just goes to show, powering the secret state means never having to say you're sorry!
Social Network Spying, a Growth Industry Fueled by Capitalist Grifters
The trend by security agencies and their corporate partners to spy on their citizens has accelerated greatly in the West since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
This multi-billion industry in general, has been a boon for the largest American and European defense corporations. Among the top ten companies listed by Washington Technology in their annual ranking of the "Top 100" prime government contractors, all ten--from Lockheed Martin to Booz Allen Hamilton--earned a combined total of $68 billion in 2008 from defense and related homeland security work for the secret state.
And like Siemens, all ten corporations figure prominently on the Project on Government Oversight's Federal Contractor Misconduct Database (FCMD), which tracks "contract fraud, environmental, ethics, and labor violations." Talk about a rigged game!
Designing everything from nuclear missile components to eavesdropping equipment for various government agencies in the United States and abroad, including some of the most repressive regimes on the planet, these firms have moved into manufacturing the hardware and related computer software for social networking surveillance in a big way.
Wired revealed in April that the FBI is routinely monitoring cell phone calls and internet activity during criminal and counterterrorism investigations. The publication posted a series of internal documents that described the Wi-Fi and computer hacking capabilities of the Bureau's Cryptographic and Electronic Analysis Unit (CEAU).
New Scientist reported back in 2006 that the National Security Agency "is funding research into the mass harvesting of the information that people post about themselves on social networks."
And just this week in an exclusive report published by the British high-tech publication, The Register, it was revealed that "the government has outsourced parts of its biggest ever mass surveillance project to the disaster-prone IT services giant formerly known as EDS."
That work is being conducted under the auspices of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the British state's equivalent of America's National Security Agency.
Investigative journalist Chris Williams disclosed that the American computer giant HP, which purchased EDS for some $13.9 billion last year, is "designing and installing the massive computing resources that will be needed to analyse details of who contacts whom, when where and how."
Work at GCHQ in Cheltenham is being carried out under "a secret project called Mastering the Internet." In May, a Home Office document surfaced that "ostensibly sought views on whether ISPs should be forced to gather terabytes of data from their networks on the government's behalf."
The Register reported earlier this year that telecommunications behemoth Detica and U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin were providing GCHQ with data mining software "which searches bulk data, such as communications records, for patterns ... to identify suspects." (For further details see: Antifascist Calling, "Spying in the UK: GCHQ Awards Lockheed Martin £200m Contract, Promises to 'Master the Internet'," May 7, 2009)
It seems however, that INDECT researchers like their GCHQ/NSA kissin' cousins in Britain and the United States, are burrowing ever-deeper into the nuts-and-bolts of electronic social networking and may be on the verge of an Orwellian surveillance "breakthrough."
As New Scientist sagely predicted, the secret state most certainly plans to "harness advances in internet technology--specifically the forthcoming 'semantic web' championed by the web standards organisation W3C--to combine data from social networking websites with details such as banking, retail and property records, allowing the NSA to build extensive, all-embracing personal profiles of individuals."
Profiling Internet Dissent
Pretty alarming, but the devil as they say is in the details and INDECT's release of their "Work package 4" file makes for a very interesting read. And with a title, "XML Data Corpus: Report on methodology for collection, cleaning and unified representation of large textual data from various sources: news reports, weblogs, chat," rest assured one must plow through much in the way of geeky gibberish and tech-speak to get to the heartless heart of the matter.
INDECT itself is a rather interesting amalgamation of spooks, cops and academics.
According to their web site, INDECT partners include: the University of Science and Technology, AGH, Poland; Gdansk University of Technology; InnoTech DATA GmbH & Co., Germany; IP Grenoble (Ensimag), France; MSWiA, the General Headquarters of Police, attached to the Ministry of the Interior, Poland; Moviquity, Spain; Products and Systems of Information Technology, PSI, Germany; the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, United Kingdom (hardly slouches when it comes to stitching-up Republicans and other leftist agitators!); Poznan University of Technology; Universidad Carlos III de Madrid; Technical University of Sofia, Bulgaria; University of Wuppertal, Germany; University of York, Great Britain; Technical University of Ostrava, Czech Republic; Technical University of Kosice, Slovakia; X-Art Pro Division G.m.b.H, Austria; and finally, the Fachhochschule Technikum, also in Austria.
I don't know about you, but I find it rather ironic that the European Union, ostensible guardians of democracy and human rights, have turned for assistance in their surveillance projects to police and spy outfits from the former Soviet bloc, who after all know a thing or two when it comes to monitoring their citizens.
Right up front, York University's Suresh Manadhar, Ionnis Klapaftis and Shailesh Pandey, the principle authors of the INDECT report, make their intentions clear.
Since "security" as the authors argue, "is becoming a weak point of energy and communications infrastructures, commercial stores, conference centers, airports and sites with high person traffic in general," they aver that "access control and rapid response to potential dangers are properties that every security system for such environments should have."
Does INDECT propose building a just and prosperous global society, thus lessening the potential that terrorist killers or other miscreants will exploit a "target rich environment" that may prove deadly for innocent workers who, after all, were the principle victims of the 2004 and 2007 terrorist outrages in Madrid and London? Hardly.
As with their colleagues across the pond, INDECT is hunting for the ever-elusive technological quick-fix, a high-tech magic bullet. One, I might add, that will deliver neither safety nor security but rather, will constrict the democratic space where social justice movements flourish while furthering the reach of unaccountable security agencies.
The document "describes the first deliverable of the work package which gives an overview about the main methodology and description of the XML data corpus schema and describes the methodology for collection, cleaning and unified representation of large textual data from various sources: news reports, weblogs, chat, etc."
The first order of business "is the study and critical review of the annotation schemes employed so far for the development and evaluation of methods for entity resolution, co-reference resolution and entity attributes identification."
In other words, how do present technologic capabilities provide police, security agencies and capitalist grifters with the ability to identify who might be speaking to whom and for what purpose. INDECT proposes to introduce "a new annotation scheme that builds upon the strengths of the current-state-of-the-art," one that "should be extensible and modifiable to the requirements of the project."
Asserting that "an XML data corpus [can be] extracted from forums and social networks related to specific threats (e.g. hooliganism, terrorism, vandalism, etc.)," the authors claim they will provide "different entity types according to the requirements of the project. The grouping of all references to an entity together. The relationships between different entities" and finally, "the events in which entities participate."
Why stop there? Why not list the ubiquitous "other" areas of concern to INDECT's secret state partners? While "hooliganism, terrorism, vandalism, etc.," may be the ostensible purpose of their "entity attributes identification" project, surely INDECT is well aware that such schemes are just as easily applicable to local citizen groups, socialist and anarchist organizations, or to the innumerable environmental, human rights or consumer campaigners who challenge the dominant free market paradigm of their corporate sponsors.
The authors however, couldn't be bothered by the sinister applications that may be spawned by their research; indeed, they seem quite proud of it.
"The main achievements of this work" they aver, "allows the identification of several types of entities, groups the same references into one class, while at the same time allows the identification of relationships and events."
Indeed, the "inclusion of a multi-layered ontology ensures the consistency of the annotation" and will facilitate in the (near) future, "the use of inference mechanisms such as transitivity to allow the development of search engines that go beyond simple keyword search."
Quite an accomplishment! An enterprising security service or capitalist marketing specialist need only sift through veritable mountains of data available from commercial databases, or mobile calls, tweets, blog posts and internet searches to instantaneously identity "key agitators," to borrow the FBI's very 20th century description of political dissidents; individuals who could be detained or "neutralized" should sterner methods be required.
Indeed, a surveillance scheme such as the one INDECT is building could greatly facilitate--and simplify--the already formidable U.S. "Main Core" database that "reportedly collects and stores--without warrants or court orders--the names and detailed data of Americans considered to be threats to national security," as investigative journalists Tim Shorrock and Christopher Ketchum revealed in two disturbing reports last year.
The scale of "datasets/annotation schemes" exploited by INDECT is truly breathtaking and include: "Automatic Content Extraction" gleaned from "a variety of sources, such as news, broadcast conversations" that identify "relations between entities, and the events in which these participate."
We next discover what is euphemistically called the "Knowledge Base Population (KBP)," an annotation scheme that "focuses on the identification of entity types of Person (PER), Organization (ORG), and Geo-Political Entity (GPE), Location (LOC), Facility (FAC), Geographical/Social/Political (GPE), Vehicle (VEH) and Weapon (WEA)."
How is this accomplished? Why through an exploitation of open source materials of course!
INDECT researchers readily aver that "a snapshot of Wikipedia infoboxes is used as the original knowledge source. The document collection consists of newswire articles on the order of 1 million. The reference knowledge base includes hundreds of thousands of entities based on articles from an October 2008 dump of English Wikipedia. The annotation scheme in KBP focuses on the identification of entity types of Person (PER), Organization (ORG), and Geo-Political Entity (GPE)."
For what purpose? Mum's the word as far as INDECT is concerned.
Nothing escapes this panoptic eye. Even popular culture and leisure activities fall under the glare of security agencies and their academic partners in the latest iteration of this truly monstrous privacy-killing scheme. Using the movie rental firm Netflix as a model, INDECT cites the firm's "100 million ratings from 480 thousand randomly-chosen, anonymous Netflix customers" as "well-suited" to the INDECT surveillance model.
In conclusion, EU surveillance architects propose a "new annotation & knowledge representation scheme" that "is extensible," one that "allows the addition of new entities, relations, and events, while at the same time avoids duplication and ensures integrity."
Deploying an ontological methodology that exploits currently available data from open source, driftnet surveillance of news, broadcasts, blog entries and search results, and linkages obtained through a perusal of mobile phone records, credit card purchases, medical records, travel itineraries, etc., INDECT claims that in the near future their research will allow "a search engine to go beyond simple keyword queries by exploiting the semantic information and relations within the ontology."
And once the scheme is perfected, "the use of expressive logics ... becomes an enabler for detecting entity relations on the web." Or transform it into an "always-on" spy you carry in your pocket or whenever you switch on your computer.
This is how our minders propose to keep us "safe."
CIA Gets In on the Fun
Not to be outdone, the CIA has entered the lucrative market of social networking surveillance in a big way.
In an exclusive published by Wired, we learn that the CIA's investment arm, In-Q-Tel, "want to read your blog posts, keep track of your Twitter updates--even check out your book reviews on Amazon."
Investigative journalist Noah Shachtman reveals that In-Q-Tel "is putting cash into Visible Technologies, a software firm that specializes in monitoring social media. It's part of a larger movement within the spy services to get better at using "open source intelligence"--information that's publicly available, but often hidden in the flood of TV shows, newspaper articles, blog posts, online videos and radio reports generated every day." Wired reported:
Although In-Q-Tel spokesperson Donald Tighe told Wired that it wants Visible to monitor foreign social media and give American spooks an "early-warning detection on how issues are playing internationally," Shachtman points out that "such a tool can also be pointed inward, at domestic bloggers or tweeters."
According to Wired, the firm already keeps tabs on 2.0 web sites "for Dell, AT&T and Verizon." And as an added attraction, "Visible is tracking animal-right activists' online campaigns" against meat processing giant Hormel.
Shachtman reports that "Visible has been trying for nearly a year to break into the government field." And why wouldn't they, considering that the heimat security and even spookier black world of the U.S. "intelligence community," is a veritable cash-cow for enterprising corporations eager to do the state's bidding.
In 2008 Wired reports, Visible "teamed-up" with the Washington, DC-based consulting firm "Concepts & Strategies, which has handled media monitoring and translation services for U.S. Strategic Command and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, among others."
According to a blurb on the firm's web site they are in hot-pursuit of "social media engagement specialists" with Defense Department experience and "a high proficiency in Arabic, Farsi, French, Urdu or Russian." Wired reports that Concepts & Strategies "is also looking for an 'information system security engineer' who already has a 'Top Secret SCI [Sensitive Compartmentalized Information] with NSA Full Scope Polygraph' security clearance."
In such an environment, nothing escapes the secret state's lens. Shachtman reveals that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) "maintains an Open Source Center, which combs publicly available information, including web 2.0 sites."
In 2007, the Center's director, Doug Naquin, "told an audience of intelligence professionals" that "'we're looking now at YouTube, which carries some unique and honest-to-goodness intelligence.... We have groups looking at what they call 'citizens media': people taking pictures with their cell phones and posting them on the internet. Then there's social media, phenomena like MySpace and blogs'."
But as Steven Aftergood, who maintains the Secrecy News web site for the Federation of American Scientists told Wired, "even if information is openly gathered by intelligence agencies it would still be problematic if it were used for unauthorized domestic investigations or operations. Intelligence agencies or employees might be tempted to use the tools at their disposal to compile information on political figures, critics, journalists or others, and to exploit such information for political advantage. That is not permissible even if all of the information in question is technically 'open source'."
But as we have seen across the decades, from COINTELPRO to Operation CHAOS, and from Pentagon media manipulation during the run-up to the Iraq war through driftnet warrantless wiretapping of Americans' electronic communications, the secret state is a law unto itself, a self-perpetuating bureaucracy that thrives on duplicity, fear and cold, hard cash.
Tom Burghardt is a frequent contributor to Global Research.
Articles by Tom Burghardt
New Israeli settlements 'on hold'
Israel's government has stopped issuing new settler housing tenders in the West Bank, hoping to reach common ground with the US, a senior minister says.
The US administration has been putting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu under pressure to freeze all settlement work, which has strained normally close ties.
"There is no freeze, there is a waiting period," said Housing Minster Ariel Atias in an Israeli radio interview.
But anti-settlement groups say work in settlements has in fact increased.
Mr Atias said in the radio interview: "Since the government was established five months ago, no tenders have been issued for Judea and Samaria," referring to government-issued contracts for construction of new homes in the occupied West Bank.
"It's no secret that the prime minister is trying to reach some sort of understandings with the Obama administration, which is being tough with us," he said.
The US administration of Barack Obama has demanded Israel halt all settlement activity in line with the international peace plan known as the roadmap, which also demands Palestinian moves to quash anti-Israeli militants.
The US is also lobbying Arab states to persuade them to move towards normalising ties with Israel, to mitigate any concessions Israel feels it is making.
Israel insists settlements must be allowed to enjoy "natural growth", so families are not split up by any freeze.
A construction freeze could split the ruling Israeli coalition, correspondents say, as it is dominated by hardline supporters of the settler movement.
The Peace Now anti-settlement group says the last fresh government tender for settlement construction was in November 2008.
That was when former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was still in power and before the Obama administration took office.
But Mr Netanyahu's office has denied the hiatus amounted to an official freeze and continued to insist on "natural growth" construction in settlements.
Campaigners from Yesh Din said there was no sign of a slowdown on the ground, with construction continuing in government-funded projects, in the private sector and in unauthorised outposts.
"In practice, on the ground, construction is continuing and the pace is even picking up," said Yesh Din researcher Dror Etkes.
About 500,000 Jews live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements, which are illegal under international law, among 2.5 million Palestinians.
The land was captured by Israel in the 1967 war and Israel insists its undecided status means the settlements are legal. But Palestinians view them as constituting the theft of their homeland, while new projects further jeopardise their prospects of establishing an independent state.