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Current Topic: War on Terrorism

9/11 commission hears flight attendant's phone call
Topic: War on Terrorism 7:59 pm EST, Jan 27, 2004

] Ong identified herself and her seat number, and said,
] "OK, our number one got stabbed, our purser is stabbed.
] Nobody knows who stabbed who, and we can't even get up to
] business class right now because nobody can breathe."
] Commission members said Tuesday that the phone call and
] other evidence indicated the hijackers used Mace or
] pepper spray to help seize the plane and isolate
] passengers from the cockpit. Mace was also found in
] hijacker Mohamed Atta's luggage, which was left at Logan
] Airport in Boston.

9/11 commission hears flight attendant's phone call

Federal Judge Rules Part of Patriot Act Unconstitutional (
Topic: War on Terrorism 5:48 pm EST, Jan 26, 2004

] LOS ANGELES -- A federal judge has declared
] unconstitutional a portion of the USA Patriot Act that
] bars giving expert advice or assistance to groups
] designated foreign terrorist organizations.

Good, the system works. I don't think the whole Patriot Act needs to get overturned, but there are definitely parts of it that need to be removed. This court case is reassuring.

Let the good stuff in the Patriot Act stay, and let the bad stuff get challenged and shut down.

Federal Judge Rules Part of Patriot Act Unconstitutional (

Washington Post Editorial: Too Much Power
Topic: War on Terrorism 3:48 pm EST, Jan 21, 2004

] THIS YEAR'S intelligence authorization bill provided a
] little-noticed and dangerous expansion of a peculiar and
] unaccountable FBI investigative power. Last-minute
] efforts to modify the provision in conference committee
] failed, unfortunately, so the bureau now has more power
] to compel the production of certain business records in
] national security investigations, with no court oversight
] and in nearly total secrecy. The use of "national
] security letters" is not new, but in light of new
] authorities provided the FBI in the USA Patriot Act,
] Congress should be finding ways to curtail their use, not
] expand it.

Washington Post Editorial: Too Much Power

RE: Patriot Act
Topic: War on Terrorism 1:06 pm EST, Jan 21, 2004

Rattle wrote:
] w1ld wrote:
] ] Let the Patriot Act die is deserved death and bring on the
] ] guns and bombs where the real war of terrorism is fought.
] I agree with everything you said in spirit. However, I am
] 100% positive that it is not going to be allowed to expire or
] get repealed. If I judge the current political climate
] correctly, it would require evidence of abuse to start
] surfacing. And more then one case.. We will be lucky if any
] improvements or changes are made. We should focus on making
] sure it is not made permanent, as that's about the only
] outcome I can see actually happening.

My own opinion is that trying to attack the entire Patriot Act is a bad idea, but that it is worth focusing on getting specific provisions repealed or amended.

I've read large portions of the Patriot Act, and most of it is really unobjectionable, paperwork-streamlining stuff. But there has been an enormous amount of misinformation that has been distributed about just what it does. For example, there were lots of people screaming that the Patriot Act made hacking a terrorist activity, and that just wasn't true -- what it *did* do though was declare that if someone used a computer to affect systems in such a way that they caused a loss of life (like to turn off power to hospitals or cause a plane to crash), then that activity could be classified as terrorism. I don't have a problem with that definition.

There *are* specific parts of the Patriot Act though which do bother me, such as the possibility of putting librarians under gag orders and requiring them to divulge who checks out which book. To my knowledge that section of the Act has never been used, but every time I pass by a library, it's on my mind, and I don't like it. I don't like the idea of looking at a shelf of books and thinking, "Well, no one's probably going to care if I check out *that* book, but if I check out *this* book, then it may show up on an FBI agent's list somewhere." That crosses my Orwellian line of unacceptability.

I also have concerns about the recently-passed "Patriot Act 2" provision which allows federal investigators to access an enormous amount of personal financial information on anyone they want, and again placing the divulgers under gag orders, but with the investigators having to do no more than provide a letter saying it's related to national security. I agree with the Washington Post, in that it's too much power, with too little oversight.

My $0.02,


RE: Patriot Act

Newsweek: Lost in Translation
Topic: War on Terrorism 4:01 pm EST, Nov 15, 2003

] A shortage of Arabic speakers has plagued the
] entire intelligence community. Though U.S. intelligence
] was using all the best technology -- spy satellites,
] high-tech listening posts and other devices -- to
] listen in on the conversations of possible terrorists,
] far too often it had no idea what they were saying. A
] congressional inquiry after 9/11 found enormous backlogs.
] Millions of hours of talk by suspected
] terrorists -- including 35 percent of all
] Arabic-language national-security wiretaps by the
] FBI -- had gone untranslated and untranscribed. Some of
] the overseas intercepts contained chillingly precise
] warnings. On Sept. 10, 2001, the National Security Agency
] picked up suggestive comments by Qaeda operatives,
] including "Tomorrow is zero hour." The tape of
] the conversation was not translated until after 9/11.

Interesting Newsweek article on the status of our terrorist wiretapping efforts.

Newsweek: Lost in Translation

Source of Al Qaeda Steganography Rumor?
Topic: War on Terrorism 1:17 pm EDT, Sep  3, 2003

Supposedly this is a transcript of a May 2003 article from the Hindustan Times, about a 17-year-old boy who claims to have been asked by the U.S. government to help with cracking a steganographically-encrypted Al Qaeda message. Personally, I think this is garbage.

] The Americans had tried almost everything, but they just
] couldn't crack an encrypted message they came across
] while investigating the 9/11 attacks. Finally, they
] approached a 17-year-old boy in Delhi about whom The New
] York Times had done a feature.
] Over the next 10 days, Ankit Fardia hunkered down in his
] room in Delhi and came up with the key to crack the
] message.
] The worst fears of American investigators came true --
] Al-Qaeda was using a sophisticated technology,
] called steganography, to communicate. It involved sending
] encrypted messages concealed in a photograph or series of
] photographs.
] "I was lucky in some ways but I am still proud that
] I was the only one in the world to be able to crack the
] code," Fardia told the Hindustan Times from Pune,
] where he is lecturing students and corporate employees on
] cyber security. Fardia is the author of Guide to Ethical
] Hacking.
] Fardia was understandably cagey about revealing the
] contents of the message or the name of the US agency that
] approached him. "In January 2002, I received an
] e-mail asking me whether I would like to help the US in
] breaking open a message which was of great importance to
] national security. I did not believe it was actually from
] a US agency so I asked them to send me their digital
] signature. They immediately sent it back," he said.
] "I would not like to discuss the message. But yes,
] what I cracked was a message from Al-Qaeda," he added.
] The US government sent him letters of appreciation.
] US embassy officials said they knew nothing about this.
] But they said it was possible for a US agency to make such an
] approach without keeping them in the picture.
] Fardia said the Al-Qaeda message he cracked had been encrypted
] thrice over to make sure it could not be read, even if it was
] intercepted.
] The US is considered one of the leaders in encryption technology,
] but the technology used by Al-Qaeda was as good if not better,
] Fardia added.

Bogus bogus bogus. I bet he got the idea for "thrice encrypted" from "Triple DES".

I hate it when news media will print stories as fact, without bothering to verify anything.

More information about this kid and his claims, here:

Source of Al Qaeda Steganography Rumor?

Cyber-Attacks by Al Qaeda Feared (
Topic: War on Terrorism 2:06 am EDT, Aug 17, 2003

] Working with experts at the Lawrence Livermore National
] Laboratory, the FBI traced trails of a broader
] reconnaissance. A forensic summary of the investigation,
] prepared in the Defense Department, said the bureau found
] "multiple casings of sites" nationwide. Routed through
] telecommunications switches in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia
] and Pakistan, the visitors studied emergency telephone
] systems, electrical generation and transmission, water
] storage and distribution, nuclear power plants and gas
] facilities.

] "We were underestimating the amount of attention [al
] Qaeda was] paying to the Internet," said Roger Cressey,
] a longtime counterterrorism official who became chief of
] staff of the President's Critical Infrastructure
] Protection Board in October. "Now we know they see it as
] a potential attack vehicle. Al Qaeda spent more time
] mapping our vulnerabilities in cyberspace than we
] previously thought. An attack is a question of when,
] not if."

] What they do know is that "Red Teams" of mock intruders
] from the Energy Department's four national laboratories
] have devised what one government document listed as
] "eight scenarios for SCADA attack on an electrical power
] grid" -- and all of them work. Eighteen such exercises
] have been conducted to date against large regional
] utilities, and Richard A. Clarke, Bush's cyber-security
] adviser, said the intruders "have always, always succeeded."

Cyber-Attacks by Al Qaeda Feared (

Hawash was guilty
Topic: War on Terrorism 5:35 pm EDT, Aug  6, 2003

] A software engineer from Oregon pleaded guilty Wednesday
] to aiding the Taleban and now faces the likelihood of
] seven to 10 years in jail.
] The Justice Department says Maher Hawash, a naturalized
] American citizen of Palestinian descent, pleaded guilty
] to a charge of conspiring to supply services to the
] Taleban following the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York
] and Washington.

Hawash was guilty

More Steganography / Al Qaeda Rumors
Topic: War on Terrorism 2:02 pm EDT, Aug  5, 2003

From May 2003:

] Court documents from the ongoing Milan trial, cited by
] the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, say that police
] discovered images of the World Trade Center along with
] numerous files that contained images downloaded from the
] Internet of political leaders such as President Bush,
] Secretary of State Colin Powell and Palestinian leader
] Yasser Arafat, as well as large quantities of
] pornographic material, also taken from the Internet.
] The images, investigators said, had been manipulated
] -- their colors modified -- before being sent
] back onto the Web.

This is a story I'm still following. There are plenty of articles out there that trumpet "Al Qaeda Using Steganography to Encode Messages in Porn", but no proof. Everything I've found about this Milan trial tends to lead back to a single article in the "Corriere della Sera" newspaper, an Italian daily.

My own gut feeling is still, "Sometimes porn is just porn", but I'd still be interested in seeing trial transcripts if I could just figure out how to get my hands on them...

More Steganography / Al Qaeda Rumors

Al Qaeda Codes: Gas Stations and Mechanics Shops
Topic: War on Terrorism 10:57 am EDT, Jun 20, 2003

From court documents involving Iyman Faris, on trial for Al Qaeda plots:

] C-2 [Khalid Shaikh Mohammed] described the equipment as
] "gas cutters" but instructed the defendant [Faris]
] to refer to them in code as "gas stations" in any
] subsequent communications sent to C-2. C-2 also
] explained that al Qaeda was planning to derail
] trains. C-2 assigned the defendant to obtain the
] necessary tools for the train-derailment plot as well. In
] messages to C-2, those tools were to be referred to as
] "mechanics shops." The defendant indicated that he had
] email and was familiar with the internet. C-2 instructed
] the defendant never to access email immediately after
] logging on but only after opening other internet sites
] first.
  . . .
] Between April 2002 and March 2003, the defendant sent
] several coded messages through another in the United
] States to C-1 in Pakistan, indicating that the defendant
] was still trying to obtain "gas stations" and "mechanics
] shops" (i.e., he had been unsuccessful in his ongoing
] attempts to locate the equipment). In March 2003, the
] defendant inquired about C-2's arrest through a message
] to another here in the United States.
 . . .
] In late 2002, the defendant traveled to New York City. After
] examining the particular bridge, he concluded that the plot to
] destroy the bridge by severing the cables was very unlikely to
] succeed because of the bridge's security and structure. In early
] 2003, after scouting the bridge, the defendant sent a message to
] C-1 which stated "the weather is too hot." This message was coded
] and meant to convey the defendant's assessment that the bridge
] plot was unlikely to succeed.

Interesting stuff on the codes that Al Qaeda was actually using (as opposed to all the rumors about steganographic embedding in porn images).

It's also worth noting that one of the messages between Atta and Binalshibh (according to Binalshibh when he granted an interview to Al-Jazeera last year) also used a similar message: "the summer will surely be hot" when planning the September 11th attacks.

Question though: What would be the benefit of checking Email *after* browsing other internet sites first? Would this just be to throw watchers off the scent by making a session look like an "innocent" session, or would that kind of pattern mess with sniffer programs somehow? Or maybe the "other internet sites" were specific ones designed to disguise source IP?

Al Qaeda Codes: Gas Stations and Mechanics Shops

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