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Al-Qaeda Used Basic Codes, Calling Cards, Hotmail

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the if-only-the-nsa-watched-the-wire dept.

Communications 285

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

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Really? What Exacty Is Your Suggestion? (5, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 5 years ago | (#27797973)

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

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

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

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

Re:Really? What Exacty Is Your Suggestion? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27798019)

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

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

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

Re:Really? What Exacty Is Your Suggestion? (4, Insightful)

terraformer (617565) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798141)

But that's hard...

Re:Really? What Exacty Is Your Suggestion? (3, Funny)

elucido (870205) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798201)

It's not too hard.

Put a bug in their basement.

Re:Really? What Exacty Is Your Suggestion? (4, Interesting)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798301)

No, but it means spending on people in the field, rather than generating big hi-tech budgets with cool buzz-words, and your own personal fiefdom. Security takes second seat to "oh, shiny." Always has (just look at car designers resistance to incorporating safety features).

Re:Really? What Exacty Is Your Suggestion? (1)

Daimanta (1140543) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798489)

After putting roaches, beetles and plant lice in their basement, they soon realised the futility of the operation and they called it off.

Putting bugs in peoples basements doesn't work, it only makes the basements icky!

Terrorists aren't stupid. (4, Insightful)

elucido (870205) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798155)

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

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

Re:Terrorists aren't stupid. (3, Interesting)

Cookie3 (82257) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798361)

SIGINT isn't just data collection -- it's also data distribution. Make the person you're listening to think they're being listened to by another group, or exchange information with an informant without them knowing who "you" are, and without them suspecting anything's wrong with the transaction.

I heard a story once [citation needed], where "we" were feeding a terrorist fake info to relay to his friends, and the terrorist gobbled it up and told his superiors... which then changed the location of some meeting, which resulted in them getting blown up (with relatively fewer civilian casualties).

Re:Terrorists aren't stupid. (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27798431)

which resulted in them getting blown up (with relatively fewer civilian casualties).

I feel sick.

Re:Terrorists aren't stupid. (4, Insightful)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798547)

with relatively fewer civilian casualties

It's so lucky that we're the good guys.

Re:Really? What Exacty Is Your Suggestion? (4, Interesting)

darkmeridian (119044) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798233)

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

Message for Osama Bin Laden (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798257)

"The bread is blue".

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

Re:Message for Osama Bin Laden (4, Funny)

russotto (537200) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798377)

"The bread is blue".

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

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

Re:Really? What Exacty Is Your Suggestion? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27798339)

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

Is that a reference to /.ers?

jk

Re:Really? What Exacty Is Your Suggestion? (4, Interesting)

synthespian (563437) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798439)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Re:Really? What Exacty Is Your Suggestion? (0, Redundant)

synthespian (563437) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798451)

Oh, wait, prostitution is illegal in the US, right? Then cooperate with the Netherlands. Hehehe.

They did at one point... (5, Insightful)

Garwulf (708651) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798509)

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

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

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

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

Twitter (4, Funny)

Swizec (978239) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798065)

If we could just somehow get most everyone in the world addicted to frequently publishing short bursts of information on a public channel, more specifically answers to the "What are you up to?" question ...

Twitter is the NSA's answer to wiretapping allegations. That's why it's able to grow so quickly without a business model.

Wiretapping the internet wont help. (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798115)

It's one thing to wiretap a bunch of people who grew up with and rely on technology. It's another thing to wiretap people who operate with or without technology. I don't think wiretapping can stop terrorism but I'd like to see some instances of success.

I'm tired of the government claiming we need all these spy powers and invasions of privacy, when they offer no proof that any of this has ever served a military objective. Maybe it serves political objectives but what are the military objectives and rationales for doing this? Will it make the troops safer in Iraq?

Re:Really? What Exacty Is Your Suggestion? (3, Funny)

SIR_Taco (467460) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798171)

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

Re:Really? What Exacty Is Your Suggestion? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27798173)

I think the point is that this illustrates that the erosion of privacy we have seen has been based on a false premise.

Re:Really? What Exacty Is Your Suggestion? (4, Insightful)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798283)

"...has been based on a false premise."

I think you misspelled 'lie'.

The NSA knows exactly how well SIGINT works against terrorists who use code words, personal ads in newspapers, etc.

The terrorists also know how ineffective the NSA is against such things.

The government selling wiretapping on the basis of catching terrorists is a very transparent lie.

Re:Really? What Exacty Is Your Suggestion? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27798187)

The point is that by using minor obfuscation terrorists can evade all the pervasive surveillance there is, while that same surveillance will pick up anything spoken in innocence by people not using such minor obfuscation.

In other words, it's proof that pervasive surveillance is *not* a technique for catching terrorists, which leads to the obvious question - what is it a technique for doing?

NSA infrastructure has expanded regardless (4, Informative)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 5 years ago | (#27797983)

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

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

I smell BS. (0, Troll)

elucido (870205) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798039)

A. What exactly is a foreign business? All mult-national corps are foreign businesses.

B. I'm supposed to believe Clinton of all people was a hero for nationalist businesses? He's the same guy responsible for the outsourcing crisis.

The NSA protects federal businesses, that is the businesses which do or have contracts with the NSA, that I can believe. I can also believe that the NSA would do espionage against the business community. But when you talk about foreign this and foreign that, there is no agreed upon definition of what is or is not foreign.

Re:I smell BS. (0)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798049)

IIRC, the example in Bamford's book is how the NSA helped Boeing beat Airbus in getting a contract.

Re:I smell BS. (1)

paazin (719486) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798479)

Which is questionable how true that is to begin with, if you actually look at the Amazon reviews:

Many incidents Bamford writes about are, by definition, controversial and there are other seemingly well-researched accounts that provide different perspectives than found in this book. I recommend you consult those other sources as well if you wish to get a more complete picture of specific incidents

And dozens of other reviews mentioning similar things.

Re:NSA infrastructure has expanded regardless (2, Informative)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798437)

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

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

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

To actually decrypt data takes a lot more because it requires context to get to the key to decode the message. And even if the message is decoded it won't say anything unless you know the semantics. The Navajo code-talkers of WWII were really annoying for Japan since they not only had to know the Navajo language but also know the semantics for what they were talking about. What does "egg" mean in reality - is it a grenade or a bomb?

And short messages are the trickiest messages to crack. Is there a deeper meaning in "Elvis has left the building", or is that just a non-information message.

Just tag on a random quote to a message but avoid certain quotes that does have a meaning that you already have shared with your peers and it's all set. Funny stories have also evolved over time and sometimes it's an Irish lighthouse sometimes it's a Canadian lighthouse involved. Take your pick and you end up into the gray area of inconsistent and hard to track evidence.

So the most effective work is the classic stakeouts together with hidden microphones and possible also cameras. Hard classic detective work. What you really can do is to use computers to coordinate all the data today and make patterns. When a pattern changes a flag can be raised. And don't forget that the general public occasionally actually can give extra input, but there is often a lot of noise in that where weirdos also calls in their share.

Another thing is shopping patterns, but you can't track down on every farmer that purchases fertilizer. That would just be a huge waste of resources. And even the combination of fertilizer and timers in the same purchase may be completely valid, even though that may be cause for a tad more concern.

Just realize that the job of capturing terrorists isn't easy and the best way to be safe is to avoid things that motivates them. Sure - there will always be a few, but those are the real wackos - somewhat like the Una Bomber. And NSA wouldn't have been much help there.

Ban it! (5, Funny)

lastninja (237588) | more than 5 years ago | (#27797985)

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

Re:Ban it! (4, Interesting)

inviolet (797804) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798303)

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

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

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

Re:Ban it! (3, Funny)

ashtophoenix (929197) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798359)

I am okay with banning hotmail.

Hotmail, hmmm? (-1, Redundant)

Cornwallis (1188489) | more than 5 years ago | (#27797995)

Mebbe Microsoft will finally take a tumble for aiding terrorists.

Re:Hotmail, hmmm? (2, Interesting)

RAMMS+EIN (578166) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798205)

``Mebbe Microsoft will finally take a tumble for aiding terrorists.''

Unlikely. Now, maybe if it had been Bittorrent. Or tor.

Re:Hotmail, hmmm? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27798413)

Mebbe Microsoft will finally take a tumble for aiding terrorists.

Vista: You are about to engage in a terrorist operation. Cancel or allow?

Terrorist: Allow.

Vista (BSOD): I'm sorry, A problem has been detected and windows has been shut down to prevent damage to your computer, yourself, and society. If this is the first time you've seen this Stop error screen, restart your life.

Too much Mission Impossible? (4, Insightful)

Vinegar Joe (998110) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798009)

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

Re:Too much Mission Impossible? (3, Insightful)

jd2112 (1535857) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798105)

That's old school. Today Jack Bauer just tortures the terrorist and gets him to tell the access code before the commercial break.

This is not a surprise (2, Interesting)

yttrstein (891553) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798015)

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

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

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

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

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

You make an excellent point. (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798095)

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

From what I see in the news article, if Al-qaeda were using these 10-codes which are extremely simple, this if probably precisely why the NSA didn't catch it. All the datamining looking for sophisticated signals for what? I'm surprised Al Qaeda even used computers, but if they did use them I'm not surprised they used them in this way.

The US gov is going to have to stop terrorism using human intel, combined with this technology they are developing. I don't think technology to scan the internets for activity will reveal anything useful. I would like to see some instances where this datamining has actually prevented an attack of served military objective.

Re:This is not a surprise (1)

Lifyre (960576) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798183)

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

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

-Lify

Re:This is not a surprise (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27798191)

33K to start, he said. I laughed and moved on to the next table, where someone in the private sector was offering 100K for a similar, but much more interesting position that I didn't have to move to Virginia to take.

So, the price of career stability starts at 77k. It has a tendency to go down with time, provided that your can adapt to the American Way as defined by the then administration, have reasonable social skills and sufficient level of academic background.

Re:This is not a surprise (1, Redundant)

CalvinTheBold (122460) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798193)

I have a similar story. The NSA hires entry level mathematicians for a pittance. They money they offered wasn't enough to raise a family, so I went with a job at a defense contractor that paid 50% more.

This "crating" thing you mention... I've never heard the term, but I've seen the effects. Some people settle down for a nice, steady, mind-numbing job in a SCIF because they know it's basically guaranteed employment for as long as the program lasts. You can spend your entire career doing the same thing for the same project, all while tidily walled off from the world because of security constraints. My peers and I joke that it's welfare for engineers.

Re:This is not a surprise (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27798199)

Yes, people who put money above all else are the best people to handle valuable classified information.

Yes. It is MUCH better to instead hire... (1)

denzacar (181829) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798467)

...people who could be making more flipping burgers.

So as to, when their vision of patriotism seizes to match with the government approved version - they will have absolutely NOTHING to stop them selling government secrets to... say... Albanians.
Hey! It's not like the government was going to pay for their house, car and TV payments or put their kids through college.

Re:This is not a surprise (5, Insightful)

SirLurksAlot (1169039) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798241)

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

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

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

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

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

Re:This is not a surprise (4, Insightful)

Eli Gottlieb (917758) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798337)

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

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

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

Re:This is not a surprise (4, Insightful)

fastest fascist (1086001) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798401)

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

Re:This is not a surprise (1)

SirLurksAlot (1169039) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798513)

Personnel and hardware are both assets (although one would hope the human assets are considered less expendable than the material ones), why is it OK to spend significant portions of a country's GDP on one type of asset in order to increase security and then skimp on another type of asset?

I'm not saying it is. In fact I would say it was a huge mistake to put more effort into using SIGINT than what is put into recruiting highly skilled agents. This is a case of having a hammer and seeing every problem as a nail when in fact what they needed was more (and better trained) workers. Now I realize that one way to do that is to offer better pay, benefits, etc, but at the same time our intelligence agencies probably want to attract people who's primary motivation is something other than the love of money. After all, what good is a spy who could be bought out by the competition?

Re:This is not a surprise (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27798461)

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

Re:This is not a surprise (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27798285)

how much a job in intelligence paid. 33K to start

But think of the perks - total unaccountability, kidnapping people, torture, toppling democratic governments and installing dictators!

Re:This is not a surprise (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27798335)

But think of the perks - total unaccountability, kidnapping people, torture, toppling democratic governments and installing dictators!

The operators do those things, not the agents or the analysts. Operators are not recruited with money, they are recruited with dirt ("You can rot in jail forever, or you can work for us"), and not at a job fair, but from the criminal court docket.

Re:This is not a surprise (5, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798295)

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

Re:This is not a surprise (1)

Eli Gottlieb (917758) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798321)

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

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

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

Did you ever stop to consider (1)

oncehour (744756) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798333)

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

Re:This is not a surprise (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27798353)

The other way of looking at this is to thank those people who are sacrificing their salary and BMW and possibly that "American Way" you reference to keep your *** safe.

well if you are good enough (1)

Phizzle (1109923) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798403)

You can take a job in private sector in one of those shady analytic think-tank companies, and contract with the CIA for considerably more money than they pay their own people. This would let you satisfy your patriotic urges and actually live in a reasonable tax bracket.

Or you know... (3, Insightful)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798031)

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

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

They could break into it covertly. (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798129)

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

Re:Or you know... (1)

RAMMS+EIN (578166) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798179)

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

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

the excuse vs reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27798053)

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

The NSA doesn't need to wiretap the whole US to break into a Hotmail account. That's just their justification. That jd is only now coming to this realization just proves how well this justification has actually worked.

Hotmail Lulz (1)

HavocXphere (1208158) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798059)

Lols. Hotmail. Those things are spam-magnets. Should keep them too busy to do anything terrorist themed.

Basic Codes? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27798071)


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

Wise words from a cop... (2, Interesting)

Manip (656104) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798079)

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

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

PS - Terrorist cells are unique and individual.

Re:Wise words from a cop... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27798107)

Does it really take a whole lot of intelligence to figure this out?!? If you don't want to leave a trail, you need to use a communication method that doesn't leave a trail. Simply brilliant. And the thing is, this guy is probably at the top of his class.

Terrorists are dumb (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27798087)

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

Edoc terceS (1)

hhaarrvv (1521241) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798101)

Edoc repus sith edoced nac yeht fi rednow

Re:Edoc terceS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27798239)

Gnorw "siht" delleps uoy

-ANS

Re:Edoc terceS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27798325)

.ÊZÊıxÇ1dÉoÉ" ÉYo 1ÇÊOEÇ1 É sppÉ .ÊzuÄ±É¥Ê Ä± '1ÉuoıÊuÇÊuı sÉÊ Êı

Goddammit ! (1)

denzacar (181829) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798277)

I thought I had it but I lost the track at the third word.

Sith... sith... maybe it has something to do with Jedi?

Why is this startling to anyone? (4, Insightful)

east coast (590680) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798131)

I don't know where this concept came from that this crime had to be high tech.

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

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

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

Re:Why is this startling to anyone? (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798253)

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

If we look at school shooters, almost all of them have websites where they talk about what they are going to do. They will probably be twittering as they are doing it, but I don't think the terrorists from Al Qaeda are on twitter.

Re:Why is this startling to anyone? (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798409)

The fear mongering attacks on technology are about being noticed doing something, not about control.

Actually listen to most politicians speak for a few minutes and it becomes quite clear that they are, at best, ill informed. That isn't a base that can support nuanced schemes and conspiracies, and they are a great deal more concerned with maintaining their position than they are with the ability for people to make noise on the internets.

When Al Qaeda graduates (1)

Ralph Spoilsport (673134) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798133)

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

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

Man. I dunno. Between the Beaufort [wikipedia.org] and Vigenere, I think we're cooked.

RS

Security through obscurity sometimes works (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27798137)

The problem is that it's brittle.

You can use "10-codes" or any other arbitrary "x-code" but if you use it more than once or twice, people will catch on.

Attack on anonymous communications by .gov (1)

base3 (539820) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798157)

Legislation outlawing prepaid phone cards without recorded ID in the U.S. in 5, 4, 3 . . .

Pre-paids (1)

Nidi62 (1525137) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798159)

Of course they are going to use pre-paid cards and phones. They are anonymous, disposable, and short-term use. In the time it takes for authorities to realize that number/phone is being used by a subject, that subject has already ditched it for a new one. The summary acts like this is a new revelation, but it has been going on for a long time, and has been known by intelligence services for a long time as well. What's next? "New information reports that terrorists are using substitution ciphers!" Uh, duh. Subversion and secret groups have always known about the importance of anonymity,even amongst themselves. That is why many groups use several levels of cut-outs between cells, so that no one person can identify or lead authorities to more than 1-2 people.

Hotmail? Really? (2, Funny)

downix (84795) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798165)

Let's see the Al Qaeda inbox a moment:

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

How did they plan anything like this?

Intercepting internet communitcations.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27798167)

has probably the worst signal-to-noise ratio ever, unless you already know where to find what your looking for

10 code doesn't work (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27798169)

This used to be my phone number:
915650644

the '0' digit is a problem

Applying the '10-code' gives:
1954510466

Reversing it gives:
91565910644

Re:10 code doesn't work (1)

fishtorte (1117491) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798297)

0 stays 0. It's a digit-for-digit substitution.

Re:10 code doesn't work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27798311)

Just try with modulo 10?

for digit in number:
    newdigit = (10 - digit)%10

915650644 -> 195450466
195450466 -> 915650644

Wow, it works?

Hmm... (5, Funny)

denzacar (181829) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798319)

You may be onto something.

Have you considered applying for a job at your local government's intelligence agency?
From your keen understanding of codes and cyphers, seems like you may be just the kind of expert they are looking for.

Re:Hmm... (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798385)

I figured it was a troll that even Bill and Ted would appreciate.

Re:10 code doesn't work (1)

he-sk (103163) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798343)

Are you CIA or NSA? No wonder AQ fooled you.

Maybe the terrorists use gmail too? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27798185)

gmail does sometimes show quite relevant ads so maybe the NSA should buy some adwords and check the accounts of those that click on www.discount-nukes.com?

But Can NSA Tell Of Its Successes? (4, Interesting)

darkmeridian (119044) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798197)

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

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

Re:But Can NSA Tell Of Its Successes? (4, Insightful)

ducomputergeek (595742) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798373)

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

The best part about this story is (4, Insightful)

crmartin (98227) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798245)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Re:The best part about this story is (1)

russotto (537200) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798411)

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

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

Re:The best part about this story is (1)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798521)

Inside the US its Canada, the UK, Australia.
They spy for the USA in the USA, the USA spies in the UK, Canada, no laws broken then...
Voice matching is very interesting. They dont have to care about the phone.
Just have a known voice on one end. Then add the new voice to the database.
Track the phone if its in use for a few days.
Sneak and peek at any locations the phone stays.
The whole US network is about voices, phone numbers and locations.
Public phones would be covered by cameras too.
Once they have your movements, they have your cyber cafe, they have your university, your friends ISP ect.
Then the @hotmail.com becomes one of a few 1000.....
American computers and the NSA cubicle coeds can cope with that :)

Wake up. (1)

korbin_dallas (783372) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798289)

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

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

Its called Strategy.

Hotmail (1)

YourExperiment (1081089) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798383)

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

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

Re:Hotmail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27798599)

Maybe the willingness of the owners of Hotmail to "cooperate" with the Government (aka violating the privacy rights of the users) is what the OP reckons as "ease to break in".

A better rephrasing could be: "if you can not discover terrorists messages sent with a service the admins of which will tell you everything you ask them to, then shut the f*ck up about wiretaping all comms as a way to stop terrorism."

Depends how sloppy the teachers are (1)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798433)

Your above average 'teacher' knows not to trust anything electronic.
Electronics are for the students. If caught?
"It enters the lines on its forum or else it gets the hose again."
Not much use to the CIA.
Yahiya Ayyash, "the Engineer" had his cell phone turned into a bomb in 1996.
Dzokhar Dudayev (President of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria) was killed via laser-guided missiles when he was using a satellite phone in 1996.
The NSA is said to have helped.
The idea that *any* leadership material would touch anything trackable is strange.
Unless its to bait some quality PR about drones over Pakistan.
The idea that they look to spread a " "Click for Change" message in blog and video form is a known.
Another good part is the DoD can see how its South African designed mine-resistant and ambush- protected vehicles are doing.
Heavy duty encryption glows in the dark on the net. If the NSA is not interested, then the FBI or Interpol will be, thinking it is sexual in nature.
Keep it light and it will drift past.

Al-Qaeda and SIGINT (1)

rs232 (849320) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798445)

Why don't 'Al-Qaeda' use PKI encoded Usenet messages like the rest of the security services? And what ever you do don't draw attention to yourself by engaging in fraudulent activities. And of course the evidence he was a sleeper agent was he did absolutely nothing at all ..

It was never about "keeping the sheeple safe" (1)

oDDmON oUT (231200) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798465)

This just goes to show how full of sh*t those who said, "I've got nothing to fear, I've not done anything wrong, support the government [waterboarding/wiretapping/warring/whatever] to keep us safe", actually are.

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

Funny how getting to say "I told you so" in this case feels less like vindication and more like mourning.

duh (1)

d0n0vAn (1382471) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798487)

'throw away your cell phone and email accounts, toss your uniforms and flags in the fire and behave as if it were the past. pass all your communications in person, and pretty soon the guys from the future won't be able to see you and ask "who the hell are we fighting!?"'

face it, you are not going to ever stop a determined enemy, you just aren't. consider that a truly free society does not need a government to monitor it's enemies and citizen's telephone calls or emails, because a truly free society cannot be monitored, killed or destroyed.

Federal spying is a matter of perspective. (1, Interesting)

tjstork (137384) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798519)

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

Conversely, the right wing could do without any of this. Keep the census as just a count, screw all the forms and taxes and filings and inspections you have to do the government. Compared to that, having your phone listened to is a lot easier. Government reporting is so intrusive and so heavy handed any more that if the government just said, let's just read your email and you don't have to fill out any more forms with us, it would be a GODSEND to 90% of the people who actually run businesses.

The biggest joke is that, we talk about all the intrusiveness of wiretaps, but look at all the forms we are REQUIRED to fill out to the IRS, the Commerce Dept, the local Depts of Transportation, and more, not to mention the Census - and the thing is, all of this data, regardless of party, is going to be a politicized fraud anyway.

Weighed against that, I think it is reasonable that for some people, who are already caught up supplying the government with a bunch of information, to wonder why not just go and wiretap everyone if it nabs a few terrorists. The government is way beyond spying, on us, in reality, it is forcing us to turn over mountains of information to it already. Spying is chump change compared to what we already do.

If you really want to get government out of monitoring you, then lets get rid of all the OTHER forms and inspections the government makes you do.

Off by one (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27798541)

The smart terrorists use a 9-code.

it is all fake reasons (2, Insightful)

anonieuweling (536832) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798575)

El qaeda etc are all fake reasons. They still want to snoop all your internet, wiretap youir phone, log your mobile phone, etc. Call it NWO, Big brother or whatever. The Qaeda reason is just a media buzz-word.

Jury of 12 random people? (0, Troll)

JoshDmetro (1478197) | more than 5 years ago | (#27798631)

That is unconstitutional the constitution clearly states a jury or your peers. But when can you ever believe/trust anything that comes from the US gov? Look at the methods they use to extract confessions in the US.
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