All posts in Intelligence

Shabaab Threatens ‘Big Surprise’ As Siege at Kenyan Mall Continues


As Shabaab fighters continue to hold out inside the Westgate Mall in Kenya for the fourth day after assaulting the upscale shopping center on Saturday, the al Qaeda group’s media arm on Twitter threatened that a “big surprise” was in store for Kenyans. Shabaab released the following statement on Twitter just minutes ago:

The Kenyan govt and FM haven’t the faintest idea of what’s going on inside #Westgate mall. Rest assured, Kenyans are in for a big surprise!

The group did not detail the nature of the “big surprise” (or it wouldn’t be a surprise), but previous tweets over the past few hours indicate that the members of the assault team are holding their ground, despite claims from Kenyan officials last night that the mall has been secured, and the team still has hostages.

How a Crypto ‘Backdoor’ Pitted the Tech World Against the NSA

In August 2007, a young programmer in Microsoft’s Windows security group stood up to give a five-minute turbo talk at the annual Crypto conference in Santa Barbara.

It was a Tuesday evening, part of the conference’s traditional rump session, when a hodge-podge of short talks are presented outside of the conference’s main lineup. To draw attendees away from the wine and beer that competed for their attention at that hour, presenters sometimes tried to sex up their talks with provocative titles like “Does Bob Go to Prison?” or “How to Steal Cars – A Practical Attack on KeeLoq” or “The Only Rump Session Talk With Pamela Anderson.”

Dan Shumow and his Microsoft colleague Niels Ferguson titled theirs, provocatively, “On the Possibility of a Back Door in the NIST SP800-90 Dual Ec Prng.” It was a title only a crypto geek would love or get.

Ansar al Sharia in Libya Criticizes Muslim Brotherhood

On Aug. 20, Ansar al Sharia in Libya released a statement that criticized the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt for participating in the democratic process, and for failing to implement sharia, or Islamic law. The statement, which was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, is very similar to criticisms leveled by al Qaeda’s emir, Ayman al Zawahiri, and by Shabaab, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia.

North Korea Likely Testing More Rocket Engines

North Korea more than likely tested a long-range rocket engine late last month, according to analysis of new satellite imagery over the site.

In the photos released by 38 North, a blog run by the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, indicators of a probable test are seen through the presence of a probable rocket stage, propellant tanks, as well as the appearance of burned vegetation around the launch stand.

The photos were taken between August 25 and 30.

“These are not in and of themselves indicators that there is going to be a rocket test six months from now,” Joel Wit, a former North Korea specialist at the State Department who is now with 38 North, told CNN about the photos.

It is not clear from the photos, Wit said, whether the test was for the second stage of the Unha-3 rocket, which North Korea used in a successful launch test last December, or whether it was a test for a stage of another larger rocket.

Al Qaeda Ramps Up Attacks in Iraq

As the world focuses on the Syrian civil war, the use of chemical weapons, and the rise of al Qaeda and Islamist groups, the resurgence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which is al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq, is going largely unnoticed. Violence in Iraq has spiked this year, with a wave of suicide bombings, car bombings, and armed attacks. As al Qaeda focuses energy on Syria, it certainly hasn’t left Iraq behind.

Al Qaeda clearly has the resources to carry out attacks such as today’s, in which five suicide bombers and a multitude of car bombs were used. One attack included a suicide assault team against a police special forces base in Bayji. The al Qaeda fighters entered the perimeter of the base before being gunned down. From Russia Today:

The first bomb exploded next to a tent full of mourners in the Shiite neighborhood. Shortly after, a suicide bomber detonated his device while driving a car near the funeral-goers. A third bomb exploded as police and ambulances arrived at the scene.
“Crowds of people were visiting the tent to offer their condolences when suddenly a powerful blast…threw me to ground,” said 35-year-old Basim Raheem.

RSA Tells Its Developer Customers: Stop Using NSA-Linked Algorithm

Amidst all of the confusion and concern over an encryption algorithm that may contain an NSA backdoor, RSA Security released an advisory to developer customers today noting that the algorithm is the default in one of its toolkits and strongly advising them to stop using the algorithm.

The advisory provides developers with information about how to change the default to one of a number of other random number generator algorithms RSA supports and notes that RSA has also changed the default on its end in BSafe and in an RSA key management system.

The company is the first to go public with such an announcement in the wake of revelations by theNew York Times that the NSA may have inserted an intentional weakness in the algorithm — known as Dual Elliptic Curve Deterministic Random Bit Generation (or Dual EC DRBG) — and then used its influence to get the algorithm added to a national standard issued by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The Syria Crisis and North Korea

The unraveling of the Syrian drama has suddenly brought attention to an unexpected culprit: North Korea. But if you give it a second thought, that should not be surprising given the US’ vision of the world as a stand-off between good guys and bad guys. North Koreans are near the top of the latter list and it would be only natural to emphasize the wickedness of the Assad regime by highlighting its cooperation with Pyongyang. It is true that traditional military cooperation between the two has flourished for a long time. Until recently, this cooperation was one of the most advanced of Pyongyang’s military ties with its clients, which included Iran, Libya and also many African states. Syria has been one of North Korea’s closest allies for decades. I remember when serving as a Russian diplomat in Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s, I was sometimes mistaken by the service personnel in hotels and shops as being “Syrian” when saying I was “Soryon” (Soviet), testifying to the brisk exchanges between the two countries. However, the present stress on the link between the two “rogue states” seems a bit artificial. Some commentators even call the two countries “a real axis of evil,”[1] prompting suspicion of a “hidden agenda.”

Shabaab Urges Egyptian Muslims to ‘Pick Up Arms and Defend Yourself’

In a series of tweets posted to its official Twitter account today, Shabaab commented on the ongoing crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The jihadist group had previously chastised the Muslim Brotherhood on Twitter following the ouster of Mohammed Morsi in early July.

The Real Reason You’re Mad at the NSA

“What’s really going on here?” That’s the question I typically ask students to kick-start a discussion about some aspect of American intelligence at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, where I teach a graduate course on the subject.

This same question might fairly be asked about the controversy dominating the news since the leak that revealed the intelligence community’s highly classified electronic surveillance program. Why are we so fascinated with this case? Why are some Americans outraged at the government while others are outraged at the leaker? Why do so many of us have such firm and passionate views about all of this?

At one level, the answer is simple: Intelligence is a sexy subject, particularly in the post-9/11 era. And the surveillance program was a secret, so who wouldn’t be interested? But this controversy taps into deeper cultural strains that go to the very heart of the intelligence community’s role in America, and perhaps our maturation as a nation. The bottom line is that intelligence, as a profession, still does not sit comfortably in our polity. There are a number of reasons for this.

The Spy Novelist Who Knows Too Much

Last June, a pulp-fiction thriller was published in Paris under the title “Le Chemin de Damas.” Its lurid green-and-black cover featured a busty woman clutching a pistol, and its plot included the requisite car chases, explosions and sexual conquests. Unlike most paperbacks, though, this one attracted the attention of intelligence officers and diplomats on three continents. Set in the midst of Syria’s civil war, the book offered vivid character sketches of that country’s embattled ruler, Bashar al-Assad, and his brother Maher, along with several little-known lieutenants and allies. It detailed a botched coup attempt secretly supported by the American and Israeli intelligence agencies. And most striking of all, it described an attack on one of the Syrian regime’s command centers, near the presidential palace in Damascus, a month before an attack in the same place killed several of the regime’s top figures. “It was prophetic,” I was told by one veteran Middle East analyst who knows Syria well and preferred to remain nameless. “It really gave you a sense of the atmosphere inside the regime, of the way these people operate, in a way I hadn’t seen before.”