Friday, October 19, 2018

The 'Five Eyes' Secret Service Conference in Australia


The Five Eyes, often abbreviated as FVEY, is an anglophone intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These countries are parties to the multilateral UK-USA Agreement, a treaty for joint cooperation in Secret Service intelligence. 

The origins of the FVEY can be traced back to the post–World War II period. At this time, the Allies issued the Atlantic Charter to lay out their goals for a post-war world. During the Cold War, the FVEY initially developed the ECHELON surveillance system to monitor the communications of the former Soviet Union. Now, it is used to monitor billions of private communications worldwide. 

This is one of the systems Edward Snowden exposed in 2013, which is why he now lives in Russia (the US Justice Department wants him). Cybersecurity is one of the main concerns of all these Secret Service agencies. They are working on numerous issues related to national security, including cyber threats, internet security, cyber attacks, malware protection, encrypting and decrypting data, and creating secure government firewalls. 

The primary purpose of this conference was to agree on a public statement outlining the Five Eyes' policy on encryption. The issue has been in and out of the news ever since Edward Snowden released thousands of documents outlining the NSA's monitoring of the public's communications across all networks. 

Four areas they talked about that were covered extensively at Infosec this year were Ransomware attacks on Internet of Things (IoT) devices, AI-powered chatbots manipulating information, Russia & other malign dictatorships hacking democratic election processes to manipulate them, and Cyberwarfare damaging global trade

The conference went well. All the other countries in the Secret Service 'Group of five' - Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA, were exquisitely entertained at the best Hyatt Hotel in Canberra. But sadly, the miserly English had to languish in an unknown Hotel a long way from the event (someone quipped 'in the outback'). 

We were undoubtedly the other four nation's poor cousin this month. I understand we in the UK all live in the age of austerity, but some might say this is excessive. We're the country that invented James Bond for goodness sake........... We have always led the world in Secret Service operations.
One of the British contingents made an inappropriate joke about Snowden to the CIA. I suppose some of us in Europe are unaware of how poorly Edward Snowden is viewed in the US Secret Service and military circles. So why would you make such a joke at a packed assembly with a leading US Secret Service delivering a vital talk? 

I suppose some of us Brits are not convinced he was a traitor. Some believe that the information he released was in the public interest. Still, it must be pretty awkward for a 'freedom fighter' like Andrew Snowden to be living in the full-on brutal dictatorship that Russia has morphed into.

The top topic was Cyber Security, which is fast becoming the obsession of all Secret Service organizations. Companies like Apple and WhatsApp still protect their data against Western agencies. However, in Russia, China, and other dictatorships, all data (on Google, Whatsapp, Facebook, Apple, etc..) is easily accessible by their governments. So much for Silicon's Valleys 'values'. They only work when there's no real threat to their profits. 

Another topic on the agenda was the proposed inquiry into abuses committed by British undercover officers, going back to the early 1970s. These officers were dealing with some of the most dangerous criminal gangs in the UK and were consequently promised complete anonymity for their lifetime. 

The British Government is now going back on that promise. Like many businesses, these gangs that the agents were operating in go on in perpetuity, and they have long memories. These undercover officers were in extreme danger then, and many of them are still in danger now and will be for the rest of their lives. This inquiry will almost certainly uncover nothing useful after forty years or more, yet it will potentially unleash several hornets' nests. Is it worth it?

Jamal Khashoggi was murdered, chopped up, and burned (under the guise of a 'barbecue') in the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Istanbul, Turkey, in November 2018. I coincidentally also went to a friend's wedding in Istanbul, Turkey, during this time. If the Saudis had asked around, they would have realised that all embassies are bugged, so they are not the best location for a murder. 

But like the Russians and North Koreans, Saudis live in somewhat of a bubble. They only allowed women to drive a few years ago! Homosexuality and even adultery (for the women at least) are punishable by death. How very 'middle ages' of Saudi Arabia!


Secret Service monitoring of communications is undoubtedly a subject that provokes much debate.

Without a doubt, a large proportion of effective computer hacking campaigns are state-sponsored, for example:
  • North Korea creating the Wannacry virus that did immense damage to the NHS in the UK.
  • Russia hacking into the US Presidential elections and potentially changing its result (and now China as well).
  • The Chinese government's hackers breaking into private business websites, and stealing intellectual property to help boost its many state-run enterprises.

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