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Computer surveillance by CIA?

computer surveillance

We welcome Josh “UJ” Mull as a Polizeros contributor.

In the early morning hours of Tuesday, March 3, I was doing some research for the latest episode of Alive in Baghdad, specifically looking for Iraqi reactions to President Obama’s speech announcing the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. One of the reactions I came across was from the Mujahideen Central Command of Rafidan, a Sunni Islamist, Iraqi insurgent group allegedly responsible for the brutal murder of two CIA agents in Baghdad in 2004.

Originally posted on Dandelion Salad, I followed the Rafidan communique back to its source at Al-Basrah.net, an Iraqi insurgent media organization focusing on Sunni Arab Nationalism and resistance to American and Iranian domination. Here’s where it started getting weird.

But first, some background…

I’m running Minefield, the nightly, Alpha version of the Firefox browser and, as such, a lot of my browser extensions occasionally have issues with lock-ups or freezing on certain sites. One of these extensions is KnowMore, an add-on that “alerts you when you visit the websites of unethical companies (it also let you know if you’re visiting a company with a positive rating!).“

The way KnowMore works is by sending every URL your browser accesses back to its home server, checks it against its database of corporate ethics, and then reports it back to your browser to activate the KnowMore pop-up message. Unfortunately, due to my experimental browser, faulty extension coding, or server errors at KnowMore.org, the extension often locks up the browser for a few seconds before displaying an error, usually something along the lines of “cannot reach website.com.”

Back to the weirdness…

As you do, I left all the tabs I was working with open in my browser and jumped back to OpenOffice to keep writing Alive in Baghdad. After a few minutes, I noticed my cursor was blinking wildly as if the computer was “thinking” about something. I switched over to Minefield and found it was unresponsive. After a few seconds, it popped-up its error message, saying it couldn’t reach “cia.gov.” Annoyed, I closed the error and all the tabs without really thinking about what I had just seen and instead jumped back to writing.

About a minute later, it happened again, the same error from cia.gov, this time without any tabs open at all. What this means is that somewhere, in the background and without my knowledge, my computer was attempting to open a connection to the CIA, and the KnowMore extension was having trouble with it. Basically, I was wiretapped without a warrant.

So what does this mean? Turns out, not that much.

First off, it should be pointed out that the Mujahideen Central Command of Rafidan is a US designated Terrorist Organization and, as I said, is allegedly responsible for gunning down two CIA agents, Dale Stoffel and Joseph Wemple, in broad daylight in the middle of a crowded Baghdad street. Simply put, these are not nice guys. Were I not a journalist doing legitimate research, I’d really have no business being at their website in the first place.

Americans, always the “rugged individuals,” treasure their privacy as one of the country’s fundamental freedoms. However, most of the privacy protections granted to citizens were obliterated by the Patriot Act and other subsequent counter-terrorism legislation passed in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. To add insult to injury, in 2008 in the middle of an election campaign predicated on accountability and transparency, then-Senator Barack Obama voted to grant immunity to the telecommunications companies responsible for illegally violating what small privacy Americans had left.

So, while I’m offended at the presumptuousness of our intelligence agencies, I don’t really have much ground to be angry with them. The CIA have an obvious reason for monitoring that website, and not only that, but I don’t really have the right to not be wiretapped anymore. I haven’t been struck with paranoia, I’ve taken zero steps to protect from it happening again, but the case is definitely worth considering.

What do you think? Should I be worried? Are you worried? Let me know in the comments.

- Josh “UJ” Mull
Small World News
http://aliveinbaghdad.org
http://aliveingaza.org

About Josh Mull

Josh Mull aka “Ultimate Josh” is an underground citizen journalist best known for his work with TheUptake.org covering the 2008 Presidential Elections, including live video coverage of police crackdowns on peace marches at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. He began writing on the web as a teenager, publishing articles and reviews for Planet Unreal and other multiplayer gaming sites, later moving on to more serious subject matter on LiveJournal, Myspace, and finally here at Read or Alive. He was also one of the many citizen journalists pioneering the use of microblogs during political debates, natural disasters, and terrorist attacks, including the recent violence in Mumbai and the Gaza Strip. In December 2008, Josh began working with Small World News (SWN) as a blog writer but has since moved on to be a Contributing Editor of Alive in Baghdad and Co-Creator of Alive in Gaza. He is also currently a contributor for Politics in the Zeros, as well as a guest contributor at Enduring America, focusing on US foreign policy in the Middle East and Central Asia. Josh is available for media appearances and speaking engagements on a variety of matters relating to social media, citizen journalism, digital reporting, open source intelligence (OSINT), microblogging, and social networking as well as any topics relating to his research and reporting on national security, foreign policy, US elections, President Barack Obama, Iraq, the Israeli-Arab conflict, counter-insurgency (COIN), and the Global War on Terror, also known as The Long War. He has previously appeared as a guest on WAAY 31 News, BBC News, and Radio Islam.
  • http://polizeros.com Bob Morris

    I wonder how such surveillance works. Seems like it would be simpler to put a sniffer somewhere and just track whoever goes to the site rather than link back to yourself and make it obvious who is sniffing.

    I think it was the CEO of Sun who said, there is no privacy on the Net, deal with it.

  • http://www.asymptoticlife.com DJ

    Knowing you’re under surveillance is a different way of thinking. When working in Sri Lanka, we accepted that someone (probably both the U.S. and the LTTE, and maybe GOSL too) was reading our emails. We weren’t doing anything we didn’t want the U.S. to know about, but we did use PGP to limit local knowledge of our online discussions.

    The scary part is, if someone is surveilling you or your destination, they’re LOOKING for bad guys– and you just applied for the job. Even if you have a legitimate reason to be doing what you’re doing, the very concept of surveillance suggests that the burden of proof is on YOU, not the surveillors.

  • http://www.newcomputersforless.com computer

    I would say no worries. They have been watching and listening for a long time. For example, the couple that was just picked up for spying on Cuba. They suspected them for over 7 years and just let them be. It is something that we will just have to live with in the new web enabled era.

  • JohnSmith

    Just a thought… with domain names and servers at such a low cost and the CIA having such a massive budget, do you really believe that they’d have a secret monitoring program send data back to “cia.gov” ? It seems a bit more likely they’d use something like “joesfruitshack.com” instead… the CIA.gov part might blow their cover ;)

    • http://smallworldnews.tv UJ

      Why would they keep it a secret? Like it says, I was doing something quite obviously in an ethical (legal?) gray area. Why should they try to be sneaky about that? I’m sure that if the Iraqis saw their server sending covert calls back to joesfruitshack.com they’d be just as annoyed, and helpless, as they are now with cia.gov.

  • http://www.wula.us computers

    I think it was the CEO of Sun who said, there is no privacy on the Net, deal with it.

  • Bill

    wtf?!!!! Josh–are you kidding me; Regarding your visit to the website “…had no business being there at all…”????? WHAT???????? Not only is it a legal right in this country to read a flyer posted on the street or a website online BUT!!!!!…..it is the obligation of the individual citizen to be informed and think for himself. Do you really mean to write that (as a journalist) you or any private citizen should unquestioningly accept what is spoon-fed to them by the government.

    I happen to be a curious person naturally, in addition to feeling socially responsible. I feel domestically terrorized by my government. Culture of fear, police state, disenfranchisement of voters….the list is too long. Things in this country (and the trend in the world) are much more dire than people are admitting or talking about.

    I am a innocent victim of this illegal government surveillance of my computer–probably as a result of porn searches or general news articles or basic informational searches on current topics etc. I am very angry and damaged by the government action because their surveillance slows my computers performance so much as to effectively make it useless to me. I consider that property damage. I will have to throw away my current computer and buy a new one–which I an not afford. Furthermore, I have a loud mouth and used to feel great pride that in this country I could say anything I wanted to–well now I have a deep terrible feeling of loss because I thought I would never have to censor myself………..and I can not express in words how deep and profoundly grieved I am at this loss.

    And I consider Microsoft and these other companies as complicit in the illegal government spying.

  • john

    let me say this, no matter what website any computer goes on they can find everything your eyes saw 15 years later from any computer, and the key to all of this is, as the words of my hero,” our flesh is here one day then gone another, fear, hate, and unjust is just a devils blood in a vain, such good and bad bleed” so what im saying is insanity is were it gets to, you must no fear, death is a part of life, but i will tell you this much as soon as you go to an “enemy” website your marked especially if after following you they feel a threat, forget the fact if you dont have any classified information, they’ll shoot you at mid-nite given a right opportunity and the 45% that dont care about your life beside there money and devilish ways…

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