In a report on Wikileaks, Bloomberg disclosed today that U.S. authorities may now be using contractors to spy on Swedish servers looking for creative ways to prosecute Wikileaks and Julian Assange.
Bloomberg reports that Robert Boback, Chief Executive Officer of Tiversa, Inc., a spying and surveillance firm that contracts with the FBI, declined to say who his company’s client was when his firm surveilled four unidentified Swedish servers.
According to Boback, during a 60 minute period on February 7, 2009:
“Tiversa’s monitors detected four Swedish computers engaged in searching and downloading information on peer-to-peer networks. The four computers issued 413 searches, crafted to find Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and other information-rich documents among some of the 18 million users the company estimates are on such file-sharing networks at any given moment.”
Tiversa also claims that:
“Those searches led to a computer in Hawaii that held a survey of the Pentagon’s Pacific Missile Range Facility
The company also claims that it “captured the download of the PDF file by one of the Swedish computers.”
Tiversa’s Sam Hopkins, identified by ZDNet as the company’s CEO in 2009, says that events like these are “hardly unusual”, when discussing how details about Marine One, the president’s helicopter, were found on a computer in Tehran in March of 2009.
Everybody uses(P2P). Everybody. We see classified information leaking all the time. When the Iraq war got started, we knew what U.S. troops were doing because G.I.’s who wanted to listen to music would install software on secure computers and it got compromised. — We see information flying out there to Iran, China, Syria, Qatar–you name it. There’s so much out there that sometimes we can’t keep up with it.
The reporter for Bloomberg, Michael Riley, did not indicate whether he had asked Mr. Boback or U.S. government authorities if there had been any use of P2P disruption and entrapment strategies by either party, in like manner to the Entertainment Industry’s attempts to stop illegal downloads of copyrighted music.
Riley’s article belays a credulity that could only come from a lack of acquaintance with the technologies involved. He goes on to report that Tiversa concluded that the searches came from Wikileaks because Wikileaks has servers in Sweden.
“It would be highly unlikely that someone else from Sweden is issuing those same types of searches resulting in that same type of information.”
Beyond the location of the servers, however, little more is offered to support Tiversa’s claims about the identity of the Swedish computers. Apparently, Tiversa also claims that the same document that the company asserts was downloaded by a Swedish server, “was renamed and posted on the WikiLeaks website two months later, on April 29, 2009.” Riley confirms this, “according to a mirror image of the site.”
He does not, however, link to the identified document or the site. Instead the article links to a list of Wikileaks mirror located at http://bluetouff.com/2010/12/03/acceder-a-wikileaks/.
Boback also claims his company estimates that “as much as half of the postings by the group [Wikileaks] could originate from information siphoned from peer-to-peer users.” But no further methodology or analysis is offered to substantiate this allegation.
Undermining Wikileaks as a Media Organization
Tiversa claims that the company has turned over its evidence to the U.S. government in order to “aid what Boback called the early stages of an investigation into the matter.” Congressional committees, “are pursuing a separate inquiry to undermine WikiLeaks’ claim that it’s a legitimate media organization with protections under the First Amendment,” according to Boback.
Again, a naivety about the technology involved is in evidence. Riley reports that the tracking methodology employed by Tiversa was “using so-called Internet protocol addresses that every computer, server or similar equipment has.” The use of the adjective “so-called” to qualify “Internet protocol [sic] address” is not elucidated by Riley.
It is relatively common knowledge that ‘IP address’ is a term widely used to identify the numerical label assigned to a devices – for example, a computer – that participate in a computer network using the Internet Protocol as a means of communication” (Source: Wikipedia.org)
Bloomberg reports Tiversa has “done investigative searches on behalf of U.S. agencies including the FBI,” and that “Howard Schmidt, a former Tiversa adviser, is cybersecurity coordinator and special assistant to U.S. President Barack Obama.”
However, the U.S. Department of Justice spokesman, Dean Boyde, declined to comment as to whether the agency was officially investigating the downloads Tiversa asserts were done by Wikileaks. Furthermore, as we learn, Tiversa also declined to say who its client was when the company observed the Swedish downloads, leaving some questions as to Tiversa’s interests in the matter.
Mark Stephens, Wikileaks’ London attorney, wrote in an email to Bloomberg that “Tiversa’s claim is “completely false in every regard.”