The review of New Zealand’s security and intelligence agencies began in June and will be completed by the end of February 2016. What is going on in this sphere, and who is causing it to happen? MSCNewswire sheds helpful light on the services through the eyes of those who work for them, or those who anticipate working for them.
Security and Intelligence Agencies Review: an Operational Glimpse
MSCNewsWire- Aug 18 2015 - You operate in the shadows and this is where you must stay. Most of you will quite literally be in the dark, clinging to chat room walls, drilling down into dodgy sites, especially the ones that have an outwardly innocent appearance, and de-ciphering the real intention beneath the apparent one.
Boring, painstaking yet requiring incessant alertness because in your vocation few things are what they seem. The purest of intentions in one set of eyes, in this case the perpetrators, so often represent diabolical outcomes for your protectorate.
In signals security intelligence you must be two quite different things. You must be what was once described as a boffin, a nerd as we would now describe it. You must also have an artist’s appreciation of the shaded variant and a policeman’s intuition about something or someone not being as it or they should be.
You will identify travel plans, loans, and money transfers, and out-of-the-ordinary on-line shopping acquisitions.
Chance messages, the ones out of the usual family and friends traffic, will be to you of especial interest.
What about the human side of the services, the one that gets the most public display and thus attention? At any given time here you and your colleagues will have under surveillance around 100 persons of interest.
But what type of person should you be? Ideally you should be at heart much the same as your signals interception colleagues. A mixture of the nerd and the curious. Your eye should constantly be on the look out for non-standard behaviour, or evidence of it.
You will be well paid, and so living in the more genteel suburbs. Let us say now that you visit for example your local supermarket and see there on the community noticeboard among church and Rotary communiques a message from this or that friendship group of the more zealous category soliciting interest from locals.
What do you do? In your case, you start by being suspicious.
Fashionable people with their access to the mainstream media want you to feel guilty. To make you believe that you are focussed on the poor and the disadvantaged. Those, as they see them, who are merely seeking to strike back at their oppressors.
You will know though that the present extremist danger also has solid roots in the ideologically-prone middle class.
You understand that in today’s era of re-tribalisation that New Zealand’s determined and manifest secularism is in itself a challenge to religious resurgence.
From a management point of view you are in the business of exception control, looking for departures from the norm. You are particularly attentive therefore in regard to those who have recently become religious converts or start to demonstrate an unusual degree of fervour or even just activity in the sphere.
If someone under your purview who has hitherto been a wowser suddenly develops an interest in clubbing and the frivolities of life, and vice-versa, then this becomes a signal to you.
In the main, your catchment will be those in the 15-25 years of age group range Yet you will also be highly focussed on those of all ages involved with their support groups and it is here that your hand must be most sure.
This is because so often these are exactly the category of people who receive unqualified support from the intensely vocal political classes.
Anecdotal evidence is central to your craft. Rumour, hearsay, gossip and innuendo are all your raw material.
On the one hand on the signals side there is the requirement for infinite technical precision. In the field, meanwhile, there is operationally the demand for having a nose for unverified yet relevant human data.
Here now is such an example. Immediately after 9/11 there was emanating from the Canterbury area talk about a group of male foreigners who had been training to become pilots.
Nothing unusual in this. Except that immediately after the World Trade Centre attack the entire group of trainee pilots abruptly quit New Zealand.
All rather academic now of course. Except for one thing. If this rumour has any basis at all then several question needs to be asked in relation to the existence or otherwise of a support group, and the composition of any such support group. Is it still there?
Now comes though, one of the most important issues of all. What type of person do you need to be to do this type of work?
You need to be the perfect public servant and of the traditional reticent type, rather than of the more modern show pony variety. It is said that in regard to secrets the world is divided into only three types.
There are the ones who tell their friends, the ones who do not, and the ones who forget what the secret was in the first place. No guesses about the category you must belong to.
Here now is the really important one. How do you get the job in the first place?
A requirement is that you can describe exactly where you were, and what you were doing in your life up to that point. There can be no cv black holes explained away by claiming for instance that for several uncharted years you were on your OE and wandering around Europe and the Middle East.
Must you have a university degree? Ideally. But not definitely. In no other area of the public service is there quite the same level of risk in engaging the over-qualified.
The over-qualified and under-engaged practitioner is exactly the type who tends to take their dissatisfaction public. Recruiters are on the look-out for candidates who show signs of neediness in terms of requiring recognition over and beyond that which a public service career might reasonably bestow upon them.
In the event you successfully navigate through the selection sieve. Now what should you expect? Bearing in mind that during the induction process you will have been taught not to expect too much from your new vocation. Not at the outset, anyway.
Sensibly you should become a spectator on your own career because nobody outside will know or should know,what precisely you do for a living, other than the fact that you are in the public sector. Sensibly, you will describe yourself as an analyst, which is of course what you are.
As a career officer you will have to learn especially to absorb criticism of the group variety which will come from two sources.
There will be external criticism which will come from the media, and especially the broadcast media.
This will focus on everything that has conceivably gone wrong or might go wrong. It will follow the theme of your departmental intrusion on the civil rights of an individual or a collectivity of them. There will be no mention in all this that you are in the business of saving lives.
Then there will be the internal criticism. It will come from actual or aspiring politicians. Most hurtfully of all it will also come from your fellow public servants in the course of one of their constant reviews scheduled or ad hoc on what you as an organisation are doing/should be doing.
Only very recently one such review carried the accusation of the security services being “over-siloed.”
Edward Snowden proved the extreme vulnerability to any such service that failed to have watertight doors between its activities.
Such are some of the thrills and spills of the service.
Now though you are operational. You are watching. You are being watched.
MSC Newswire has taken up with Spark how a counterfeit email seemingly from Spark itself and with the subject line title "Dear Xtra Spark Email User” had been able in fact to make the transit of Spark’s own security-enhanced messaging service.
The issue was taken up with Spark in the morning of Monday May 8. No response had been received by the close of the business day on Thursday May 11.
Astonishingly while MSC Newswire was talking to the Spark official and referring online on their mailbox to this counterfeit email unwanted pop-ups appeared (see screen grab top of this story.)
Here is the email. Note the subject line:--
Dear Xtra Spark Email User
This message is to all Xtra Spark Email Service Users. This is a notice and update to our valuable customer’s that a malware was recently detected in your account system so we have implement Anti-Malware software removes and virus free. As a result of that our Internet Tech Support is currently re-upgrading and verifying your email system networking center to identify and delete all email accounts registered unduly. This will enable us increase storage capacities for existing users and create more space for registration of new webmail future users.
To finish and fix your email account system service problem as it’s always up to date, and stops viruses before they reach your email account reply with the following details to upgrade and secure your email account for best internet service supply.
Warning! Failure to reply with the above information will rendered your webmail account temporarily suspended by technical service admin.
The pop up on the user's online Xtra mailbox was peddling a variety of services.We contacted via a given pop-up phone number the service advertised. It was from an organisation calling itself Financial Services Complaints Ltd.
The person answering the phone said that they were called Jan and confirmed that they were in the business of pay-day loans. Jan said the firm was based in Takapuna.
This state of affairs follows Spark’s bringing “home” its Xtra email service which was previously run in association with Yahoo. The association soured when Yahoo was the target of international and well publicised email hacks.
Spark’s core security work was undertaken by a third party specialist security company in New Zealand.
Spark has been hunkered down since its Xtra changeover which has been characterised by individual Xtra users having trouble migrating themselves onto the new all-New Zealand service.
Meanwhile MSC Newswire has questioned one of the spyware scammers making a pest of themselves with New Zealand internet users.
The scam spyware presentation said that it was in a position to rid the internet-user's computer of a variety of incriminating material that was now deposited on the user’s computer.
The telephone number 09 8010 177 was identified and was rung back.
The individual at the other end of the line identified themselves as “Tony” and said that they were based in California, and claimed to be legitimate.
In the latest in our Five Questions For.....series we interrogate the West’s most seasoned operational intelligence officer on Russia......
Major General Peter Williams (pictured) is often considered the most experienced military specialist on Russia and its intentions. He was a member of the allied Cross Mission to the old USSR and this saw him for many years operationally involved in intelligence gathering within the Iron Curtain. At the conclusion of the Cold War he led the NATO mission to the new Russian Federation. Five questions now follow for General Williams:-
What will be the nature of the US-Russia rapprochement under Donald Trump? We are going to have to wait and see just how much free rein Trump finds himself to have. Clearly his personal outlook on the world, including on Russia, is coloured by his own lengthy career as a businessman. He is not a career politician or a Washington insider, but he and his new yet-to-be-confirmed by Congress Secretary of State will find themselves the recipients of advice from the departments of the US government, members of Congress and the US media, much of which will run counter to Trump's instincts and initial aspirations. It will all be about Trump getting better informed about the details of the many challenges to US interests posed by Russia and then coming up with a new, personal synthesis of the existing situation. In a nutshell, it's too early to say how Trump as President will react to the challenges and opportunities presented by the Kremlin, but he will stamp his own character on whatever redefined approach --possibly rapprochement, but not necessarily so-- emerges as 2017 progresses. And then there is the reality of 'events, events, events' - the unforeseeable developments that British prime minister Harold Macmillan once identified as the biggest challenge that would face any politician.
Will the trade embargo quickly dissolve? Almost certainly not. Congress seems much less likely to be in a forgiving and conciliatory mood where Russia is concerned than Trump may currently appear to be. Dismantling trade embargoes is not a simple procedure, not least where they are coordinated on a multinational basis.
Your opinion of the Russian espionage/hacking operations within the US? We will never get a clear explanation about what may have been the precise scale and details of the alleged Russian espionage/hacking operations in the US, but there is no reason, given the track record over many decades of Soviet and Russian disinformation and disruption operations, not to believe that the Kremlin has been seeking to take advantage of the perceived weaknesses of the Obama presidency, particularly during its dying months.
Others such as China, North Korea, and certain other allies will have been doing the same at the same time. The US, along with the West in general including far-off New Zealand, is a pretty soft target for disinformation and disruption operations. Whether any Russian hacking actually managed to affect the outcome of the US Presidential and Congressional election process we'll almost certainly never know for sure.
Where and why did Western-Russian relations go wrong during the Obama years? It is perhaps more accurate to describe what failed to happen, rather than what actually went wrong. Obama and Hillary Clinton sought to re-set the US-Russia relationship, but in truth the rupture went back to 2007 when Putin re-evaluated the relationship and decided that it had not been in Russia's national interests to allow the West to get too close to Russia. By 2007 NATO enlargement had brought the Alliance right up to the borders of the Russian Federation and now the threat of Ukrainian and Georgian membership of NATO was identified as a step too far into the cordon sanitaire that the Kremlin felt must separate the West physically from Russia. The EU had also been expanding to the east in a similar manner, taking into its fold nations that Russia had long viewed as Russian client states.
The 2008 Georgian war put paid to NATO's expansion - even if Russia's military campaign had been tactically and operationally less than flawless, the strategic result was clear: Russia had stopped NATO enlargement in its tracks. The final straw was the EU's active encouragement of the Euromaidan overthrow of the democratically elected albeit utterly corrupt Ukrainian president. The seizure and annexation of Crimea and the Kremlin-supported insurrection in Eastern Ukraine put paid to any chance of rapprochement between Russia and the West in all its forms, not least NATO and the EU.
Taking a world view, where do you see Western-Russian relations in five years? Whatever the situation will be in 2022, it is sure to be different from the situation today where Western-Russian relations are concerned. It is much too early to be able to predict whether Trump will actually launch a process that might deliver a substantive rapprochement with Russia. If he does so, such a rapprochement will not be without its risks, one of which must be a danger of fracturing the current common hard line that the West has been holding against Russia.
In the last year or so, sensing a vacuum in Western leadership, Russian strategy in Syria has wrong-footed the West. Russian military power has enjoyed a significant victory, which will both strengthen the position of the hawks in the Kremlin and will give a boost to Russia's state-controlled armaments sector, which can expect increased export sales as a result of the technology demonstration that the Syrian intervention has provided.
Finally, although I am by nature one of life's cautious optimists and I believe that rapprochement with Russia could be portrayed as a sensible act of realpolitik, it is hard to see just how Trump can deliver the re-set of the US-Russia relationship without which any wider Western-Russian rapprochement seems doomed to fail. If The Donald can pull off this deal, he will have confounded his sceptical enemies and will have earned the adulation of his new-found supporters.
| From the MSCNewsWire reporters' desk | Friday 6 January 2017 |