German magazine claims NSA hacking unit uses powerful methods to obtain data
A German magazine, citing internal documents, claims the NSA's hacking unit uses James Bond-style spy gear to obtain data, including intercepting computer deliveries and outfitting them with espionage software.
Der Spiegel's revelations relate to a division of the NSA known as Tailored Access Operations, or TAO, which is painted as an elite team of hackers specializing in stealing data from the toughest of targets.
Citing the internal documents, the magazine said Sunday that TAO's mission was "Getting the ungettable," and quoted an unnamed intelligence official as saying that TAO had gathered "some of the most significant intelligence our country has ever seen."
“During the middle part of the last decade, the special unit succeeded in gaining access to 258 targets in 89 countries -- nearly everywhere in the world,” the report said. “In 2010, it conducted 279 operations worldwide.”
Der Spiegel said TAO had a catalog of high-tech gadgets for particularly hard-to-crack cases, including computer monitor cables specially modified to record what is being typed across the screen, USB sticks secretly fitted with radio transmitters to broadcast stolen data over the airwaves, and fake base stations intended to intercept mobile phone signals on the go.
The NSA doesn't just rely on the Bond-style spy gear, the magazine said. Some of the attacks described by Der Spiegel exploit weaknesses in the architecture of the Internet to deliver malicious software to specific computers. Others take advantage of weaknesses in hardware or software distributed by some of the world's leading information technology companies, including Cisco Systems, Inc. and China's Huawei Technologies Ltd., the magazine reported.
Der Spiegel cited a 2008 mail order catalog-style list of vulnerabilities that NSA spies could exploit from companies such as Irvine, California-based Western Digital Corp. or Round Rock, Texas-based Dell Inc. The magazine said that suggested the agency was "compromising the technology and products of American companies."
Old-fashioned methods get a mention too. Der Spiegel said that if the NSA tracked a target ordering a new computer or other electronic accessories, TAO could tap its allies in the FBI and the CIA, intercept the hardware in transit, and take it to a secret workshop where it could be discretely fitted with espionage software before being sent on its way.
Intercepting computer equipment in such a way is among the NSA's "most productive operations," and has helped harvest intelligence from around the world, one document cited by Der Spiegel stated.
One of the most striking reported revelations concerned the NSA's alleged ability to spy on Microsoft Corp.'s crash reports, familiar to many users of the Windows operating system as the dialogue box which pops up when a game freezes or a Word document dies. The reporting system is intended to help Microsoft engineers improve their products and fix bugs, but Der Spiegel said the NSA was also sifting through the reports to help spies break into machines running Windows. One NSA document cited by the magazine appeared to poke fun at Microsoft's expense, replacing the software giant's standard error report message with the words: "This information may be intercepted by a foreign sigint (signals intelligence) system to gather detailed information and better exploit your machine."
Microsoft did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment, but the company is one of several U.S. firms that have demanded more transparency from the NSA — and worked to bolster their security — in the wake of the revelations of former intelligence worker Edward Snowden, whose disclosures have ignited an international debate over privacy and surveillance.
Der Spiegel did not explicitly say where its cache NSA documents had come from, although the magazine has previously published a series of stories based on documents leaked by Snowden, and one of Snowden's key contacts — American documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras — was listed among the article's six authors.
No one was immediately available at Der Spiegel to clarify to The Associated Press whether Snowden was the source for the latest story.
Authorities say policing changes fueled homicide drop
by Bianca Cain Johnson
Richmond County police are crediting an increased community presence with this year's 42 percent drop in homicides compared with last year.
“A homicide is never predictable,” said Richmond County sheriff's Lt. Calvin Chew, “but being involved in the community is helping decrease the numbers.”
Chew believes the increased visibility and involvement of community policing has officers diffusing situations that have the potential to escalate into a homicide.
In 2012, the sheriff's office reported 33 homicides. This year, there have been 19 through the weekend, with the latest taking place early Sunday.
Homicide investigator Sgt. William Leisey said the Criminal Investigation Division has noticed that people have changed their attitudes since the sheriff's office began focusing on community policing. As a result of increased visibility and more patrols, investigators are seeing fewer parking lot and street shootouts, he said.
Investigators believe community trust also helps witnesses provide information in open cases.
With Sunday's shooting, only two cases remain unsolved this year, down from four in 2012.
Police have added a new category of justifiable homicides, with one last year and three this year.
Police continue to investigate the death of Yossarian Shon Brooks, 39, who was fatally shot June 11 near his home on Massoit Drive.
“Everything we had on that case, we've looked at so far,” Investigator Chris Langford said.
Whereas some years saw more drug-related crimes, investigators said there have been a high number of family-related slayings this year. Eight victims died as a result of a family-related incident.
Five of the homicides occurred in two separate incidents over the summer.
Retired educators Roosevelt and Edna Jones and their son, Russell Jones, were discovered in a field behind Deer Chase Elementary on May 21. Ryan Jones, 27, is accused of killing his parents and younger brother before taking them to the field, where their bodies were burned.
Two months later, police were investigating what could have been another triple homicide. Police believe Cedric Harris, 31, shot ex-wife April Paulk and her sister and brother-in-law, Lee and Brandi Wilson, at a home on Stanton Court on
July 21 before turning the gun on himself. Lee and Brandi Wilson died, while April Paulk was critically injured.
Police say the most complex case of the year was the Feb. 20 death of 17-month old Kaidence Alexander. Police worked for months interviewing witnesses and speaking with forensics experts, doctors and others to determine the age of the injuries and who was responsible.
In December, police were able to obtain enough evidence to charge the child's uncle, Jerome Hughs, 36.
Atlantic City homicide rate drops to 30-year low
by LYNDA COHEN
Atlantic City has seen homicides drop to a 30-year low in 2013 — a year after a near-record number of killings.
Officials credit several factors for the 83 percent decrease from 18 homicides in 2012 to three, with only three days remaining in 2013. Among those factors are the arrests of members of the city's two allegedly most violent drug gangs, increased partnerships among law-enforcement agencies and grass-roots outreach efforts.
“You can't really point to any one single strategy,” Police Chief Henry White said.
Data show a drop in violence nationwide, but Atlantic City's decrease — including an approximate 35 percent decrease in people wounded by gunfire — has sparked optimism from those leading some of these efforts. They include the Atlantic City-Pleasantville Municipal Planning Board, which joins various entities to address the problems from different angles.
“While no one is ready to raise a ‘Mission Accomplished' banner across Atlantic Avenue, clearly 2013 was a historically safe year in Atlantic City,” said Richard Stockton College's Israel Posner, a member of the board.
Stockton adjunct professor and statistician Anthony Marino, however, said it would take a five-year average to show any “statistical significance” in the numbers.
In fact, the last time Atlantic City had only three homicides in a single year was 1983, a year after a high of 20 killings. In 1984, that number went back up to 16, then halved in 1985 to eight.
“I'm not worried about the statistics,” acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain said. “I'm worried about the people the statistics represent.”
And most of those lives will be young lives, he pointed out.
In 2012, just eight of the 18 homicide victims were older than 30. This year, all three of the homicide victims were in their 20s.
The first was Tyquinn James, 25, who was killed Feb. 10. While brothers Malik and Mykal Derry were arrested a day later, it wasn't until March 26 that police said the killing was related to the Stanley Holmes Village-based Dirty Blok gang. Then, in May, 14 members of Dirty Blok's alleged rival gang — Back Maryland's 800 Blok — were arrested.
“We were all fully engaged with both of those investigations,” White said of the Police Department.
The FBI led the first investigation, allowing for more severe federal charges. The second was led by the Atlantic City Task Force, a joint venture that includes city and State Police, sheriff's officers, and members of the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office and state Attorney General's Office.
“Those two arrests confirmed what we've always known,” White said. “It's only a small percentage causing a majority of the crime in these communities.”
Last year was the first time the State Police had departments report their numbers monthly, rather than waiting until the Uniform Crime Report comes out next year. While most of the numbers are incomplete, they do give insight into where each town stands.
Camden — to which Atlantic City has sometimes been negatively compared — saw a near 30 percent decrease in homicides, from 61 to 43, comparing the two years through November.
In that same time, Atlantic City's overall violent crime decreased more than 15 percent, including nearly 75 percent fewer rapes and a drop in all robberies involving a weapon of any type.
The only increase was in simple assaults, which went up more than 68 percent from 707 to 1,191.
“The conclusion is, this is possible. The reduction in violent crime is possible,” McClain said.
But officials agree the work isn't done. By the fall, another gang was allegedly looking to fill the void left by the springtime raids.
In November, nearly two dozen people faced charges associated with Blockstarz, including alleged leader Haneef Molley — who goes by Weezy due to his resemblance to rapper Lil Wayne.
They were associated with the Bloods, and even had members from Camden and Newark coming in to help control the beach blocks of Tennessee, Ocean and North Carolina avenues and St. James Place, targeting the rooming houses in the area along with those seeking help at the John Brooks Recovery Center, Vice Unit Lt. James Sarkos said when announcing the arrests.
“The game you just won doesn't matter anymore,” said Tom Gilbert, a retired State Police lieutenant colonel who is now commander of the city's Tourism District. “What's out there tomorrow?”
The Task Force's efforts go where the information leads them. It could be from a tip picked up by a patrol officer or a vice investigation or something the Intelligence Unit has found, said Lt. David Smith of the State Police, who heads the Task Force.
“We have this opportunity now because we have this lull in crime,” White said. “We don't only need law enforcement but everybody engaged. If we achieve that, everybody has won.”
White also pointed to the ShotSpotter system that alerts police when shots are fired in the city and tip411, which allows people to have text conversations with police while remaining anonymous.
And, when talking about the reduction in lives lost, “you can't leave out the hospital,” White said. “They have saved a lot of lives.”
Marino pointed to a particularly violent week as November turned into December. Four people were shot within that timeframe. None was killed.
“If these guys were better shots, the number of 2013 homicides in (the city) could have more than doubled in just seven days,” he said.
“While victory is not at hand, a long-term strategy that focuses on nurturing a broad coalition of community partners is helping to raise the quality of life for the city's residents and is helping to attract visitors by the millions,” said Posner, executive director of Stockton's Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism.
Community is a part of that. Building on the neighborhood walks started by his predecessor, recently retired Chief Ernest Jubilee, White wants to reinstate community policing. He has said he will give his officers time to work with youth, whether through mentoring programs, youth sports or other programs in the city.
“It's important to get involved in as many aspects of the community as we can, and get to know what the needs and the issues are in the various neighborhoods,” White said.
McClain said he was glad to hear the new chief's plans.
“The walks and the different things in the community shows people that we haven't forgotten about them,” he said. “That generates trust. Trust generates cooperation, which generates more success for law enforcement. It's a positive circle.”
Gulf Shores starts first citizen's police academy on Jan. 14
by JOHN MULLEN
GULF SHORES, AL - Apparently Gulf Shores citizens have a healthy interest in their police department and the feeling is pretty much mutual.
As part of a continuing community outreach, the department will have classes for citizens to come in and learn, what, how and why, among other things, the policemen in the town do their jobs.
“I'm happy to announce that Jan. 14 will be the first day of our first annual Citizen's Academy,” Chief Edward Delmore said. “It will run one night a week typically for 11 weeks, typically fro 6-9 p.m. It's for citizens over 21.
“It will showcase our operation and give people a peek behind the curtain.”
The program is similar to other programs fostered by Community Resource officer Josh Coleman like the summer youth academy, Coffee With a Cop, neighborhood watch programs, collecting out of date prescription drugs for disposal, youth Explorer program and the Volunteers in Policing.
Like those programs, the Citizen's academy is starting out fast. All 20 slots are already filled. There is no charge to participate.
The Citizens' Police Academy is designed to provide citizens with an understanding of the police department's operations, a police release state. Students will learn from police department personnel who are experts in the areas of S.W.A.T., K-9, narcotics, major crimes, patrol operations, traffic laws, criminal law, crime scene investigation, and other related fields.
Students will also be scheduled for a ride-along during the academy.
Students will gain an overall knowledge of the Gulf Shores Police Department, how it's organized, how it serves the community and who the people are who respond when citizens call.
Instructors are drawn from all levels of the department. Students will meet the chief of police, patrol lieutenant, patrol officers, detectives, dispatchers, and other department staff. Students are encouraged to ask questions and express their concerns about pertinent issues.
A major goal of the Citizens' Police Academy is to increase understanding between citizens and their police department, and to build a strong relationship for the future good of the community.
Attendees must be 21 and meet a set of qualifying criteria. Any of the requirements may be waived upon review by academy staff or the chief of police.
Students can have no outstanding warrants and no pending criminal cases, mo misdemeanor arrests within three years of application, no prior felony convictions.
And though the class is full, citizens can still apply and be on a waiting list for the next academy.
Interested citizens must complete an online form at gulfshoresal.gov and click the “form center” button on the right side then scroll down to “police.”
After preliminary review to confirm eligibility, an eligibility list will be compiled and students will be assigned to the next available session.