A couple of posts down, I showed you video of a DARPA expert explaining one way to engineer an automotive accident like that which took the life of journalist Michael Hastings. Beyond that, I've avoided writing anything about him that might carry that familiar conspiratorial reek, since all of those recent NSA pieces have probably left many of you feeling reeked out.
Well, let's just say that things have happened, and I don't see how we can avoid this mysterious morass any longer. So once more into the reek, dear friends...
About 15 hours before dying in a fiery car crash at about 4:30 a.m. in L.A. on June 17, journalist Michael Hastings sent an email to several colleagues that said the FBI was investigating him and he was "onto a big story."
The subject line of the email, obtained by Los Angeles news station KTLA, was "FBI investigation, re: NSA."
Here's the full text:
Hey [words blurred out] — the Feds are interviewing my "close friends and associates." Perhaps if the authorities arrive "BuzzFeed GQ", er HQ, may be wise to immediately request legal counsel before any conversations or interviews about our news-gathering practices or related journalism issues.
Also: I'm onto a big story, and need to go off the [radar] for a bit.
All the best, and hope to see you all soon.
Staff Sgt. Joseph Biggs, who met Hastings when he was embedded in Biggs' unit in Afghanistan, described the email as "very panicked."
"It alarmed me very much," Biggs told KTLA. "I just said it doesn’t seem like him. I don’t know, I just had this gut feeling and it just really bothered me."
It's not clear what "big story" Hastings was referring to in his email, but he reportedly had been talking to his boss, BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith, about a story on Barrett Brown.
Brown, a journalist affiliated with the amorphous hacker collective Anonymous, was arrested for threatening an FBI officer and sharing a link to stolen credit card information taken from Stratfor. The 31-year-old, who faces up to 100 years in prison, is in jail awaiting a September trial.
The LA Times notes that Hastings was also researching a story about a privacy lawsuit brought by Florida socialite Jill Kelley against the Defense Department and the FBI.
And the subject line mentions the NSA, which has been in the news all month.
That gives us three possibilities (Brown, the NSA and Kelley), although the three may not be mutually exclusive.
It occurs to me that Hastings is precisely the kind of journalist that Ed Snowden might have contacted. Hastings and Greenwald may not have been as close as peas in a pod, but they were certainly peas of adjacent pods. We should note that Greenwald has written in defense of Barrett Brown.
The "Young Turks" segment above shows Hastings expressing his concerns about the surveillance state. At the end of the clip, Hastings reveals that people in the special forces community told him that he himself had long been the subject of surveillance.
Barrett Brown and Hastings were quite close, as this piece by Brown -- published in Vanity Fair three years ago -- testifies. Like Hastings, Brown (author of Flock of Dodos) has focused his investigative efforts on this country's increasingly oppressive cyber-surveillance systems.
For a good look at Brown's legal troubles, see the Greenwald piece above and this profile by Patrick Mcguire. Mcguire is especially good:
It’s obvious by looking at the most recent posts on Barrett Brown’s blog that while he is highly interested in Stratfor, it wasn’t the credit card information that motivated him. When those five million emails leaked, a product called TrapWire, which was created by a company called Abraxas, was revealed to the public at large. And it caused a media shitstorm. In 2005, the founder of Abraxas and former head of the CIA’s European division, Richard Helms, described TrapWire as software that is installed inside of surveillance camera systems that is, “more accurate than facial recognition” with the ability to “draw patterns, and do threat assessments of areas that may be under observation from terrorists.” As Russia Today reported, one of the leaked emails, allegedly written by Stratfor’s VP of Intelligence, Fred Burton, stated that TrapWire was at “high-value targets” in “the UK, Canada, Vegas, Los Angeles, NYC.”
Barrett Brown was doing some very serious investigating into a company called Cubic from San Diego, that was alleged to own TrapWire as a subsidiary of their firm. This is an allegation that they officially denied. However, these tax filings from 2010 that Barrett uncovered clearly state that Cubic had in fact merged with Abraxas Corporation. If you click through and take a look, you can see that Richard Helms’s name is right there on the top of the first page.
Helms, of course, was the quasi-legendary former CIA Director who played important -- and sadly under-recognized -- roles in MKULTRA, Watergate, and the Iranian hostage crisis. One of these days, if you promise to behave, I'll tell you a fun story about Helms and Lee Harvey Oswald.
Right now, though, let's bring it all home -- and by "home," I mean this very blog:
Alongside Abraxas and Cubic on those tax filings is another company called Ntrepid. According to Florida State’s records of corporations, Richard Helms is the director of that company. In 2011, Barrett’s work helped lead the Guardian to their report that Ntrepid won a $2.76 million-dollar contract from Centcom (U.S. Central Command), to create “online persona management” software, also known as “sockpuppetry.” To break it down in plain English, online persona management was created to populate social networks with a bunch of fake and believable social media personas to “influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda.”
We saw a lot of sock puppetry (in these pages and on many other websites) throughout 2008. We also saw a fair amount of the stuff during the Weiner scandal. Hell, I suspect that much of the Breitbart empire was built on sockpuppetry. How else can you explain the fact that some Breitbart-related bloggers -- with audiences notably smaller than that of a C-list blog like Cannonfire -- can nevertheless attract dozens or hundreds of comments on any given post?
Sockpuppets are important. They can help drive the national conversation. They can make a fast-spreading rumor seem to have the solidity of fact. They can transform a not-terribly-popular view -- or presidential candidate -- into the mainstream choice. And if you insist on saying things that the Powers That Be don't want you to say (such as "Hillary for President in 2008!"), sockpuppets will work tirelessly to make your life miserable. They will do their damnedest to drive you off the internet.
Incidentally, many of the responses to my piece on Progressive Insurance's "Snapshot" device have been obvious examples of sockpuppetry in action. See for yourself.
Brown also wrote about another Ntrepid product called Tartan, designed to uncover the true identity of anyone who posts online under an assumed name. Call it the anti-whistleblower app.
If you're an Occupy Wall Street admirer, you'll appreciate another service provided by Tartan:
In another document on Ntrepid letterhead, titled “Tartan Influence Model: Anarchist Groups,” Tartan is positioned as a software tool that can help combat domestic protestors who operate in “an amorphous network of anarchist and protest groups” and suggests that these groups are prone to violence. They name Occupy Wall Street and Occupy D.C. as part of the problem, and have “built Occupy networks through online communication with anarchists.” By identifying the threat of anarchistic, supposedly violent protestors, Tartan sells its services by saying their software “identifies the hidden relationships among organizers of seemingly unrelated movements… To mitigate the ability of anarchists to incite violence… Law enforcement must identify the complex network of relationships among anarchist leaders.” So, beyond taking apart movements that exist solely online, Tartan is looking to come out and crush real world protest movements as well.
Besides a few journalists, not many people have been looking into this information. The one other group that does is called Telecomix, the guys who are famous for supplying dial-up internet lines to areas of the world with oppressive dictatorships, and who I interviewed about the Gaza conflict here. They operate the Bluecabinet Wiki, and they worked very closely with Barrett Brown to uncover more information about the network of cybersecurity firms.
I talked to one of the volunteers at Telecomix, who strongly believes in the work that Barrett did to connect all of these very confusing dots: “I haven't seen reporters really taking a hard look at what Barrett Brown, the investigative journalist, was researching and where it leads to. His discovery that TrapWire = Abraxas and that there is CIA involvement is very important. Do you know in Berlin right now a game was started to destroy surveillance cameras in public places? Barrett apparently was reading through the emails of HBGary and Stratfor, linking the data to the specific surveillance companies and contractors… It is an extremely time consuming task.”
Some of you will recall Brown's involvement with the HBGary hack, as summarized in The Nation:
In February 2011, a year after Brown penned his defense of Anonymous, and against the background of its actions during the Arab Spring, Aaron Barr, CEO of the private intelligence company HBGary, claimed to have identified the leadership of the hacktivist collective. (In fact, he only had screen names of a few members).
I should interrupt here to note that alleged computer security "genius" Aaron Barr seems to be an incredible blowhard. In previous posts, we noted that his much-touted background information on fellow blogger Brad Friedman was hilariously, ludicrously wrong. Barr also sold an ultra-expensive anti-virus system to big corporations, even though his own company relied on AVG, which is free.
(Rich people often don't feel comfortable with a purchase unless they overpay. That mentality has transformed the art market into what it is today.)
HBGary is now run by a "former" CIA guy named Dean May. That has been the case ever since the company was purchased by ManTech, which has ties to Mitchell Wade, best known for his part in the Duke Cunningham bribery scandal. (You may recall Cunningham's letter from prison, which spoke of Wade as though he were Darth Vader.)
Let's get back to McGuire's piece:
Barr’s boasting provoked a brutal hack of HBGary by a related group called Internet Feds (it would soon change its name to “LulzSec”). Splashy enough to attract the attention of The Colbert Report, the hack defaced and destroyed servers and websites belonging to HBGary. Some 70,000 company e-mails were downloaded and posted online. As a final insult to injury, even the contents of Aaron Barr’s iPad were remotely wiped.
The HBGary hack may have been designed to humiliate the company, but it had the collateral effect of dropping a gold mine of information into Brown’s lap. One of the first things he discovered was a plan to neutralize Glenn Greenwald’s defense of Wikileaks by undermining them both. (“Without the support of people like Glenn, wikileaks would fold,” read one slide.) The plan called for “disinformation,” exploiting strife within the organization and fomenting external rivalries—“creating messages around actions to sabotage or discredit the opposing organization,” as well as a plan to submit fake documents and then call out the error.” Greenwald, it was argued, “if pushed,” would “choose professional preservation over cause.”
Although I remain a (cautious) supporter of Ed Snowden, one can't help but wonder if the recent Snowden controversy has any relationship to this alleged plan to lure Greenwald into a disinfo trap. We shall see.
Other plans targeted social organizations and advocacy groups. Separate from the plan to target Greenwald and WikiLeaks, HBGary was part of a consortia that submitted a proposal to develop a “persona management” system for the United States Air Force, that would allow one user to control multiple online identities for commenting in social media spaces, thus giving the appearance of grassroots support or opposition to certain policies.
Once again, we see the importance of sockpuppetry.
The data dump from the HBGary hack was so vast that no one person could sort through it alone. So Brown decided to crowdsource the effort. He created a wiki page, called it ProjectPM, and invited other investigative journalists to join in. Under Brown’s leadership, the initiative began to slowly untangle a web of connections between the US government, corporations, lobbyists and a shadowy group of private military and information security consultants.
And now we come to Endgame:
Brown began looking into Endgame Systems, an information security firm that seemed particularly concerned about staying in the shadows. “Please let HBGary know we don’t ever want to see our name in a press release,” one leaked e-mail read. One of its products, available for a $2.5 million annual subscription, gave customers access to “zero-day exploits”—security vulnerabilities unknown to software companies—for computer systems all over the world. Business Week published a story on Endgame in 2011, reporting that “Endgame executives will bring up maps of airports, parliament buildings, and corporate offices. The executives then create a list of the computers running inside the facilities, including what software the computers run, and a menu of attacks that could work against those particular systems.” For Brown, this raised the question of whether Endgame was selling these exploits to foreign actors and whether they would be used against computer systems in the United States. Shortly thereafter, the hammer came down.
For more on Endgame, see this piece in Defense News:
Endgame Systems is a secretive cyber company with an intriguing specialty. The firm’s chief product, software called Bonesaw, is a “cyber targeting application” that tracks servers and routers worldwide, mapping the hardware attached to the Web.
These are the access points through which the National Security Agency, Cyber Command and other U.S. agencies, could launch operations against adversaries and threats.
The head of Endgame is a young fellow named Nathaniel Fick, whose service as a Marine in Iraq was dramatized in the HBO series Generation Kill. Fick seems to be one of those Special Chosen Ones. You know the kind. From an early age, the fates select these rare individuals for great things; before a single grey hair has sprouted on their heads, they get tapped to run intelligence agencies or spy-tech private firms.
So that's what Brown was poking into, and that's why the feds got him out of the way by tossing him into the pokey on bullshit charges. It's a pretty fair bet that his buddy Hastings decided to pick up where Brown left off.
That's when he got slammed in the face by the mailed fist of Pure Coincidence.
Ok-there just are no words for the level of anger and sadness that sweeps through me at the same time. Well there might be, but it's Saturday and I am on empty after a long week.
This validates many things I always knew about public opinion manipulation (and why I actually attempted to make my opinion known), and makes me so damn pissed at so many fucked up news outlets that use tinfoil hattery accusations to dismiss so much of this. They are completely complicit in the ruin of our nation. Argh
I will probably comment further later, but just to give you absolute validation on your Snapshot sock puppets...yep..here's Traven Sachs, who just loved his discount using Snapshot (one of your commenters) https://mobile.twitter.com/TravenSachs?max_id=233575534578253824
His tweets are nothing but tweets advertising bullshit-the same tweet over and over and over and over and over. Someone should report it -just for the hell of it. And of course, he does have a google profile to add to his personhood. Keep up the good work Joseph k
posted by Anonymous : 6:31 PM
Great work Joseph, Ive been waiting for someone to tie all this into the HBGary events and have been pushing it at DKOS (which is now pretty much at war with itself over this issue, and Im sure those sockpuppets have a lot to do with it).
Joseph; Your jigsaw puzzle skills have you on the A-list considering you don't have reporters or staff.
Time to take an A-list plunge in the deep water.
Don't equivocate, extrapolate.
posted by Anonymous : 9:22 PM
Joseph the above analysis is careful, precise and devastating. You don't you have anything to tip toe around - unless LA PD is going to send some forensics lackey to the podium to convince the world and God how a 300 lb engine and attached drive train can defy the laws of physics' and eject through the roof of Hastings Mercedes and through the Palm tree UPON impact without, without....crushing the front grill. Whoever did this did not count on some podunk jr cub reporter on his way back from a false Justin Beiber tip to be a minute away and start shooting film. They cannot explain the wreck.
Whenever I hear lectures on "the laws of physics" from people who don't have degrees in physics, I become wary. And a little ticked off. My attitude is a holdover from all of that 9/11 shit I had to deal with back in 2006.
Better, perhaps, to deal with Hastings himself. Let's approach the controversy from THAT starting point.
That's just the way I roll.
By way of analogy, consider something like the JFK assassination. A lot of researchers "got stuck in Dealey Plaza" (as they say), endlessly debating "the laws of physics" as they applied to bullet trajectories and the medical evidence. We may call this the Josiah Thompson approach to the crime. (The name may not be familiar to you; buffs will know it.)
Personally, I never wasted much time going down that rabbit hole. It was much more productive to ask "Who WAS Lee Harvey Oswald?" He had all sorts of fascinating associates, none of whom were on the left side of the political aisle.
One could say the same thing about 9/11. All of those dolts yammering on about the rate of falling debris and the temperature at which steel melts...! All of those lectures on "the laws of physics" from people who never had degrees in physics...! That shit all turned out to be a false trail. Ah, but if you ask "Who was Osama Bin Laden...? NOW you're getting somewhere.
(But you'll have to "get somewhere" on some other blog, because experience has taught me not to allow my readers to discuss 9/11 here. Yes, yes...terribly unfair of me. But I refuse to return to the days when I feared to open up my own blog because my comments were deluged by zealots spouting idiocy.)
At any rate, you may take my larger point and apply it to the Hastings controversy. Other blogs are spending an endless amount of time on the CSI aspect, discussing the circumstances that may cause cars to explode and engines to take flight. Such discussions are fine -- but not here.
Fair enough. You set narrow parameters here for good reason, and it keeps the discussion focused, and thoroughly enjoyable - so no bitchin from me, I understand your reticence. However, there may be just a wee bit enough space, through the needle you thread, for reasonable appeals to observation and science (physics). I marvel at the depth of research - and insiders play by play of yourself and the contributors here. But, as you have alluded to, how much of that strays into fiction, deliberate or otherwise, is a consideration when putting the pieces of the puzzle together. That's why I avail myself to as much as I can know and deduce. In the end, I think we are all heading in the same direction.
Sorry if I came on too strong, coach. I have a bad habit of doing that. Maybe it's just a matter of preference -- others like to get bogged down in technical minutia, while I prefer OTHER kinds of minutia.
Interesting that you appear to implicitly entertain remote control access to the car as a potential factor but leave it to the reader to fill in the lacuna you leave.
I think physical sabotage and/or electronic sabotage are worth considering in several automobile and small plane crash deaths of prominent persons.
However it's still true that however warranted such theories may be, physical evidence will be very hard to find in such fiery aftermaths, and the fire itself may remain the main clue to explore (accelerant residues, etc.). So it's a bit of a dead end line of inquiry, and I take your point.
Lincoln Towncars used to spontaneously ignite from electrical problems with the ignition harness or cruise control wiring, even when turned off. (As occurred to a friend of mine-- although flamingtowncars.com is now off the web.) Similar fire issues with Ford trucks caused mass recalls to fix ignition harness problems there-- obviously an engineering flaw.
But a full size Mercedes, among the best engineered and safest automobiles? Arguments from incredulity are not air-tight, of course, and yet...
I am intrigued by possible links between Hastings and others in the news. I assume that if the Gov wants you gone, the Gov finds a way to make you gone (car crash, plane crash, a crazy gunman, drone, etc.). The "why does the Gov wants you gone" is a much more interesting subject to me.
I stopped going to DKOS because I'm tired of their Obama loyalism. There's good people there fighting against this trend but I just can't deal with a community that has such a strong plutocratic govt-worshipping vibe.
Principles matter more than party and as FDR said, now more than ever we need a generation to be radicals. I never thought I'd say this but after I've read a lot of work by the likes of Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Hedges, and Klein -- I'm basically a leftist. I don't know if I became a leftist or if I've always been a leftist and the rest of the country just moved so far to the right that I began to stand out more in that regard.
These are crazy times, that's for sure.
posted by Anonymous : 2:03 PM
One lesson: if you need to go off the radar, go off the radar; don't send emails to tell your friends that that's what you're about to do. You can't afford that kind of niceness.
If they're your friends and they've got any sense, they'll be worried, but they'll understand.
Stanley McChrystal seems to be cropping up in an awful lot of places in what I'm reading at the moment, for some reason.