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Why Do Ordinary People Commit Acts of Espionage?

Political ideology and money serve as motivators for some people to commit acts of espionage, but they’re not the only factors involved.

By Jerad W. ALEXANDER

In mid-July, 2018, Mariia Butina, a 29-year-old assistant to the Russian central bank and long-time Vladimir Putin ally Alexander Torshin, was arrested in Washington, D.C., on a charge of “conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government,” according to the U.S. Justice Department. Per the affidavit, Butina was allegedly involved in an operation lead by officials within the Russian government to infiltrate the Republican party, including members of the Trump campaign, and the National Rifle Association, for the purposes of aligning right-wing political interests with similar interests in Russia. Butina’s actions dovetailed with continued efforts by Russian operatives to commit cyber espionage to influence U.S. elections.

According to the affidavit, two American citizens provided Butina intelligence and guidance on her efforts in the United States.

 
MI5, the intelligence agency of the United Kingdom, defines espionage as “the process of obtaining information that is not normally publicly available, using human sources (agents) or technical means (like hacking into computer systems). It may also involve seeking to influence decision-makers and opinion-formers to benefit the interests of a foreign power.” As Butina and countless others throughout history, such as spies like Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, have discovered, espionage is a dangerous game, one that can lead to imprisonment or even death. What motivates people to commit acts of espionage is as important as the ramifications of their actions.

Naturally, simple ideology serves as a motivator to commit espionage, but it’s not the singular cause. According to a Spring 2016 article of The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies, ideology “is adopted by an individual to the degree that it reflects the individual’s ego. In that sense, an ideology is like another motivation – money – in that it serves as a vehicle for the individual to express a personal value or belief; an ideology is chosen in order to confirm conscious or unconscious beliefs the individual has already internalized. In the case of espionage, a particular ideology may serve as either the actual motivation for a spy to breach the trust placed in them or simply as a means of rationalizing that behavior.”

A Combination of Factors


Three concurrent elements need to exist within an individual to make them prone to acts of espionage — a personality dysfunction, personal crisis and opportunity.

According to Dr. Ursula Wilder, a clinical psychologist with the Central Intelligence Agency, four personality elements are essential to the entry into espionage: psychopathy, narcissism, immaturity, and grandiosity.

“A psychopathic person is a person whose approach to reality is ruthless and cold,” she stated in an interview at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. “They have no conscience, or they have very limited capacity to feel guilt. So, their whole approach to life is predatory. They’re excitement seeking. They love to con people. It’s a game. This is all they can do to connect with other human beings. So that kind of person will commit espionage either flat-out for self-interest or because it’s fun, or both.”

“The next is narcissism,” she explained. “A narcissistic person is fundamentally ego-centric. They can only experience the world with themselves at the center. They are very much needy for and will provoke circumstances that will permit them to be at the center of attention. They believe that what they need, want and desire is the truth. They will get greedy for attention. That kind of person will commit espionage as a grab for fame. Someone like that will commit espionage because it makes them feel big and important.”

Regarding immaturity, Wilder explained an individual prone to commit acts of espionage (in comparison to a professional intelligence agent), either for or against their nation, is “an adult who can only function as an adolescent. These people live their lives in a blend of fact and fantasy. They do have a conscience, they can feel deep guilt afterwards, but fantasy is much more real to them than it is to adults who are grounded to reality, so to them committing espionage is a bit of a game, a fantasy, and online they have this illusion that if they do it online, if they just turn off the machine it goes away. They have a fantasy about the implications of their actions, and although on some level they might grasp the reality of it, it’s not real to them. The grandiosity applies to all three.”

An individual must be up against some form of personal crisis that produces distress. According to a paper released by the CIA titled “Why Spy?”, a survey of agency employees “identified emotional instability related to ambition, anger leading to a need for revenge, feelings of being unrecognized and unrewarded, and loneliness as the top vulnerabilities on the road to espionage. They ranked such problem behaviors as drug abuse and illicit sex as second, and various mental crises or stresses brought on by debt, work issues, or psychological factors such as depression as third.” Regarding opportunity, access matters. An individual must have access to sensitive information of some caliber that could be of use to a foreign power. All three combined — the personality, the crises, and the access — serve as fertile soil for acts of espionage.

It’s important to make the distinction between ordinary people who commit espionage and individuals who join intelligence services.

“People who join the intel community spent years preparing themselves — school, applying, screening — there’s a huge amount of drive and ambition, identification, pride,” says Dr. David L. Charney, a psychiatrist with the National Office of Intelligence Reconciliation, known as NOIR, a nonprofit dedicated to educating the intelligence community on the management of insider threats. This would include people with access to sensitive information who flip, such as Edward Snowden or Reality Winner. “They’re not coming in to be spies; they join for loftier reasons. The question is what makes a person go bad. That’s when you have to get more psychological.”

According to Charney, at the core of espionage can be an intolerable sense of personal failure, and not necessarily a shifting ideology. “Going back to the ideological spies of the 1930s and ’40s, we run across people all the time who you know have personal demons that are driving them, but they wrapped their demons into the current issue of the day to give it a higher-minded packaging. Any time you try to understand you have to dig a little deeper.”

Govt to stop wiretap reform – Bonafede

Freezing of case time-outs after 1st ruling being considered

Redazione ANSA

(ANSA) – Rome, July 11 – Justice Minister Alfonso Bonafede said Wednesday that the government will sink a reform of the use of wiretaps in investigations that was approved by the previous centre-left administration. “The wiretap reform will be stopped because the modifications introduced appear a harmful step back on the road to quality and effectiveness in investigations,” Bonafede told the Senate’s justice committee.
    The reform was in response to years of rows over the publication of wiretaps of people not involved in probes, embarrassing them without due cause.
    Bonafede also said he the 5-Star Movement/League government wants to change to Italy’s statute of limitations to prevent people getting off simple because their cases have timed out, saying this was “fundamental priority”.
    He said one option was for the time-out periods to be frozen after a first-instance ruling on a case.
   
 
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Scientists claim ‘sonic attacks’ in Cuba were likely caused by poorly engineered eavesdropping devices

  • US embassy workers in Cuba fell ill after hearing high-pitch sounds

  • The ‘sonic attacks’ were experienced in their homes and hotel rooms

  • It was thought that ‘sonic weapons’ might have been used against them

  • Scientists at the University of Michigan believe that poorly engineered eavesdropping devices might’ve produced the painful sound

  • If true, the ‘sonic attacks’ on the workers would have been accidental

Scientists believe the root of a ‘sonic attack’ that led to the US State Department recalling 21 employees and reducing staff from its embassy in Cuba could’ve just been ‘bad engineering.’

In September 2017, the State Department pulled 21 diplomats and their families out of Cuba and stopped issuing travel visas to the country after embassy workers reported hearing loss, dizziness, speech issues, cognitive problems and other medical symptoms that appeared to stem from a ‘sonic attack’ in their homes or hotel rooms. 

Some Canadian embassy workers also reported feeling ill from a high-pitched noise. 

Doctors, FBI investigators and US intelligence agencies all tried to identify the source of the ‘sonic attack,’ with some people postulating that a sonic weapon or even a poisoning was being deployed against the embassy workers.

 

The effected workers — who had reported hearing agonizing, high-pitched noises in very specific areas of their rooms — were found to have had suffered mild traumatic brain injury, but doctors at the time were not able to determine what exactly had happened to the workers’ brains.     

By December, officials had stopped using the term ‘sonic attack,’ with sources implying to the AP that the noise that caused the workers to fall ill might actually have been a byproduct of something else, rather than what had been deemed a ‘targeted attack.’   

A new report from the University of Michigan now suggests the ‘sonic attack’ was actually the result of eavesdropping devices that were in too close proximity, which then accidentally set off an ultrasonic noise, the Daily Beast reports.

If true, that would imply that the ‘sonic attack’ was actually an accident, not something aimed at deliberately harming American or Canadian embassy workers.  

‘We’ve demonstrated a scenario in which the harm might have been unintentional, a byproduct of a poorly engineered ultrasonic transmitter that was meant to be covert,’ Kevin Fu, a University of Michigan associate professor of computer science and engineering, told the Michigan Engineer News Center.

‘A malfunctioning device that was supposed to inaudibly steal information or eavesdrop on conversation with ultrasonic transmission seems more plausible than a sonic weapon.’

Fu did note, however, that despite his team’s findings, ‘our results do not rule out other potential causes.’

Fu, who researches computer security and privacy, and the co-authors of the study were inspired to look into what might have caused the ‘sonic attack’ after the AP released an audio sample that an embassy worker had recorded of the painfully high-pitched noise in question.

 

Mexico presidential hopeful says he is target of government spying

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – A Mexican presidential candidate denounced on Tuesday alleged surveillance of his movements by the government and demanded an explanation, the latest in a series of accusations that Mexico is spying without due cause on its own citizens.

Ricardo Anaya, a former congressman in second place in many opinion polls ahead of July’s election, published a video on Twitter that shows him confronting the driver of a vehicle following him on a highway who identifies himself as a member of the country’s main intelligence agency, CISEN.

 
In the video, the smiling agent says he is following Anaya “so that there’s no problem.”

Government surveillance has raised major concerns in Mexico in recent months, with reports of journalists, NGO workers and opposition politicians being tracked. Fears about Russian attempts to influence the election have also made headlines.

 
Anaya, who is a critic of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) of President Enrique Pena Nieto and leads a left-right opposition coalition, also posted photos of another vehicle he claims was following him.

“Instead of following criminals, they spy on opponents of the government,” said Anaya, the former president of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), in a post on Twitter.

Anaya demanded in a statement that the government explain the criteria it uses to “spy on opposition politicians.”

A government official denied that Anaya was a surveillance target.

“This is not a case of espionage or spying on opponents or clandestine measures,” said Interior Minister Alfonso Navarrete at an event in Mexico City when asked about Anaya’s comments.

“We follow up on all important activities that happen in the country.”

Leftist presidential hopeful Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the front-runner in polls, said last week that he and his family have also been targets of spying.

 
Last year, the Pena Nieto government was criticized by United Nations human rights experts over University of Toronto research findings that it had targeted activists and journalists using sophisticated spying software known as Pegasus.

The software is marketed by Israeli company NSO Group, which only sells it to governments.

The researchers said they had found a trace of the Pegasus software in a phone belonging to a group of experts backed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The group had investigated the 2014 disappearance of 43 students that marked one of Mexico’s worst atrocities.

Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz; Writing by David Alire Garcia, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien

Source: Reuters

Oklahoma politicians stunned by discovery of possible spying

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A Republican lawmaker’s discovery of a magnetic box containing a high-tech tracking device affixed to the bottom of his truck is being investigated by Oklahoma officials, who also revealed that four other GOP legislators have reported concerns they were being followed.

The mysterious discovery has stunned Oklahoma’s political class, and raised questions about who would spy on lawmakers.

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater described the tactics as “foolish” and potentially criminal. He vowed an aggressive prosecution if evidence suggests someone was trying to intimidate Rep. Mark McBride, who found the device on his truck.

McBride says he found the experience “unsettling” and believes it is connected to his legislative work.

Prater says four other GOP legislators approached him last year with concerns that they were being followed.