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[liberationtech] SpyPhone: Pentagon Spooks Want New Tools for Mobile ‘Exploitation’

frank at frank at
Thu Dec 13 12:10:02 PST 2012

This piece is from Wired.

SpyPhone: Pentagon Spooks Want New Tools for Mobile ‘Exploitation’

A U.S. soldier takes a picture with his cellphone, December 2010. The
Pentagon’s spy corps is looking for better tools to collect and sift
through data from mobile devices. Photo: U.S. Army
The Pentagon wants to upgrade its spy corps. And one of its first jobs
will be finding out what’s on your iPhone.

If the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) gets its way, it’ll send an
expanded cadre of spies around the world to scope out threats to the
U.S. military. And it won’t just be a larger spy team, it’ll be a
geekier one. The DIA wants “technical exploitation” tools that can
efficiently access the data of people the military believes to be
dangerous once their spies collect it.

That’s according to a request for information the DIA sent to industry
on Wednesday. The agency wants better gear for “triage and automation,
advanced technical exploitation of digital media, advanced areas of
mobile forensics, software reverse engineering, and hardware
exploitation, reverse engineering, and mobile applications development &
engineering.” If DIA runs across digitized information, in other
words, it wants to make rapid use of it.

One of the emphasized cases here is “captured/seized media.” Think,
for instance, of all the flash drives, hard drives and CDs that Navy
SEALs seized during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Flynn wants to
understand both the text they’d contain, through “automation support
to enable rapid triage,” and their subtexts or metadata, using
“steganography” tools to decipher coded messages and “deep
analysis of malicious code/executables.” And that’s on top of
“deep hardware exploitation of complex media with storage capacity”
and reverse-engineering tools “to discover firmware artifacts.”

As data goes mobile, in people’s pockets and backpacks, so goes the
DIA’s focus. The agency wants “custom solutions that allo[w]
exploitation of mobile devices” like cellphones and tablets “not
commonly seen or devices not supported by commercial kits or tools.”

All this is part of an overhaul the DIA is experiencing under the new
leadership of Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. Flynn spearheaded a similar
push when he was the chief intelligence officer for the Joint Special
Operations Command, pushing its operatives to focus as much on snatching
a dead terrorist’s hard drive as on killing him in the first place. At
DIA, Flynn’s part of the creation of an enlarged spy corps called the
Defense Clandestine Service, which is supposed to work alongside the CIA
to cultivate networks of snitches. It’s already meeting some

Internally, the DIA is heavily bureaucratic: About half of its 17,500
employees aren’t out in the dangerous parts of the world, they’re
based in and around Washington. Flynn’s hired six private security
contractors to train his employees in self-defense, rugged living and
other necessities of an expeditionary lifestyle, an effort worth $20
million. Just as substantially, Flynn’s congressional overseers are
dubious. The Senate version of next year’s defense bill, approved last
week, prohibits the Pentagon from hiring any additional spies until it
can “demonstrate that it can improve the management of clandestine
HUMINT,” a term for human intelligence.

But the technical exploitation tools DIA wants don’t have to wait for
any such demonstration. The current Defense spy corps can use them just
fine. And in keeping with Flynn’s history of rapidly pushing
information from the special operators who collect it to the analysts
who make sense of it, the wish list seeks tools to integrate all this
data “into local and national databases… and made readily available
to analysts from the tactical to national levels.”

If all of this sounds broad, that may be the point. The wide net DIA is
casting pertains to “collection, transmission, prioritization,
analysis, and dissemination of collected/captured materiel, and advanced
technical exploitation tools application, configuration support, and
training functions to units worldwide.” Even if the Pentagon can’t
yet hire more spies, it can make the ones it’s already got much

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