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Noah

Petraeus needed better technology

4 posts in this topic

Much of what is known remains deeply murky and is still unfolding. However, interesting details about how Petraeus and Broadwell apparently tried to prevent their communications from being picked up are trickling out.

Not only were they using pseudonyms, but they were using a method known in the intelligence community as the “dead drop,” a tactic favored by terrorists trying to evade government surveillance of communications networks. Before the Internet, dead drops, often used by spies, would involve hiding a written message or package in a secret location or letterbox that only your fellow operatives would know about.

According to a revealing AP report quoting an anonymous U.S. official yesterday, Petraeus and Broadwell used a higher-tech version of the dead-drop technique: “Rather than transmitting emails to the other's inbox, they composed at least some messages and instead of transmitting them, left them in a draft folder or in an electronic ‘dropbox.’ the official said. Then the other person could log onto the same account and read the draft emails there. This avoids creating an email trail that is easier to trace.” But Petraeus, as a spy chief, should probably have known better. Using the dead-drop tactic can certainly reduce the chances that sweeping surveillance dragnets will gobble up your communications—but it is not exactly secure.

The method was used by the planners of the Madrid train bombings in 2004, which killed 191 people, helping them to operate below the radar of Big Brother. However, law enforcement agencies over the years have grown accustomed to terrorists using the dead drop, and technologies have been developed to help counter it.

An interception tool developed by the networking company Zimbra, for instance, was specifically designed to help combat email dead drops. Zimbra’s “legal Intercept” technology allows law enforcement agencies to obtain “copies of email messages that are sent, received, or saved as drafts from targeted accounts.”

An account that is under surveillance, with the help of Zimbra’s technology, will secretly forward all of its messages, including drafts, to a “shadow account” used by law enforcement. This may have been how the FBI was able to keep track of all correspondence being exchanged between Petraeus and Broadwell. (It’s also worth noting that archived draft emails stored alongside sent and received messages on Google’s servers can actually be obtained by law enforcement with very little effort.

Due to the outdated Electronic and Communications and Privacy Act, any content stored in the cloud can be obtained by the government without a warrant if it’s older than six months, as Wired reported last year.)

http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2012/11/13/petraeus_and_broadwell_should_have_used_pgp_encryption_and_tor_not_dead.html

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He needed the technology of keeping his pecker in his pants.

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