FBI digital hunt for Stuxnet leakers treats talking to journalists like a crime

It's Data Privacy Day 2013, but digital privacy in the U.S. is practically an oxymoron. The FBI is stepping up its game and pursuing "everybody" who works for Uncle Sam as potential suspects who leaked information about Stuxnet, according to The Washington Post. That includes government officials at high levels with access to classified information, since the Stuxnet disclosure was considered a "national security leak." Yet in light of the feds digital manhunt to connect people-in-the-know to communications with journalists, it's interesting that the Post has quotes from "anonymous people familiar with the investigation." The Post added this quote, "People are feeling less open to talking to reporters given this uptick. There is a definite chilling effect in government due to these investigations."

FBI digital hunt for Stuxnet leakers almost treats talking to journalists like a crime, yet Israeli official says Pentagon may strike Iran again

The Post was told by "people familiar with the probe," that "the FBI and prosecutors have interviewed several current and former senior government officials in connection with the disclosures, sometimes confronting them with evidence of contact with journalists." It's slowly but surely undermining freedom of the press.

Former prosecutors said investigators run sophisticated software to identify names, key words and phrases embedded in e-mails and other communications, including text messages, which could lead them to suspects. The FBI also looks at officials' phone records - who called whom, when, for how long.

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Prosecutors and the FBI can examine government e-mail accounts and government-issued devices, including cellphones, without a warrant. They can also look at private e-mail accounts without a warrant if those accounts were accessed on government computers.

After the New York Times ran David Sanger's accounting of how the USA and Israel created Stuxnet and ordered cyberattacks against Iran, the FBI launched an investigation into the leak of classified secrets. We do know Olympic Games was the codename for the Stuxnet cyber weapon program and it was authorized by the George W. Bush administration. That spans many years of people who knew about it and now may be potential suspects in the leaks. The investigation has been going on since June, probing the "privacy" of previous "untouchables."

The Stuxnet saga itself is like acronym heaven, or maybe hell, and includes big players like the CIA and NSA who now are not free from having their emails searched. Of course we saw that type of surveillance when Gen. David Petraeus resigned as CIA director after the FBI discovered email drafts saved in a shared Gmail account. You can easily encrypt Gmail and you should consider doing so. The ACLU highlighted another such cautionary tale about Jill and Scott Kelley and how much electronic privacy matters. The EFF also recently pointed out several things the FBI doesn't want you to know about its 'secret' surveillance, but some of the people with knowledge of classified secrets may want to take a look at now. . . . especially if they have ever communicated with anyone in the press.

"Talking to a reporter is not a crime," the Freedom of the Press Foundation wrote. "Given that government secrecy is at an all-time high and the administration's most controversial programs are conducted under the veil of secrecy, leaks are often the only way the American people can find out what their government is doing in their name." In fact, "all of these leak investigations and threats to prosecute reporters are an affront to the First Amendment. The Obama administration must halt its war on whistleblowers before it does lasting damage to our constitutional rights."

Regarding how whistleblowers are targeted, Firedoglake's Kevin Gosztola interviewed CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou the day before Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in jail. Please take the time to read it.

Meanshile, whistleblowing at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a non-US official spilled the beans on potential Pentagon plans. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak suggested that the Pentagon has plans for more surgical strikes against Iran. The Daily Beast reported that Barak is "confident that the United States has plans for surgical strikes against Iran as a last-ditch measure if Tehran refuses to stop its development of a nuclear weapons capability." According to Barak:

"I don't see it as a binary kind of situation: either they [the Iranians] turn nuclear or we have a fully-fledged war the size of the Iraqi war or even the war in Afghanistan," said Barak. "What we basically say is that if worse comes to worst, there should be a readiness and an ability to launch a surgical operation that will delay them by a significant time frame and probably convince them that it won't work because the world is determined to block them."

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Under orders from the White House, he noted, "the Pentagon prepared quite sophisticated, fine, extremely fine, scalpels. So it is not an issue of a major war or a failure to block Iran. You could under a certain situation, if worse comes to worst, end up with a surgical operation."

"The Pentagon declined to comment on The Daily Beast report," the New York Times added, "but a senior defense official said, 'The U.S. military constantly plans for a range of contingencies we might face around the world, and our planning is often quite detailed.' The official added, 'That shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone'."

Another point that shouldn't come as a surprise is, First Amendment be damned, any U.S. official who might consider commenting otherwise to the press would quickly be put under the FBI surveillance microscope.

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