Tag: Espionage

Not a Surprise

What a surprise.

America’s international butt-boy, the UK, was hip deep in the US torture program:

British intelligence agencies were involved in the torture and kidnap of terrorism suspects after 9/11, according to two reports by the parliamentary intelligence and security committee.

The reports published on Thursday amount to one of the most damning indictments of UK intelligence, revealing links to torture and rendition were much more widespread than previously reported.

While there was no evidence of officers directly carrying out physical mistreatment of detainees, the reports say the overseas agency MI6 and the domestic service MI5 were involved in hundreds of torture cases and scores of rendition cases.

The committee says the agencies were aware “at an early point” of the mistreatment of detainees by the US and others. There were two cases in which UK personnel were “party to mistreatment administered by others”. One has been investigated by the Metropolitan police but the other is still to be fully investigated. 


The report dealing with the treatment of detainees details a litany of cases of concern, saying: “We have found 13 incidents where UK personnel witnessed at first hand a detainee being mistreated by others, 25 where UK personnel were told by detainees that they had been mistreated by others and 128 incidents recorded where agency officers were told by foreign liaison services about instances of mistreatment. In some cases, these were correctly investigated but this was not consistent.”
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It said in 232 cases UK personnel continued to supply questions or intelligence to other services despite knowledge or suspicion of mistreatment, as well as “198 cases where UK personnel received intelligence from liaison services which had been obtained from detainees who knew they had been mistreated – or with no indication as to how the detainee had been treated but where we consider they should have suspected mistreatment”.

It would be nice if Jack Straw ends up in the dock over this.

It would be nicer if Tony Blair did.

So, Is Your Money on “Suicide” or “Natural Causes”?

When juxtaposed with their preventing his communication with the outside world, I’m beginning to see the actuarial possibilities as kind of bleak:

The president of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, has ordered the withdrawal of additional security assigned to the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has remained for almost six years.


Over more than five years, Ecuador put at least $5m (£3.7m) into a secret intelligence budget that protected him while he had visits from Nigel Farage, members of European nationalist groups and individuals linked to the Kremlin.

Rafael Correa, the then Ecuadorian president who approved of the operation, later defended the security measures as “routine and modest”.

However, his successor, Moreno, appears to differ in his view. His government said in a statement: “The president of the republic, Lenin Moreno, has ordered that any additional security at the Ecuadorian embassy in London be withdrawn immediately.


Moreno has previously described Assange’s situation as “a stone in his shoe”.

I inclined to believe that, “A stone in his shoe,” translated from the Ecuadorean dialect of Spanish to, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”

This will not end well.

About F%$#ing Time

For three years, International Standards Organization has been wrangling over which cryptographic algorithms will be incorporated into a standard for interoperability in “Internet of Things” gadgets; at issue has been the NSA’s insistence that “Simon” and “Speck” would be the standard block cipher algorithms in these devices.

The NSA has a history of sabotaging cryptographic standards; most famously, documents provided by Edward Snowden showed that the NSA had sabotaged NIST security standards, but the story goes farther back than that: I have been told by numerous wireless networking exercises that the weaknesses in the now-obsolete Wireless Encryption Protocol (WEP) were deliberately introduced by NSA meddling. And of course, the NSA once classified working cryptography as a munition and denied civilians access to it, until EFF got a court to declare code to be a form of protected speech under the First Amendment.

Now, the NSA has been defeated at ISO, with its chosen ciphers firmly rejected by the committee members, who were pretty frank about their reason for rejecting Simon and Speck: they don’t trust the NSA.

Good.  I don’t trust the NSA either, and I do not want them in my home appliances.

Quote of the Day

It is not the story of men and women who have a better and deeper understanding of the world than we do. In fact in many cases it is the story of weirdos who have created a completely mad version of the world that they then impose on the rest of us.

Adam Curtis on the fact that journalism on intelligence has been getting it wrong for decades.

This is undoubtedly true.

Whether Allen Dulles or Lavrentiy Beria, what has characterized the the minds of spies is their perverse view of the world.

When You Put Back Doors in, Crooks Use Them Too

Law enforcement has insisted on setting up our phone systems so they can use cell tower spoofing devices undetectably to track suspicious actions.

We now have learned that crooks and spies are using the same technologies, and the same back doors, to spy on people:

The federal government has formally acknowledged for the first time that it has located suspected and unauthorized cell-site simulators in various parts of Washington, DC.

The revelation, which was reported for the first time on Tuesday by the Associated Press, was described in a letter recently released from the Department of Homeland Security to the offices of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon).

“Overall, [DHS’ National Protection and Programs Directorate] believes the malicious use of IMSI catchers is a real and growing risk,” wrote Christopher Krebs, DHS’ acting undersecretary, in a March 26, 2018 letter to Wyden.

The letter and attached questionnaire say that DHS had not determined who is operating the simulators, how many it found, or where they were located. DHS also said that its NPPD is “not aware of any current DHS technical capability to detect IMSI catchers.” The agency did not explain precisely how it was able to observe “anomalous activity” that “appears to be consistent” with cell-site simulators.

The devices, which are also known as stingrays or IMSI catchers, are commonly used by domestic law enforcement nationwide to locate a particular phone. Sometimes, they can also be used to intercept text messages and phone calls. Stingrays act as a fake cell tower and effectively trick a cell phone into transmitting to it, which gives up the phone’s location.

There is no, “Technical capability to detect IMSI catchers,” because DHS, the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, and the rest of the TLAs want to be able to spy and track with impunity, so the difficulty of detection and countermeasures has been designed into these systems.

This is what happens when you put back doors in systems, the bad guys figure out how to use them too.

To quote Leonard McCoy on this one, “”It’s NOT enough! You didn’t care what happened as long as you could hang your trophy on the wall. Well, it’s not on it, Captain, it’s in it!”

This is why we cannot trust, nor should we consider the absolutist demands of our state security apparatus.

And Macedonia Achieves Moral Superiority over the United States

It is admittedly a VERY low bar, but the Balkan nation has apologized for its role in aiding the torture of Khaled El-Masri over a decade ago.

From the US, who tortured him unmercifully for months, crickets:

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) has formally apologized to a man it unlawfully seized, held incommunicado, and handed over to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency 14 years ago, during the secret CIA rendition and torture program which followed the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Macedonian security personnel detained Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen, at Macedonia’s border on December 31, 2003, and interrogated him in secret for over three weeks. They then delivered him to CIA agents who flew him to Afghanistan, where he was imprisoned for almost four months in inhuman conditions, and then further mistreated him in a notorious CIA facility. In late May, the CIA reverse rendered El-Masri to Europe, and then left him on a roadside in Albania, long after American authorities had concluded that they had mistakenly captured the wrong man.

On December 13, 2012, in a case brought on El-Masri’s behalf by the Open Society Justice Initiative, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights found the FYROM in breach of several provisions of the European Convention of Human Rights and awarded compensation of €60,000, which the government subsequently paid.

Now, six years later, in a letter to El-Masri dated March 28, 2018, Macedonia’s minister of foreign affairs, Nikola Dimitrov, has expressed his “sincere apologies and unreserved regrets” for what he described as the “improper conduct of our authorities” in 2004. He also noted the “immeasurable and painful experiences and grave physical and psychological wounds you suffered” as a result.

And the only response of the US, in response to a spectacular bit of incompetence has been to invoke the state secrets privilege in order to prevent his day in court.

Welcome to American exceptionalism.

That sound you hear is Alexis de Tocqueville spinning in his grave at about 10,000 RPM.

Tweet of the Day

One of the saddest things about this whole Russiagate frenzy to me is that there are bound to be some babies in liberal strongholds stuck with the first name Mueller 👶

— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) March 30, 2018

I do remember a decade ago, when “Fitzmas” was coming, and Karl Rove was supposed to be frog marched out of the White House in Handcuffs after Patrick Fitzgerald indicted him.

Didn’t happen.

Play it safe expecting parents, name your kid, “Moon Unit.”

H/t Naked Capitalism.

Quote of the Day

The problem isn’t simply that these people weren’t prosecuted (though they should have been). It’s that they weren’t even shamed enough to think that maybe the public spotlight wasn’t the best thing for them.

Duncan “Atrios” Black

Atrios is talking about the torturers, like Gina Haspel, who were emboldened by Obama’s refusal to persecute even the worst of them.

Obama’s decision to, “Look forward, not back,” on torture did not put the chapter behind us, because, not only did it not put torture behind us, it Endorsed torture and torturers.

Barack Obama, and his AG at the time, Eric “Place” Holder are not stupid people, and they had to know that a failure to prosecute constituted and endorsement of torture.

The Gray Lady Drops the “T-Word”

The New York Times editorial board has come out against Gina Haspel running the CIA, and called her a torturer.

No euphemisms here:

President Trump has displayed enthusiasm for brutality over the past year. He has told the police to treat suspects roughly, praised President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines for murdering people suspected of drug ties and called for the execution of drug dealers.


Previously, anyone alarmed by Mr. Trump’s cavalier embrace of government-sanctioned cruelty was reassured by his vow to accept the advice of his defense secretary, Jim Mattis, who opposes Torture and promised at his Senate confirmation hearing that he would uphold American and international laws against it.

Now we have reason to be uneasy yet again.

When it comes to Torture, no American officials have been more practiced in those heinous dark arts than the officers and employees of the Central Intelligence Agency who applied it to terrorism suspects after 9/11. Few American officials were so directly involved in that frenzy of abuse, which began under President George W. Bush and was ended by President Barack Obama, as Gina Haspel.


As an undercover C.I.A. officer, Ms. Haspel played a direct role in the agency’s “extraordinary rendition program,” under which suspected militants were remanded to foreign governments and held at secret facilities, where they were Tortured by agency personnel.

Ms. Haspel ran the first detention site in Thailand and oversaw the brutal interrogations of two detainees, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Mr. Zubaydah was waterboarded at least 83 times in a single month; his C.I.A. Torturers bashed his head into walls and subjected him to other unspeakable brutalities. This cruelty stopped when investigators decided he had nothing useful to tell them.


The use of Torture and secret foreign prisons — think of the deeply disgraceful events at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq — was a boon to terrorist groups, helping their propaganda and recruitment efforts. Such activities were also an irritant to key allies and even put American forces and personnel at risk of legal liability and being subjected to harsh treatment when they are detained.

Ms. Haspel is reportedly respected by many C.I.A. officers. But she effectively ran an illegal program, and her promotion to such a top administration position, unless she forcefully renounces the use of Torture during her confirmation hearing, would send an undeniable signal to the agency, and the country, that Mr. Trump is indifferent to this brutality, regardless of what Secretary Mattis believes. Members of Congress and public interest groups need to stand up and make clear that, otherwise, the appointment is wrong.

(Emphasis mine)

She, and her defenders, are saying that she was just obeying orders.

That argument did not carry the day in Nuremberg, and they should not carry the day now, and the New York Times agrees.

They Have Managed to Outrage Me Again

So, Donald Trump has fired Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State (via Twitter, no less) and announced his intent to replace him with current CIA head Mike Pompeo.

This is not a shock, it’s been telegraphed for a while, and it is a not an outrage.

What is an outrage is who has been named to replace Pompeo at the CIA, Gina Haspel, the inspiration for the main character in the Leni Riefenstahl Kathryn Bigelow film Zero Dark Thirty, who ran the CIA torture camp in Thialand, and then destroyed evidence to evade Congressional oversight:

Donald Trump’s pick for head of the Central Intelligence Agency, Gina Haspel, reportedly oversaw a black site prison in Thailand where terrorism suspects were tortured. She briefly ran the prison in 2002, anonymous officials told the Associated Press.

Deputy CIA director could face court deposition over post-9/11 role in torture

If the US Senate confirms Haspel, she would be the first female director of the agency, but the historic significance of her nomination was immediately overshadowed by her reported link to the black site, where two suspected al-Qaida members were waterboarded.

“The fact that she’s been able to stay in the agency, rise in the agency and now is in line to be director should be deeply troubling,” Larry Siems, author of the Torture Report, a book analysing government documents relating to Bush-era torture released in 2014, told the Guardian.

Haspel also drafted a cable ordering the destruction of CIA interrogation videos in 2005.

A US justice department investigation into the tapes’ destruction ended without charges, but the event helped spark a landmark investigation into US detentions and interrogations.

Christopher Anders, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington legislative office, claimed Haspel “was up to her eyeballs in torture”.

Anders urged the CIA to declassify her torture record before the Senate considers her nomination.

She has been described as having, “Ran a laboratory for torture.”

This crap has me agreeing with John Sidney McCain III, who has described her as a representing, “One of the darkest chapters in American history,” which is a complete mind f%$# to me.

While we are at it, it should be noted that German prosecutors are considering issuing an arrest warrant against Haspel for her torture.

Once again, the world has exceeded my already blindingly low expectations.

She should be in jail, but Obama decided, in defiance of signed treaties, to prosecute any of the torturers.

Thanks, Obama.

Another Stopped Clock Moment

Over at the 2nd worst OP/ED page in the nation, they are wringing their hands at the demise of the most transparent CIA front in history, the National Endowment for Democracy:

Speaking to the British Parliament in 1982, President Ronald Reagan called on the United States “to foster the infrastructure of democracy” to help ensure that people around the world were empowered to determine their own fates. Now, at this increasingly fraught moment for freedom around the world, the Trump administration wants to dismantle that infrastructure.

Buried in the State Department’s fiscal 2019 budget request is a proposal not only to slash the budget of the National Endowment for Democracy but also to disassemble its relationships with its core institutes, including the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute. For the NED and those institutes, the proposal is an assault not only on their organizations but also on the pro-democracy mission they are dedicated to.

“If implemented, the proposal would gut the program, force crippling layoffs and the symbolic meaning would also be shattering, sending a signal far and wide that the United States is turning its back on supporting brave people who share our values,” said NED President Carl Gershman.

The Trump administration proposal would allow the NED to continue issuing small grants but move funding of its core institutes to the State Department, where the IRI and NDI would have to compete with private contractors. The organizations involved argue that keeping funding decisions at arm’s length from the State Department allows the NED network to do things on the edges of the pro-democracy movement that the U.S. government can’t or won’t, such as supporting Chinese dissidents in ways that upset Beijing.

The NED has been little more than a a front for regime change efforts for our state security apparatus since its founding.

It is a cover for, “A boot stamping on a human face – forever,” fomenting civil wars and civil unrest against regimes deemed insufficiently pliant.

This is why, for example, the NED has been largely silent regarding the excesses of the House of Saud.

Good riddance, even if its demise is for the wrong reason.  (We know that it’s the wrong reason because it’s Trump and his Evil Minions doing this.)

And Now We are at Dueling Memos

Following the Nunes memo, the Schiff memo has been issued in redacted form.

Rather unsurprisingly, it shows that Nunes was a complete tool of the Trump campaign that he is (nominally) investing:

The FBI team investigating the 2016 Trump campaign’s contacts with Russians had already opened inquiries into multiple people connected to the campaign when it received a controversial dossier alleging illicit ties between then-candidate Donald Trump and the Kremlin, a Democratic memo released by the House Intelligence Committee revealed Saturday.

The dossier, compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, wasn’t provided to the FBI’s counterintelligence team until mid-September 2016, according to the memo. By then, the counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s campaign was seven weeks old. “The FBI had already opened sub-inquiries into … individuals linked to the Trump campaign,” according to the findings of the committee’s nine Democrats.

The committee posted the heavily redacted 10-page document Saturday after weeks of wrangling between the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, and Justice Department officials over the contours of classified material he hoped to release.

Much like in Watergate, we are seeing coverups, and much like Watergate, it will be the coverups that can prove Trump and his Evil Minions downfall.

Mixed emotions here, because I do not look forward to President Pence.

Ex-CIA Director Tells the Truth

On Fox News, (where else) Former CIA director James Woolsey admitted that the US routinely meddles in foreign elections, but “Only for very good cause,” because, I guess it’s OK when we do it.

You see laundering money to politicians in foreign countries is MUCH better than trolling on Facebook and Twitter:

Following a federal indictment of Russians accused of meddling in the U.S election, a former CIA director on Friday said the U.S. “probably” meddles in other countries’ elections, as well.

The Russian embassy flagged his comments.

When asked whether the U.S. interferes in other countries’ elections, James Woolsey said, “Well, only for a very good cause in the interests of democracy.”

“Oh, probably, but it was for the good of the system in order to avoid communists taking over,” he told Laura Ingraham on her Fox News show on Friday night.

Woolsey served as CIA director under former President Clinton.

The New York Times has suddenly discovered this historical fact as well:

Bags of cash delivered to a Rome hotel for favored Italian candidates. Scandalous stories leaked to foreign newspapers to swing an election in Nicaragua. Millions of pamphlets, posters and stickers printed to defeat an incumbent in Serbia.

The long arm of Vladimir Putin? No, just a small sample of the United States’ history of intervention in foreign elections.

On Tuesday, American intelligence chiefs warned the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia appears to be preparing to repeat in the 2018 midterm elections the same full-on chicanery it unleashed in 2016: hacking, leaking, social media manipulation and possibly more. Then on Friday, Robert Mueller, the special counsel, announced the indictments of 13 Russians and three companies, run by a businessman with close Kremlin ties, laying out in astonishing detail a three-year scheme to use social media to attack Hillary Clinton, boost Donald Trump and sow discord.

Most Americans are understandably shocked by what they view as an unprecedented attack on our political system. But intelligence veterans, and scholars who have studied covert operations, have a different, and quite revealing, view.

“If you ask an intelligence officer, did the Russians break the rules or do something bizarre, the answer is no, not at all,” said Steven L. Hall, who retired in 2015 after 30 years at the C.I.A., where he was the chief of Russian operations. The United States “absolutely” has carried out such election influence operations historically, he said, “and I hope we keep doing it.”

Hypocrisy much?

The Chinese are Copping a Major Attitude

The Chinese built a headquarters building for the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethopia.

It seemed like a generous thing, until they discovered that everything in the building was engineered to spy on its occupants and then phone home.

Seriously China, who do you think you are, the United States?

In 2012, the Chinese government “graciously offered” African States a gift and constructed the African Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa. The act of soft diplomacy proved to be a rather self-serving maneuver to spy on the activities and discussions being conducted by leaders of the exclusive continental group.

In Addis Ababa, ministers and heads of states meet twice a year to discuss major continental issues. While strict security measures give the impression that that building is closely monitored and secured, an unseen security threat was present from 2012 until 2017. The threat was from none other than those who built the headquarters: the Chinese. An investigation conducted by “Le Monde Afrique” exposed Chinese espionage efforts.

According to the report, for five years, between midnight and 2 a.m., computer servers were reaching a peak in data transfer activity. A computer scientist noticed the oddity of the situation. The organization’s technical staff later discovered that the AU servers were all connected to servers located in Shanghai.

Every night, the secrets of the AU were being stored more than 8,000 km away by what was thought to be a diplomatic ally of Africa.

I am reminded of the adage about social media, “If the product is free, you are the product .

This Year’s Maryland Senate Primary Should Be Fun

Chelsea Manning is running for the US Senate Seat currently held by Ben Cardin:

Chelsea E. Manning, the transgender former Army private who was convicted of passing sensitive government documents to WikiLeaks, is seeking to run for the U.S. Senate in Maryland, according to federal election filings.

Manning would be challenging Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin, who is in his second term in the Senate and is up for reelection in November. Cardin is Maryland’s senior senator and is considered an overwhelming favorite to win a third term.

I’m actually considering voting for her, because it would be a personal f%$# you to the US state security apparatus.

Should Darth Vader Have Warrantless Spying Powers? With Rebel leaders Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi

Cartoonist Matt Bors observes that there is a conflict between opposing Donald Trump, and blithely supporting his ability to spy on US citizens without a warrant.

Somehow, after all the evidence of bad faith by both the US state security apparatus and the Trump Administration, somehow or other, House Minority Leader Pelosi and ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Schiff both voted to continue the warrantless surveillance programs for the us intelligence community.

You just know that this authority will be misused.

Click the link for the full cartoon.

Nice Response

Recently, the Washington Post had a “major” expose revealing that one “Alice Donovan” was a Russian plant feeding to the online publication CounterPunch, and some other largely unnamed publications.

Strongly implied in the Post story is that CounterPunch was a willing tool of the Russian state security apparatus.

After being fielding inquiries from the Post, CounterPunch decided to look at her work for them.

What they determined is that the reality, for them at least, was pretty anodyne:

  • They published one of her articles in 2016, and that was a generic article on cyber-warfare, which had first been published in Veterans Today. (Dead link)
  • In 2017, after the elections they published 3 generically left leaning stories on Syria which they published, one supporting Maduro in Venezuela, and a commentary condemning Erdoğan, which they chose not to run. 
  • “Alice Donovan” was a serial plagiarizer, which they should have picked up on.

Their conclusion is pretty spot on:

In sum, we published five stories by Donovan. One was apolitical. Four could be considered critiques of US foreign policy during the Trump administration. None mentioned Hillary Clinton (or Vladimir Putin for that matter).

Based solely on what we’d just reviewed was there any reason at the time to suspect that Alice Donovan was anything other than what she appeared to be: an occasional contributor of topical stories? Not as far as we could tell. The stories weren’t pro-Russian polemics and they didn’t read like awkward Google-translations of the Russian language. The most controversial thing that could be said about them was that some stories attempted to present a particular Syrian view of the war, a perspective rarely heard in the US media.


None of this, however, is an exculpation for our own blunders. Somewhere along the line we blew it. We let a plagiarist and a possible troll onto CounterPunch. Were there warning signs that we missed? Sure. Should we have been alert to the awkward phrases in some of the articles on Syria that didn’t read like the original Donovan piece? No doubt. But recall that we had published more than 5,000 articles between the first and second Donovan stories. We should have picked up on the lifted passages in the “Escalation in Syria” story because there was a link that took us directly to the piece that was plagiarized. We should have become suspicious about Donovan after the New York Times story ran in September. Those are on us.

I agree with that conclusion: they need to drop some coin on editors, because her plagiarism, and by that I mean straight cut and paste, should have been easy to spot after a few submissions.

They need some copy editors.

As to the Post, if this does seem to be making a mountain out of a molehill.

The final word goes to CounterPunch though, “If Donovan’s intent was to destroy ‘our democratic values’ by committing crimes against journalism, she’ll need to swing a lot harder to surpass the damage done by Judith Miller.”

People Are Beginning to Come to My Point of View

For some time now, I have said that offensive cyber operations are a bad idea, because in order to hack someone, you are sending them a copy of your payload, and they can then use it themselves.

Ryan Cooper has come to this position as well:

Since August 2016, the National Security Agency has suffered a continual stream of devastating failures. Their internal hacking group, known as Tailored Access Operations (TAO), was breached 15 months ago by hackers calling themselves the “Shadow Brokers,” which has been dribbling out the contents of the NSA’s most prized hacking tools. The result has been a wave of internet crime — ransomware, lost files, and network attacks that disrupted businesses and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

And as this New York Times story illustrates, the agency has been completely incapable of figuring out how the breach happened. Their computer networks could have been penetrated, or they could have someone on the inside leaking the tools. But after more than a year, they have not been able to plug the leak. It’s long past time the NSA was forced to stop hacking, and to start protecting the American people from the sort of tools they create.

At the time of the leak last year, I speculated that the NSA was exposing the American people to online attack, but I was not prepared for how bad it would be. Several huge ransomware attacks (in which a computer is infiltrated, its hard drive encrypted, and the de-encrypt key held for a bitcoin ransom) using NSA hacking tools have swept the globe, hitting companies like FedEx, Merck, and Mondelez International, as well as hospitals and telecoms in 99 countries.

Cyber weapons are different, because they are implicitly revealed, and available for manufacture and deployment, by the target once they are years.

Would it make sense to send drones after ISIS/ISIL/Daesh/Whatever if in so doing, they would be able to deploy drones against targets in the US?

This is how cyber works.