Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
The UAE’s secret hacking team of U.S. mercenaries (reuters.com)
342 points by betolink 15 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 150 comments



> “I don’t think Americans should be doing this to other Americans,” she told Reuters. “I’m a spy, I get that. I’m an intelligence officer, but I’m not a bad one.”

I’m not sure if the article is cherry picking quotes to make Stroud sound horrible, but I’m very concerned by the viewpoint she espouses. It’s ok for Americans to target 16 year olds on Twitter, but not other Americans? This makes her a “good spy”?


I used to work in the Pentagon. Having done projects with military, and then moved to contracts filled with former NSA, I discovered something that was blatantly obvious:. The NSA has a uniquely and horrific cultural arrogance. The organization breeds and selects the amoral tendencies. I can't begin to tell you how horrible it was working with some of them. Just nasty people, period.


Can you share specific examples? You've left us hanging ... :)


Sounds like a case of the ‘ol Spy Vs. Spy.


for example a spy sabotages a train track to sabotage a weapons program and some kids die because of lack of transportation to nearest city hospital, does that make the SPY a bad one?

Trying to interject personal morality into the grey area of Intelligence and counter-intelligence is not a fruitful conversation. That does not mean, we should not try, but its not cut and dry.


That's not spying, that's terrorism.

Now maybe you want to make the case that there is good and bad terrorism?


Terrorism is a rather specific activity and this is not it.


Terrorism is an interaction whose purpose is collateral damage. An interaction whose participants aim to damage those who are not involved.

Honestly? Maybe. I'm not sure how I feel, but I'm open to this possibly being okay.


Why would it ever be ok? It's dehumanization of non-americans at its worst.


At its worst? Surely there are worse ways...


Reading this article made me really frustrated. As an individual I can't do much about government sanctioned surveillance but at least I'd have hoped that people such as Stroud that worked for US intelligence would have a stronger moral compass than what the article describes.

She was comfortable targeting human rights activists (such as Ahmed Mansoor who are working hard to make a positive change in the world) on behalf of a country with a horrible track record of human rights / etc. But she felt "sick to her stomach" when these targeted individuals were US citizens? How can she justify that citizenship is the differentiator between what's right and wrong?

> Stroud said her background as an intelligence operative made her comfortable with human rights targets as long as they weren’t Americans.

> Prominent Emirati activist Ahmed Mansoor, given the code name Egret, was another target, former Raven operatives say. For years, Mansoor publicly criticized the country’s war in Yemen, treatment of migrant workers and detention of political opponents.

> Mansoor was convicted in a secret trial in 2017 of damaging the country’s unity and sentenced to 10 years in jail. He is now held in solitary confinement, his health declining, a person familiar with the matter said.

> She found the work exhilarating. “It was incredible because there weren’t these limitations like there was at the NSA. There wasn’t that bullshit red tape,” she said. “I feel like we did a lot of good work on counterterrorism.”

> “I was sick to my stomach,” she said. “It kind of hit me at that macro level realizing there was a whole category for U.S. persons on this program.”


I used to work in the SIGINT world. It is rife with contractors who are ex-military, often have no degree, and can get paid triple-digit salaries for doing the same work they were doing in the military. I would estimate 80% of my military buddies are still working as either contractors or government employees in the intelligence field.

I have been offered $250K+ (tax free!) to deploy to Afghanistan on several occasions.. because they need bodies over there and it's risky. They weren't pitching esprit de corps or a just war to me, it was solely $$$. This isn't Band of Brothers. This is a war of choice not need.

By avoiding a draft via a standing professional military, and then outsourcing much of that military's internal workings to contractors we have created a mercenary culture. Same as the Romans.

Fixing this requires a political will that I wish we could muster.


I think this is the biggest disgrace in the US.

If we actually imposed the costs of wars on the American Public, like we did in WWII, we wouldn't be doing as much war. Instead we "outsource" the costs to private contractors which overcharge because "pensions are more expensive than contract labor."

We need to take any and all profit out of war by eliminating as much contract labor as possible. That's easy and perfectly fit to do with software. Which is why I joined Kessel Run as a government civilian, to bring software engineering in-house to the Air Force instead of contracting it.


It's not just carrying the cost. By removing conscription and relying entirely on volunteers, we have also turned out military into a caste. Literally so - it's more and more common to have entire intergenerational families in service.

And once it becomes a caste, it starts drifting apart. Politically, that is fairly obvious if you look at the polls. There's a surprising geographic component to it, too - for one thing, disproportionally many recruits come from specific geographic regions (mostly the South). And there are several municipalities around the country where most people who live there are veterans and their families.

The real problem, though, is that such a military caste starts seeing it as separate and distinct from the rest of the country.

https://inss.ndu.edu/Media/News/Article/1428887/deconstructi...

And that, in turn, allows for sentiments like these to develop:

"I am irritated by the apathy, lack of patriotic fervor, and generally anti-military and anti-American sentiment. I often wonder if my forefathers were as filled with disgust and anger when they thought of the people they were fighting to protect as I am."

If such sentiments become prevalent, how long will the military tolerate civilian control, if it considers the controlling civilian government to be run by people with "anti-American sentiment"?


Spot on. To add to that, this caste now is deeply embedded in the military-industrial complex, so the pathway is clear:

Enlist/Commission, Serve for some period (maybe even retire at 39), Join a defense contractor and ride into the sunset with dual retirements. All footed by public debt.

It's pretty sickening from the inside.


It's also frustrating to see double standards for veterans and non-veterans in the career tracks. The military-industrial complex contractor companies create a lot of sinecures, so that "retired" veterans actually have a place to go to work. It's a bit of a drag on each company, but the people writing the contracts are also military or ex-military, so they will write requirements into the contracts, such that those jobs positions have to exist and be filled in order to be the prime contractor.

It would be a better jobs program for veterans to just keep them gainfully employed by the military somehow. Or send them back to school before retirement, to be educated for useful civilian skills. You might be surprised at how many people have jobs whose only real qualification is half a lifetime of filling out a specific form.


To be fair, inter-generational military families / military caste was de rigeur long before we switched to an all-volunteer force. The McCains are a good recent example.

Personally, I dunno if I necessarily oppose the phenomenon -- if we accept military work as a legitimate field, I guess that wisdom passed through generations is desirable, even if it comes with similarly inherited attitudes. As example from other disciplines: farming and doctoring families are common and undoubtedly benefit from the dynastic nature of their trades.


The problem is that it's not any other field. It's people with guns, by design more powerful than anything else anybody else has.

And, as Mao said, "all political power comes from a barrel of a gun". Which is why civilian control of the military is so important to preserve, and why the signs that the tail is wagging the dog (worship of all things military in US) is so disturbing.

With regards to family legacy of service, it was common for officers, but not quite so much for the enlisted ranks.


I read somewhere that during the early years of the US government, well into the 19th century, the govt was very wary of such a military caste getting established, and many well qualified individuals were denied commissions because their fathers/grand fathers/other immediate family had held commissions.


No doubt they were wary -- in fact, that attitude persisted well into the 20th century at least - for example, while he doesn't explicitly call out family dynasties and the military caste, those concerns clearly inform Eisenhower's thinking in his famous "military-industrial complex" cautionary speech:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OyBNmecVtdU


It strikes me as ironic that the more the military gets put on a pedestal by the public, the more they resent said public. Both of these (the public's worship of the military, and the military's disdain for the public) have experienced a clear upward trend over the last 20 years.


Occasionally to the "thanks for your service" I sometimes reply "it's fine, I volunteered for myself". Just to see their reaction to the honesty, especially in the face of their lip service reply. (Rather how off norm replies to "hi, how are you" are treated).


Both of these (the public's worship of the military, and the military's disdain for the public) have experienced a clear upward trend over the last 20 years

But "the public" isn't one thing. The right-wing half of the public respect the military, and the left-wing half despise it while revelling in the freedom it provides, which also includes the freedom to despise it. I mean back in Soviet Russia if you spat on the uniform of a soldier of the Red Army, I imagine you would have been in alot of trouble. Or in China with the PLA.


> the left-wing half despise it while revelling in the freedom it provides

I doubt you can defend this statement on a factual basis


You cant run a modern army with a majority enlisted force the training requirements are so high both in time and cost.

Don't take this the wrong way but the USA needs to get over regarding the founders odd ideas about standing armies it just doesn't work in a modern society.


Sure you can. There are still several First World countries that rely on conscription in Europe - some even reverted recently, in fact, since the ongoing hostile talk with Russia. And one of those countries is Switzerland, which has a world-class army, better in fact than many of its European neighbors without conscription.

Now, conscripted soldiers work better for some things and worse for others. They work better on defense, especially on their own territories - but that's what the good guys are supposed to be doing, no? And it's not like you can't still have a professional volunteer (from those who completed mandatory service) component, for things that require more training.


Which ones? France the Uk and Germany don't

And modern warfare is no longer a case of giving some one 6 weeks training and a clapped out old rifel as old as their father.

Even late 70's early 80's the part trained Argentinian draftees didn't really stand a chance against 2 parra in the Falkland's the Junta evacuated a lot of the professional troops before then end


And one of those countries is Switzerland, which has a world-class army, better in fact than many of its European neighbors without conscription

Citation needed. The Swiss have done a pretty good job of defending the Vatican of course, but when was their military last tested for real?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_Switzerlan...

(the answer is WW1)


The bigger more meaningful question is do we need a standing military of this size and scope, or can we shrink it down some?


Well then you have to stop paying "poverty wages" for the technical skills required. Btw this is a what a ex squaddie mate of mine said when he got a pitch from UK TLA on linked in.

I get the strong impression that the nat sec community is stuck in the 1940's and 50's still thinks they can get high end cyber skills and pay enlisted wages - a cheery working class chap in the films he be played by Norman wisdom or George Formby


You're asking a fundamentally interesting question that has horrifying implications.

What makes someone OK with murder? How do you flip someone from a civilian mindset of more or less 'love thy neighbor' to a soldier mindset of 'kill the bad guy'?

In rough terms there are a lot of simple answers, like 'portray the other as a threat to your family/way of life/values'

But here we're talking about someone that believes human rights workers are valid targets unless they have her same passport. That makes the origins of the belief much harder to imagine.


I find it baffling you can’t imagine a human engaging in tribalism, a behavior which predates civilization and permeates nearly every facet of human life.

That’s clearly what it is: Stroud views US citizens as “her tribe”, so people attacking them offends her, while outsiders fighting outsiders doesn’t matter.

Further, this also answers the “moral compass” question: they have a strong moral compass, it’s simply aligned to tribal protection, rather than some kind of “universal” ideal, which is precisely what you’d expect from people who volunteered as soldiers in tribal warfare.


You seem to be mistaking an answer to "what" as an answer to "why/how"


The answer to "what" is implied above. Evolution.


or a military selection of psychos... because ability to limit or completely switch off the empathy is one of the characteristics of psychopathic criminals


You seem to assume that soldiers are by default OK with killing people.

Up until the middle of the last century, that wasn't the case. Most soldiers would (often intentionally) miss their targets because it turns out most humans are really hesitant about actually taking another human's life.

In part, the higher "efficiency" of the modern military comes down to dehumanising the target. In the US it is very easy to see from an outside perspective how this has spilled over into the media and public discourse -- I vividly remember several politicians explicitly talking in televised interviews about how Snowden was a traitor and should be killed without a trial, for example, a statement which seemed to spark no significant outrage and had no political consequences.

The trick is that the others aren't just "a threat", they're not even human. Terrorists don't have families. And if they do have children, they're the horrible animals dragging those innocent children into this -- the "migrants" are forcing us to separate their kids from them, it's their fault for even imposing this situation on their kids. Oh, sorry, hostility towards refugees and immigrants is of course a completely different topic; no idea how this slipped in there.

Humans hesitate when told to kill fellow humans. But they're pretty good at murdering if you train them not to consider their victims human.


"it's their fault for even imposing this situation on their kids"

It obviously is.

Whether or not you should let them in is another question on which I don't have any particular opinion.


...I'd have hoped that people such as Stroud that worked for US intelligence would have a stronger moral compass than what the article describes.

It seems like you are saying it is moral to work for a U.S. intelligence agency but not for a foreign government that targets human rights activists. U.S. intelligence agencies have targeted human rights activists for decades. U.S. intelligence agencies have engaged in torture, illegal kidnappings, drug trafficking, and a host of other immoral acts. If a person is comfortable working for an American intelligence agency and you are comfortable with people who do then I don't see how this situation is any worse. I'm surprised she had any moral compunction that an American citizen was involved.


The nature of the government matters.

The US is a representative democracy that has rule of law. This is not denying the bad behavior of intelligence agencies in the past. Supporting the ideals of the west (representative democracy, independent court system, individual (minority/women's) rights, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, etc.) require organizations like this to exist. This doesn't mean they shouldn't be held to a high standard (they should), but that good people should work with them and that it's critical good people do so the standard is high.

The UAE is a religious dictatorship with pretty much none of these things, supporting their intelligence agencies (particularly when they're targeting political activists that they deem a threat) is worse and not morally equivalent. This is likely why they painted it as entirely for defense against terrorism to most of the contractors.

I find it pretty disturbing that this person, knowing about the offensive targeting (particularly of political activists), only finds this morally concerning when it involves the surveillance of Americans.


"The US is a representative democracy that has rule of law"

The above statement holds, whoever it never stopped the support (material, logistical, etc) of murdereos regimes all over the world. Look, I'm not an idealist, I understand that the US is a power hegemon and as such it will always impose its will on smaller countries, same as the UK or France did in the past. What irritates me is that its citizens are convinced that they are "the good guys", when evidence against that is so overwhelming. At least the UK was clear in its intentions "we are building/defending the British Empire"

sremani 15 days ago [flagged]

Comparing mercantile colonial Britain with USA of today is like comparing slavery to low-income job, they may look and feel the same from outside but there is a world of difference.


“Past empires were even worse” is not much consolation if the US uses its economic might to drive your country to ruin and your countrymen to unemployment and starvation, trains and arms paramilitary soldiers to come rape and massacre your neighbors, bombs your village to rubble, props up the autocratic military dictatorship ruling your country, etc.

There are dozens of countries and millions of lives around the world which US military/foreign policy has left in ruins.

Which is not to say that the US is any worse than other global powers, or that a world where the US was completely isolationist would necessarily be better. But its hardly the force for divine progress and prosperity that we Americans often pretend it is to ourselves.


> They may look and feel the same from outside

This isn't as comforting as you seem to think it is, when you're talking to people on the outside.


the good old "i only shot you once when all those people would have shot you 3 times" defense.

jbarham 15 days ago [flagged]

Ironic comparison given that the British Empire banned slavery before the American Civil War.

tenpies 15 days ago [flagged]

> What irritates me is that its citizens are convinced that they are "the good guys"

It will be interesting to see how well this ages. Looking at past iterations of global power(s), this era seems like one of the best. Sure, the US has done some evil, but it at least pretends to follow the law most of the time. It may have started some wars and interfered where it shouldn't, but nowhere to the degree of past global powers.

At the end of the day, the US never interferes with religious freedom, accepts homosexuality, and tends to treat men and women as equal. That has literally never happened before in the history of world powers.


People in US know so little about other countries history... Women were treated equal to men long time ago in the USSR, for example (about 100 years ago).


I'm pretty sure the Persian empire did all those things.


Treat men and women as equals?


"In general, we can say that Persian women enjoyed power, influence, and economic opportunities. They were involved in the military and owned businesses, and held the same jobs as men. Some women never married or had children, but this wasn't seen as a problem. However, Ancient Persian society was still patriarchal, and for the most part, men held higher positions than women.

One of the reasons that Ancient Persians held women in high regard might have been their religion. Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion, and its ideology stressed that men and women were equals. Naturally, this would shape the worldview of Ancient Persians, and we can say that overall women were seen as important figures in society."

https://study.com/academy/lesson/women-in-ancient-persia-roy...

Funny fun fact about Zoroastrianism: "British musician Freddie Mercury, lead singer for the rock band Queen, was of Parsi descent. Mercury, born Farrokh Bulsara, practiced Zoroastrianism."


The description in the first paragraph perfectly fits a lot of Western countries today.


Yes, what you see today in Iran has nothing to do with thousands of years of Persian empire. Persians are quite far from arabs in many aspects. I blame US and Britain, but mainly US for today's situation - their constant meddling, installing corrupt leaders and eventually pissing off radicals enough to revolt and take power.

You know why US embassy was stormed like it was? Because CIA was actively using it as a base of their operations. How you would like if your own resource-rich country was constantly interfered with bunch of spies who hide in their embassy but feel so comfortable that they don't even hide it too well?

They should have kicked staff out of country (even though most didn't have diplomatic immunity and were helping subvert the state they were in - this is still heavily punishable everywhere around the world today). Instead jailing them gave US marketing fodder to paint them as pure evil. Not that they are saints, but Saudi Arabia just next door ain't much better but was, is and will be a big US friend, as seen with treatment of horrible Khashoggi case.


I didn't imply it as a reference to today's Iran, but specifically to e.g. Parthian Persia.


Countries don't have friends. They have interests...


The nature of the government matters.

The style of government matters not to me when it comes to moral culpability. Catholic priests murdered in Central America with the approval of the U.S. government did not care that we have a representative government. Since it doesn't matter to the victims of our torture, murdering, raping, and pillaging it doesn't seem germane to me. Indeed, that we are a representative democracy only causes me to be depressed further as the blame partly resides with me and my fellow countrymen since we elected the leaders of these monsters. In the UAE at least the average citizen has less culpability since they have no say in their government.


Those things are still terrible and wrong (we're in agreement about that).

The difference in our argument is that I think it's important for good people to be involved in their government in order to support these western ideals and work to do the right thing.

It may be morally pure to just avoid the complex issues, but other than feeling good and maybe virtue signaling it doesn't actually help. Given the true need for security and organizations like this I think it's important for good people to be involved in this work. We have agency and a responsibility to make things better.

I think this argument changes when the foundational core is different (religious dictatorship) because the high level goals are not the same - you're immediately operating under a bad moral starting point when the law itself is bad and the government is not a representative democracy.

Your original point was:

> "If a person is comfortable working for an American intelligence agency and you are comfortable with people who do then I don't see how this situation is any worse."

I'm arguing it's both a lot worse and that there are good reasons for a moral person to work with western intelligence agencies.


From my perspective too many Americans believe the mantra, “We are good and they are bad.”. We had a President that said those who are not with us are against us. We leaders say that we are exceptional, we are a moral government and that believes in freedom and human rights. But the actions of our government suggest that we are not moral and are not in a position to denounce other nations without being profoundly hypocritical. Too many Americans believe we are altruistic and don’t know about or care about our past and present evil deeds.

The high level goals of the U.S. are to maintain hegemonic dominance and our government appears to be willing to engage in all sorts of immoral deeds to accomplish this goal. It’s not virtue signaling to point out the American government is untrustworthy, engages in illegal behavior, tortures, murders, rapes, and pillages and that I personally don’t see how working for American intelligence agencies is not significantly more moral than working for UAE agencies. It’s how I see things.


I'd argue the actions suggest complexity with both a lot of good and bad which the history of any large group of people is going to have - it isn't binary. The government is also not one entity acting in unison, it's a lot of people with different goals trying to do different things.

That said, the core goals and ideas that countries stand for are vastly different between western representative democracies like the US, UK and religious theocracies like the UAE, KSA (or kleptocratic governments like Russia). I think this is an important difference.

The pragmatic approach is given the need for intelligence organizations to exist it's important for good people to work there and try to do the right thing.

Opting out and implying that any moral person would have to act similarly leads to a government of the worst people and it kind of abandons the principle goals of representative democracy. It's not the pointing out of bad behavior that's virtue signaling, it's the side stepping of the difficulty of the issue - how do you actually solve these kinds of complex problems?


The goals you mention between the governments you spoke are indeed different. This is not an unimportant point. I believe you are correct in that. I don’t claim that there are no moral people working for American intelligence agencies. I don’t claim there are only immoral people working for UAE intelligence. What I do claim is that I don’t look down on people doing dirty shit for UAE while not looking down on similar bad actors for American intelligence. What I do claim is that over the last 50 years or so the distinction between UAE and the U.S. in terms of governmental morality has blurred and I no longer see the U.S. government as a one deserving of support or the benefit of the doubt.


"the distinction between UAE and the U.S. in terms of governmental morality has blurred"

But imagine UAE or KSA by the will of Allah get the military and economic power of the US?

What would they be doing?

Bombing and sanctioning countries until they convert to their particular brand of Islam and accept sharia law?

I'd bet the distinction will get unblurred pretty quickly.


We do just that but for a set of beliefs that are not religious.

I think we actually agree on most things then.

I think bad actors in both places should be viewed negatively and be accountable for bad things they do. I do think risk is higher in a place with fewer rules (or bad laws), but that's more of a separate thing.

I'm generally suspicious of giving any powerful group the benefit of the doubt - it's good to be skeptical.

Our main difference is that I think the US government is still worth supporting (even if the current administration is absolutely not). I also see a significant difference between the US and the UAE.

Anyway - I appreciate the nuanced discussion, thanks.


But how comes that Western democracies with all their core goals and ideas and the moral high ground are the best friends with KSA and selling it weapons worth tens of billions of dollars? Enabling the war in the Yemen among other things.

What are these goals and ideas worth? About 100B of USD?


> The difference in our argument is that I think it's important for good people to be involved in their government in order to support these western ideals and work to do the right thing.

In principle maybe, but not under the what's being played out in the US. Given you have these principles I should put more faith in you and hope that you don't murder me when it's convenient? An intelligence agency is not the government and vice-versa. It only reflects the people's mandate in just its core function, intelligence among other things.


If America was an Aztec democracy.. And the law required bloody sacrifices, would that make it okay to ex port because form and function are in the expected shape?


>This is not denying the bad behavior of intelligence agencies in the past.

But to say it is okay for someone to work for those agencies is to deny their bad behavior in the past. There has been no change to those agencies except they are better at covering up their current day bad behavior, so to say it is at all moral to support them is only possible if you find that their past behaviors weren't really bad.


Solid points you make.

Though also, it might just my be inner cynicism reading this article having spent a long time working on security/human rights etc, but it sort of feel reading between the lines that the so-called "moral compunction" of many of the former US intel people was actually more of a "legal compunction" ("Oh crap, I've ignored things I've seen because I am getting paid a huge wedge of tax free money but now the the FBI are sniffing around it's time to grow a conscience and get ahead of this.")


That is an interesting take. I'd not have thought of "legal compunction". I like the phrase and will borrow it without attribution!


I just want to tell you both good luck. We're all counting on you.


Exactly. Psychopaths have no morals, they only feign them when necessary.


The reason she was probably ok with working for US intelligence was precisely because she saw no immorality in doing terrible things to non-americans, or at the very least, she gradually absorbed that viewpoint over time.


Good points but there is also one missing: she is American, not Arab and/or has not civic ties with the Monarchy or culture there.

There is a giant difference between communitarian acts one might carry out for the ostensible good of the community (we may not always agree with our own geopolitics, but at least we can vote) - and for other, arbitrary regimes, working for money.

Most people even in the regular civil service have a sense of duty, and it's generally 'not about the money' - and wouldn't be very interested in just 'doing it for the money' anyhow.

The first statement about 'as long as it's not Americans' is a little disturbing though.


How can she justify that citizenship is the differentiator between what's right and wrong?

AIUI (not an American) that's a dividing line for a lot of US law relating to intelligence agency activities. More observation than explanation, but to some people what's legal and what's ethical is very tightly coupled.


It's not only citizenship but distance. People are very upset about what's happening at the Mexican border, but pay almost no heed to actual civilian deaths caused by US policy in Syria and Yemen.


Honestly, it just sounds like good old fashioned xenophobia.


Well put.

I grew up in the UAE where xenophobia/racism is rampant. If you really want to see white privilege in action and more shockingly, out in the open, move to any Arab country.


That's exactly the sort of personality they want working for their own military / intelligence.

Pets. Guard dogs. Familiar == good, !Familiar == bad. Grey doesn't exist.

Makes me worry about how military AI's will be "trained". That revolution can be delayed indefinitely.


You are surprised people who work for the NSA perform mental gymnastics to rationalise their choices?


I'm not convinced that she was "sick to her stomach". Maybe she was either always this way, or maybe the nature of the work has blunted her to this point, but she reminds me of psychopaths blending in. They know that the people around them have morality and that they're expected to have morality too, and they try to fake it, and often they get it fairly close, but sometimes they just get it wrong. Not saying she's a psychopath (there are many reasons to fake morality), but this jarring boundary in morality feels similar; makes me think it's faked.

Perhaps it is not that complicated.

Perhaps she is lying and cares not as to who is on the receiving end of her expertise regardless of nationality.

Perhaps in the end it's just a business disagreement.


She didn’t want to target US citizens because that could lead her to legal troubles and possibly lengthy jail.

She can get away by targeting an arab activist. Targeting US citizen for another government is spying.


>How can she justify that citizenship is the differentiator between what's right and wrong?

Toxic nationalism


The double standard is inane.


It's 2019 and we still discriminate, legally and as a species collectively against people, because of where they were born.

We don't choose that anymore than we do our gender or our skin color.

But yet, we deny rights. Food. Safety. Life, because of it. And it's fine. Because they were born in that country.


Sounds like treason to me.

Or it’s some wacky under the radar US action.


mercenaries


I find it interesting that this ex-NSA operative casually explains her job was probing China computer systems and then assessing what data can be stolen from China. But then publicly the USA point fingers at Huawei or Chinese government from doing the same.

Same also UAE vs the USA. If the NSA is doing it, why wouldn't any Middle East country be able to hack other citizens/companies/governments? Sounds like a band of thieves bad-mouthing other thieves


> I find it interesting that this ex-NSA operative casually explains her job was probing China computer systems and then assessing what data can be stolen from China

Yes, that's literally what a signals intelligence service is about.

> But then publicly the USA point fingers at Huawei or Chinese government from doing the same.

Uh, yeah, countries have always done espionage and punished espionage committed against them, and, particularly, vilified entities that are overtly something other than an intelligence service that are caught acting as an agent of hostile intelligence services.

> If the NSA is doing it, why wouldn't any Middle East country be able to hack other citizens/companies/governments?

They are clearly able to do it.


I think a clear difference is the US generally does not spy with the purpose of giving US corporations insider secrets to enable US corps to copy directly their foreign competitors.


Uh, they totally did. To French companies, to Brazilian companies, and passed it on for advantage in negotiations and contract bidding:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/09/nsa-spying-bra... https://sputniknews.com/politics/201506301024010800/


Nothing in either article you linked says anything about passing information to US companies.



neither of these suggest they passed information to US companies


The U.S. used to do this historically to European companies for sure, mostly in the 18/19th centuries[1]. Now it doesn't need to do it anymore, so it's on a high horse, because another country it's in a position the US was 200 years ago?

1 - https://foreignpolicy.com/2012/12/06/we-were-pirates-too


loling at the steady retreat to "it happened 200 years ago"


This is standard Chinese apologia, "The US et. al. did it literally 200 years ago so it's fine that China does it now".

I can't wait to see this line of thinking applied to ethnic cleansing.


The US did it 200 years ago because it needed to do so, in order to kick start its own industry. China is in exactly the same situation now, so why should they have it any harder? Japan did it in the 80s etc. It's a cycle countries on path to developed each go through

P.S. Are you seriously comparing ethnic cleansing to IP theft?


many americans found it profitable to own slaves 200 years ago, that doesn't mean chinese people should


Again, you are comparing owning slaves to IP theft? Not everything that was done 200 years ago is automatically somehow more immoral today than it was then. IP theft would be one of these things.


i'm using your reasoning to reach an obviously false conclusion, in order to demonstrate that your reasoning is faulty and ill-considered. i am arguing about principles, and you are arguing special pleading.

No, you're arguing as if every single act one can perform is the same, morally speaking. You're reaching 'an obviously false conclusion', because you start with a reasoning that I don't hold. I don't think every action is morally equivalent, yet that's the premise you use in order to attack my argument.

Or you know, the game theory is different when you're already the dominant power. There when you use intelligence apparatus for economic espionage, you tend to use it to keep other nations down rather than giving it to your companies.


I read both of your links, and neither one offers any support for your claim.


It is true though.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/820758.stm

I can't find a link for it but during Clinton's presidency in the 90s he setup a government office to disseminate NSA collected economic intelligence to private US businesses.

Edit: here's another example. https://www.nytimes.com/1995/10/15/world/emerging-role-for-t...


Neither of those links says that US intelligence agencies passed information to US companies, either.

The first link says that US intelligence exposed bribes made by European companies. That seems good. The second link says that US intelligence gave US government trade negotiators useful info on foreign government negotiators. Seems valid.


> Neither of those links says that US intelligence agencies passed information to US companies, either.

From the first link: "But a report published by the European Parliament in February alleges that Echelon twice helped US companies gain a commercial advantage over European firms."

Echelon = US intelligence.

Some other quotes that support my comments.

"two alleged instances of US snooping in the 1990s, which he says followed the newly-elected Clinton administration's policy of "aggressive advocacy" for US firms bidding for foreign contracts."

Go and read Secret Power. After the conclusion of the cold war and before the war on terror US intelligence didn't have incredibly clear deliverables and the US had just come off a recession. Supporting the US in the global marketplace did become a priority for both the CIA and NSA, driven by Clinton.

And yes, exposing bribes is good. But exposing bribes for personal profit? That's more debatable.


It does, if you read it properly, but even assuming it doesn't for a second, the U.S. used to do this historically to European companies for sure, mostly in the 18/19th centuries[1]. Now it doesn't need to do it anymore, but China does because it is in the same position the US was 200 years ago, doing vert similar things and you somehow feel morally superior?

1 - https://foreignpolicy.com/2012/12/06/we-were-pirates-too


Read “Confessions of an Economic Hitman” sometime.


Why wouldn't they do that?

I don't buy that for a second.


An honest question: if a foreign country had sufficient evidence that U.S. intelligence services committed signals espionage against them / stole state secrets / stole IP, then would U.S. media (mainstream or alternative) be allowed to report on the incident? Would U.S. media report on incident even if they are allowed?


https://www.google.com/search?q=belgacom+hacking

True, it was GCHQ not NSA, but it's similar enough.


The US media reported on Snowden extensively, so: probably?


" be allowed to report on the incident?"

Yes.

Other nations would be reporting it generally, so it'd be absurd to suppress public information.

Now, it might be 'spun' in the national interest, in a time of war or something like that.

But if the US Government stile IP from Didi, handed it over to Apple execs, then blocked Didi from doing business in the US thus giving Apple a monopoly there ... it would be news.

The US gov. plays geopolitical games, and maybe does some political interference 'for business' - but is not stealing trade secrets to hand over to arbitrary US businesses.

I think the US would steal the plans for a new 'jet engine' or weapon system however.

Also consider that for really valuable stuff, the US pays a lot of money in the private sector. US companies pay top dollar for 'top talent' which is a lot easier than stealing.


Yes. The media could report on that.The U.S. reports on all sorts of things that the elite or intelligence services would rather not have revealed.


" But then publicly the USA point fingers at Huawei or Chinese government from doing the same."

Security related espionage and industrial espionage are entirely different things.

They overlap a little bit when it relates to 'defence industry' - but the US is not actively stealing stuff from DiDi and handing it off to Apple whereas the inverse is true.


Contrary to whatever politicians publicly say, nation-state corporate espionage isn't a moral problem, it's a realpolitik trade problem. The only reason the world respects our IP system is because we signed onto a shitton of trade agreements, otherwise no one, not the Chinese, the US, or the Soviets, has any obligation not to sneak into the other country and steal everything not nailed down.

In that case, might as well root for whoever the home team is


I think the big/only difference between us and China in this regard is that the US government don't do this to Chinese companies and then take those secrets and give them to American companies.

We have a set of rules we follow and China has different rules, rules that violate ours, so we point fingers.


> I think the big/only difference between us and China in this regard is that the US government don't do this to Chinese companies and then take those secrets and give them to American companies.

How do you know this does not happen in defense-related industries?


Not OP. Also not saying it doesn't happen, but the incentive structures are different in both countries. A lot of private industry in China is defacto government owned due how business works there - You can't build a business there to scale without having ingratiated yourself to some higher ups of the party at some level. While the same thing may or may not happen in the US, we also have the option of being able to grow obscenely large without being tight knit with the government - See Facebook and a large chunk of Silicon Valley.

It's commonly touted that the purpose of forcing foreign companies to submit their IP to a Chinese owned branch as a prerequisite to conducting business in China is so the government can exfiltrate foreign IP back to China. The government isn't in the business of building out all these industries themselves - they anoint some select chosen in their cabal who profits enormously from getting the blessing of their local party members, while sending generous kickbacks their way. There's some Chinese billionaire who talks about it on YouTube - I can't recall his name off the top of my head.


Assessment of foreign military equipment/tech bought (or stolen) by the US is highly dependent on defense contractors.

There is less of an incentive for the US to steal commercial tech, but that would probably change if "our tech" fell behind "their tech."


In defense related industries, it surely does happen if it can be done. Outside of that, probably only what can be got away with by bad agents for side deals.


Um, except the US totally does do that. See for example:

Uh, they totally did. To French companies, to Brazilian companies, and passed it on for advantage in negotiations and

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/09/nsa-spying-bra... https://sputniknews.com/politics/201506301024010800/


Neither article claims what you say it claims.


Someone further up in the thread posted better sources.


Which were also bullshit.


> But then publicly the USA point fingers at Huawei or Chinese government from doing the same.

The only thing remarkable about this is the mechanism: Mainstream media mouthpiecing these viewpoints. Surely, they know better. But they are obviously willing tools.


Another angle is whether you want the backdoor in your core infrastructure. So far other than the fbi cases and the trade issues, the concentration is on the 5g backend. It is not bad mouthing. It is a real worry.

Not just American. The Microsoft has to show source code I read in news has to demo it to china. But china has no choice here.

But when it happens to America, natural course of action I think.


That's the age old game though. We all know everybody is hacking and spying on everybody else. We only get mad about it when they get caught. Until then, game on.

I find it laughable when the US "attributes" an attack to a foreign power, and the media just laps it up and preaches it as gospel. In the vault-7 release on wikileaks, the NSA has a pretty nifty tool to....manipulate packets to make them look like they are coming from a different source, and insert comments in 4 foreign languages.

We are asked to believe that Russias most talented hackers, somehow are stupid enough to leave comments in Acrylic that mentions the head of the GRU. Yes, I'm sure they did that. Just like our payloads have comments attributing our code to Obama or Trump. The "stolen" emails were "downloaded" at 3x the rate of the internet connection going to the email server. It happens to match the rate of USB2, and most likely a USB stick was used to copy the emails directly from the server.

Here's a talk by Ray McGovern (ex cia), which lays the case out. Don't take his word for it. Research the facts he claims. I kind of poo-poo'd him at first. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngIKjpucQh8

Here's an article describing the NSA's "Marble Framework". Go to the vault and look at their own words from the NSA's docs: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/wikil...

Vault-7 NSA's "Marble Framework": https://wikileaks.org/ciav7p1/cms/page_14588467.html


> somehow are stupid enough to leave comments in Acrylic

compilation artifacts and strings in malware - very common method of researching attribution and most tools pull them as IoCs

even if you write tools to strip or null them out all it takes is a single OPSEC failure and you've leaked this info, and we see those all the time

should also be noted that the build paths was not the only attribution indicator in that case


Vault 7 had nothing to do with NSA.


If any US citizen that has worked at the NSA, CIA or a contractor for them goes and spies on US citizens for a foreign government must be driven into prison.

> Stroud said her background as an intelligence operative made her comfortable with human rights targets as long as they weren’t Americans.

> She found the work exhilarating. “It was incredible because there weren’t these limitations like there was at the NSA. There wasn’t that bullshit red tape,” she said. “I feel like we did a lot of good work on counterterrorism.”

These are violations of ethics. They can quickly become a betrayal of US citizens.

I think these former INTL workers don't understand that a wave of wrath is coming from US citizens that the shit pulled by INTL services isn't okay.


All this article does is highlight the soldier mentality of accepting instruction blindly as to what is good/bad. It seems child-like when read as the article presented it.


Potentially related anecdote: A few years ago I attended a trade show in UAE. At the time I was a R&D director for a mobile security company. Recruiting was blatant, I was (verbally) offered >400k base + signing to live in UAE for one year. Declined, but my partner and I definitely had a conversation about it. Even now, and especially at that time, that was a life-changing amount of money. However, it seemed to me that the company was a government-backed org with goals of attracting cyber talent, training local talent, and IMO weaponizing that knowledge. It also seemed that the company had an endless pit of money.

I wonder how much these folks accepted...


So to put this in perspective...

When the US intervenes in other nations there is typically a rival political faction that the US is aligned with:

- The US funds rival political groups of many foreign regimes abroad. The important thing is to have the group established. From there it can exist in semi-dormancy until it is needed.

- The rival political groups then hire former US intelligence agency employees as consultants.

- The rival political groups then hire former US officials as lobbyists.

- US political figures openly accept indirect campaign funding from foreign lobbying groups.


I'm confused here - they used US cyber Intel trade techniques and services a foreign soverignty, where is the line between treason and gun for hire? And they we're employed by a US staffing agency.


I know some people who moved from the 'infosec underground' in Western Europe to the Middle East 10-ish years ago, nowadays they mostly don't have contact any more with anyone from 'back then'. But I've wondered - how much would one make in such a role? It doesn't seem like it would be a 'lifer' job, so you'd have to be looking at high 6, potentially 7 figures to make it worth while. But from what I could tell back when these people I knew would still post a picture here or there - it wasn't even close to that. It would be something that would let them live a comfortable middle class life style there at best.

So, anyone with some gossip from that world care to comment?


It's a sobering story. And it's ironic that Edward Snowden triggered her move from US to UAE operations.

But she started out in the US military:

> She spent a decade at the NSA, first as a military service member from 2003 to 2009 and later as a contractor in the agency for the giant technology consultant Booz Allen Hamilton from 2009 to 2014.

And that's some programming that you don't shake off lightly. So it's not at all surprising that her break with UAE was triggered by operations against Americans:

> “I don’t think Americans should be doing this to other Americans,” she told Reuters. “I’m a spy, I get that. I’m an intelligence officer, but I’m not a bad one.”

That's how soldiers are trained to think.


> “There’s a moral obligation if you’re a former intelligence officer from becoming effectively a mercenary for a foreign government,” said Bob Anderson, who served as executive assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation until 2015.

But not a legal one? I can see intel alumni being allowed to go into private sector work but surely not where there's a geopolitical conflict of interest?


To paraphrase Zuckerberg,

>A moral obligation without a corresponding legal obligation is a Business Opportunity


Very Ferengi


The British used mercenaries in the revolutionary war. Though these men came from Hesse, half stayed behind and ultimately became 'American'. Later America allowed its pilots to 'become' mercenaries to fight for China against Japan (The Flying Tigers https://www.history.com/news/6-legendary-mercenary-armies-fr...)

Were the Hessians turned American considered British spies later? Were the American pilots less trustworthy later?

It is impossible to generalize about mercenaries except to say they are a fact of life where people will take up the baton to hurt others for pay. The only way to prevent the atrocities that continue to plague our 'civilized' world is to treat people like the 'children' they are. Put them in a playpen and take away their toys. The equivalent is to build walls around every center of conflict and deprive them of any currency that would work outside these walls.

The concept of 'prison states' needs to be explored.


So many of the comments on this page restored my faith in HN, people from the US and humanity, which was severely disturbed only this morning by the many horrifying comments on the "Stealing the Enemy's Urban Advantage: The Battle of Sadr City" page[0]. Thank you people! Inspiring stuff.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19045578


US citizens and companies don't just provide tech support like this to the worlds despots, they also provide propaganda expertise. Look into Qorvis/MSLGroup.


the other story about this, more of the how

https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-usa-spying-karma-exclusive...



kinda funny that UAE and Saudi Arabia have always had blatant human rights abuses including funding terrorism in places like Syria but nobody raise a brow until they isolated Qatar roughly 2 years ago, then suddenly the abuses are appearing out of nowhere and ironically Qatar is is the only country that's worse than both of them. Also never underestimate Qatar's sleeping Islamist cells pretending to be liberals and even SJWs in the major news media nowadays


It's interesting that you mention that last bit. As a matter of fact, it's got a lot to do with left and right political ideology here.

Possibly inflammatory post coming your way ...

Qatar, Turkey, Iran, Syria (at least historically, maybe not so much with the current Al-Asad), old Libya (Qaddafi) are very leftist, and thus get along better with left-ish media and left-leaning governments like France and Canada. Also the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb ut-Tahrir, even ISIS is (extremely) leftist and there are allegiances and/or sentiments shared between all these.

Saudi Arabia, UAE, are very rightist. And thus they get along better with USA, Russia and also even Israel.


Also the proxy war between UAE+Saudi on one side against Iran that is going on Yemen. Yemenis are poor, and their nation is being ruined. This reminds me of Eurasia vs Eastasia in far-off Malabar in George Orwell's 1984. Still no great condemnation from world leaders.




Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: