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The CIA Spied on People Through Their Smart TVs, Leaked Documents Reveal (2017) (vice.com)
381 points by sky_nox on June 17, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 183 comments

I've gotten nothing out of my Smart TV that I couldn't have gotten from a Chromecast, or preferably, a laptop hooked up to a TV.

And I've lost a lot. My TV is slow. When I try to control the volume, sometimes I have to wait multiple seconds.

And things stop working all the time and require a reboot.

I hate the damn thing. It even comes with bloatware for some reason, games I'll never play that it insists on updating forever.

And with the privacy concerns on top of all that, I wish I had a dumb TV.

My shit cube TV from the 90s was better!

I have resisted the urge to buy a new tv for 11 years. I own the same 48" non-smart Sony I've always had. I have always felt like the grass would be greener if I were to buy one of those 65" LG OLED tvs, but thank you for setting me straight.

This old TV is 5 inches thick, but it turns on in 2 seconds. I hooked an amazon fire tv into one HDMI port. I also have a sonos "connect" hooked up to the audio-out so that I can play my TV audio through my ceiling speakers when I want.

But it's just a display, so I can plug and play the capabilities I want. I can even tell alexa to open up plex while the TV is off and the fire TV must send a signal through the hdmi port because the tv turns on and it loads plex.

Just wanted to chime in since you specifically mentioned the "65" LG OLED", which is the same TV I have (specifically the OLED65B6P). When plugged into the internet it has all of the usual unfeatures (including ads displayed over hdmi input), however if you leave it unplugged from the internet it works great and boots up almost instantly to the last input selected without any fuss. Furthermore, the HDMI CEC commands work as expected (in both directions--control of the tv from the computer and control of the computer from the TV with all of the expected buttons on the remote being passed through). The set is also quite good about supporting legacy S/PDIF (optical) passthrough so I haven't needed to replace my receiver.

So far the only feature I have been unsatisfied is that for some reason the set does not auto-shutoff when the hdmi input is not active. For example, I had it hooked up to a computer which was set to turn the monitor off after 15 minutes and instead of the TV shutting off it displayed an 'input disconnected' screen. As a stopgap solution I set the computer to have a 'screensaver' that is all black instead of turning the monitor off--which works pretty OK since the OLED is completely 'off' when displaying a blank screen. The only downside is that the the electronics in the TV stay running, so the power consumption in this state is about 20w.

I have the same experience with my LG. It's perfectly fine as a "dumb" screen. I have an Apple TV 4K and a surround receiver connected to it, and CEC works as intended: when I turn on or off the Apple TV, the LG and the receiver do the same.

I was very weary of buying a "smart" TV, but I wanted a 4K HDR one, and the public display market didn't seem interested in providing that.

Happily, the LG boots (or resumes, or whatever it does) very quickly and the only time I have to touch its remote control is if I've had the TV on for so long without using the remote that it thinks nobody's watching and turns itself off. I suppose there's a setting somewhere to change this, but it happens seldom enough that I haven't bothered.

Thanks for this post. I'd like to add that the Vizio PQ65 works the same way when using an Apple TV. I refuse to update the firmware for fear that Vizio will force a change that will require an internet connection.

If you never connect it to the net, there’s never a need for an update - and no way for them to sneak one in behind your back. It’s a sad world we’ve built, isn’t it?

I have this problem as well (display staying on when there's no video signal) with an older PC monitor. I think it might be caused by the HDMI audio continuing to transmit while the video is blank. To test the hypothesis, try disabling your HDMI audio device driver temporarily and see if it fixes the problem (though then you don't have sound...). Of course, it could be something completely different...

(including ads displayed over hdmi input)

What the hell?

I have one of those LG OLED TVs and everything about it is just fine. It's perfectly fast; the OS is based on Palm webOS, so it's okay, but you still don't have to touch it. They are regularly for sale at less than half retail price if you wait six months.

The only ergonomic problem is devices fighting each other over HDMI CEC; if I turn it on to use the Switch, then the Bluray player likes to turn itself on, force the TV to switch to it, and then start autoplaying a disc!

Is that a setting? I think mine gives a popup to say it detected new input but does not switch automatically.

I _think_ so anyway because I almost never have 2 devices attached but seem to recall such a popup. Could be wrong :)

I managed to score a similar Sony TV on CraigsList a couple years ago. I plugged it into a DVD-1080p-upscaling Blu-ray player without WiFi. My local public library has a better catalog than Netflix, on disc, so I canceled Netflix. The TV chassis looks a little dated, but the picture and sound are great, and, on principle, I'm violated slightly less than before (by my own "tech" industry).

Up until recently I was using a 12 year old 46" Sony Bravia and upgraded to an LG OLED and I have to say, the difference in screen alone was well worth it.

Well, if you have Alexa in your home...what is the difference? Alexa and all these 'smart' gadgets call home. You have a microphone that is always ON. Recordings are stored and manually analyzed by subcontractors of Amazon. There is no fancy AI. Why shouldn't the $Agency use this channel as well?

Panasonic, back in the plasma days, used to have a "professional" line. Those were plasma monitors (no built-in tuner, no sound processing at all), and it had modular inputs. There are 3 slots for I/O cards. Can still find the cards on ebay under the "Panasonic HDMI TV Boards" search results.

Sounds like a digital signage screen. I have a few Samsung digital signage displays from 10 years ago that still work perfectly. Amazing picture even by today's standards and very thin.

In Europe, people have started purchasing so-called public displays instead of Smart TVs and just hook up a Chromecast/Pi/Fire TV Stick to it. This is especially common in countries where one can avoid public broadcasting fees by doing so.

Didn't now the concept but they're tv's without tuners?

Pretty much, yeah.

There's a good range to choose from as well these days: https://geizhals.eu/?cat=monplas

100 inches ranges from 10k to 111k €. I know what to buy if I win the lottery.

What do you mean with "public displays"? I researched a little bit before buying my TV and couldn't find decent options in terms of cost, size and quality of the panel.

I'll do this for my next "TV", however I might never buy a new one really. Unless it dies I don't really feel the need to upgrade it.

I think I have heard these displays (no smart TV features) referred to as 'Digital Signage' in North America.

You mean projectors? Because that would explain why I rarely see youtube ads on chromecast hooked up to my projector. As soon as it plays on my tablet ads show up.

I also hate my Samsung smart tv. On a fresh “turn on”, before I can load any app I have to wait for the tv to “sign in”. This can take up to 20 seconds.

I have a Samsung smart TV and the best thing I ever did was not accept the EULA and never plugged it into the network

If anyone's made the mistake I did and did accept it, there is some factory reset type of thing in the menus. After that, don't accept anything and never give it access to the internet.

My interest in PKD was never based on his futurology, but I have to say he totally nailed the scene where Joe Chip argues with his apartment door. "Never accept anything your TV proposes" could be straight from Ubik!

Remember hi-fi separates? The true music audiophiles would have half a dozen boxes for their hifi. Kind of need the same where everything just does one job well. So the screen is a screen, not some screen with built in set top box. Ideally it doesn't even have speakers built in, again separates for that. It should also not have a remote but just wake up to a signal and play it.

Is this a monitor? Maybe. Monitors are not designed to show the football. You turn your computer on and they turn on. You can plug a Chromecast in and get whatever you want beamed to them.

There has to be a market for a generic display panel that doesn't do much apart from show the picture. But when a SoC costs little and might as well have the wifi then it isn't going to happen.

My Samsung from late 2017 works a charm. The apps and the interface in general are snappy. It comes with the classic remote and a new one with only a few buttons that's pretty amazing (and has a mic to help the CIA on getting the sound too lol).

I paid £750 for the 55" version. I would never buy something like a Toshiba because of the software and I'm keeping a very close eye to Samsung to see for how long I can keep using the integrated software to watch Netflix, Prime Video, NowTV, Disney, etc without a Chromecast or Fire stick or Apple TV (and with only one remote for everything, including my BT set and the Xbox!)

> I've gotten nothing out of my Smart TV that I couldn't have gotten from a Chromecast

But you wouldn't get the security service from the CIA. They should just do tests like they do for paternity.

Tests have concluded to certainty of 99,9% that jmalkin is no domestic terrorist.

Maybe they would even have a printable version you could pin on your walls.

The only smart feature that I love is the ability to play 4k HDR videos from a USB drive. With that said, I will never connect the thing to my network.

Personally a big fan of my Samsung smart TV. Although the Twitch app was recently removed which is a tad annoying.

Don't buy it.

(Older TVs of excellent quality can be found second hand for very cheap)

Older TVs also use more power (and put out more heat).

You'll eventually find your game consoles, Blu ray players etc no longer function with the TV as it doesn't support whatever the latest HDCP standard is.

There are LED 'dumb' TV's.

Where? Are they cost and quality competitive with "Smart" TV's?


Yes, that's a computer screen. But it's 43". That's what you want. (I have it in my living room and you couldn't tell the difference).

They won't be quality competitive with newer cheap smart TVs, which are all very good - they support 4K/wide color and have dynamic backlighting good enough for HDR.

If you insist on a dumb TV and are in Silicon Valley I'll sell you my Panasonic 1080p TV from ~7 years ago. It's got an IPS panel!

Nvidia has an initiative to get manufacturers to make G-Sync capable large displays.

Some of these are non smart but large.


My Samsung SyncMaster T27B300 is a good example. LED TV without "Smart" software.

I bought a LG smart TV because it was only 50 Euro more expensive than the non smart one and its display was much better. I never configured its WiFi so it's as dumb as any other TV set but I enjoy the screen.

'Samsung itself is aware of these risks. In its privacy policy, the company warned customers to be aware that "if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition." The language reminded some of the George Orwell classic dystopian novel 1984.'

That quote doesn't show Samsung's thoughts on the risk of hacking at all, and it shouldn't remind anyone of 1984. It's just a statement of how all voice recognition currently works.

>It's just a statement of how all voice recognition currently works.

Amazon has said on numerous occasions that no data transfer occurs without a trigger word hitting the mic -- a feature that was a main point when discussing the safety of having an always-on internet-connected mic in the house.

As for whether or not they're telling the truth, I don't know; but trigger-words have always been a feature that Amazon loved mentioning from a security/privacy standpoint.

> As for whether or not they're telling the truth, I don't know;

Luckily it's possible to check [0]! Although it gets a bit more complicated and can change, my understanding is that currently most people observe it increase it's network usage after it's trigger phrase, but not at other times (it uses the network for other stuff too, but audio data is typically rather large in comparison).

[0] https://www.iot-tests.org/2017/06/careless-whisper-does-amaz...

[1] 10.1007/s00779-018-1174-x <- Might want to use sci-hub

The pessimist in me think that a determined actor could simply capture non-trigger voice data offline, and bundle it with the rest of the traffic whenever the next trigger word occurs. But I am talking out my ass and have in no way verified any of this

It does seem to me like Amazon worded that statement very carefully, and in a way that allowed for that kind of behavior to occur.

Conversely, if they were not doing that kind of thing, they could have removed that ambiguity from what they said.

This was my thought too; there doesn't seem to be a way to verify this isn't happening.

If data is being buffered and only sent after the trigger words wouldn't the data transmitted vary depending on how much was said before the trigger word?

Maybe. All uploads could be padded with the maximum buffer size so you can't tell the difference. The buffer could flush only small amounts at a time. Some compression algorithm could be used that becomes more efficient with larger recordings.

What you should be asking with any "smart" device is "can I prove this device will do no harm to me".

Honestly I have never understood the value proposition of any smart device. Why would I want any of that functionality? Never once in my life have I ever wanted to talk to my TV. I'm beginning to (again) question the wisdom of carrying a smartphone.

Also see this Amazon patent related to intentionally removing PII from speech transmitted to the cloud.


In case the link doesn't work, it's US Patent 9922646.

Did you link the right patent? That claim is only for locating a user in a room based on multi-room voice input.

Yes of course. I don't get why that affects the privacy policy though. There are occasional false positives and you still might say something sensitive after the trigger word.

I’ve heard that the Echo’s mute button is a hardware off switch for the mic, though for obvious reasons you probably wouldn’t leave it on most of the time.

iOS can do voice recognition processing entirely locally for many languages. I’m sure the same is true for Android.

Google has made strides in local-only translation. I can't seem to find the Hacker News article but believe it was wired into the Google keyboard iirc.

I hate my Samsung Smart TV too. It auto-installed a Rakuten TV app that several times a week would switch from the only channel we watch (BBC News) to channel 4000 showing trailers for its video-on-demand pay per view service.

Samsung makes it very hard to uninstall this 'feature' and even kills threads about it on its web site support forum.

I had to got back to the shop I bought it from and threaten to return the TV as defective unless they sent instructions for permanently removing it.

Samsung, you should be ashamed of yourself, taking such an obviously anti-customer stance. My next TV certainly won't be a Samsung.

And hopefully several other people reading this won't buy a Samsung either. Vote with your wallet, folks!

So did they finally show you how to remove that app? What did that entail?

On the Max Headroom TV show, it became illegal for people to turn off their TVs.


Would it be outlandish for the tech industry to lobby that Smart TVs and computers be given a 911 style emergency calling system, then for emergency dispatchers to have access to surveillance information, then for such devices to be required to be turned on all the time?

I think that was borrowed from 1984, which was published way back in 1949!

“Winston turned a switch and the voice sank somewhat, though the words were still distinguishable. The instrument (the telescreen, it was called) could be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it off completely. [...] Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it.”

Like the European "ecall" mandate for cars to automatically call in their GPS position if involved in an accident?

I mean it's not like your TV ever truly turns "off", is it? A lot of them power on at least the red/green LED light showing that it's "off" and who knows what else.

A TV set never turns off! It is well known in the industry. Standby usually just turns of the LCD, backlight and changes LED colour.

Try this: Switch TV to standby then turn on. Time how long this takes. Unplug TV for 30 seconds plug in and then turn on. It will take a while for the TV to boot from cold start.

Manufacturers have been doing this since CRTs.

I have a hard switch on the AC outlet for exactly this reason.

I gave a talk in China 5 years warning about this. http://tech.qq.com/a/20140527/035512.htm I asked vendors to make changes to their products, such as planned obsolescence so if the manufacturer goes out of business and a device doesn't hear from the mother ship for awhile, all internet connections are killed for good. Also, to set smart defaults so that even when not configured, it won't allow this behavior. There should be a list of more in the article but you'll have to translate to see them.

Funny story on the talk title. I called it Evil Toasters are Coming: The coming IoT Security Apocalypse. But nobody in China owns a toaster, so the metaphor was lost on them. #LocalizeForYourAudienceFolks

(Un?)Fortunately, a few countries made planned obsolescence illegal :-/


As long as this sort of planned obsolescence only kills the connectivity feature, and keeps the rest of the device functioning/useable that sounds good

except they will be (very) easy pickings for malware that do their own thing. e.g. Mirai botnet.

it's very backward to suggest planned obsolescence as a security feature instead of open software/standards

The open software / standards would need to cover every aspect of a given product, such that external people / enthusiasts / (etc) would be able to generate fixed firmware and upload it after the manufacturer ends support.

That might work for _some_ devices with extremely large user bases.

Devices with specialist properties or a low number of users sound like they'd be very tricky to have that approach work reliably.

That being said, if there's wide adoption of "known good" base level firmware (eg powering on, init device capabilities) then maybe the specialist stuff could be add on's or something. eg modularising things might be a way to get closer to the goal

I think you forgot the most important feature: Physical on/off switches for cameras and microphones. These should be mandated by law in any device, even smartphones.

This was in the talk. ...and I built these into my cameras that I made at my first startup, Waylens.com. They're super important in convincing people to put a connected camera in their vehicle where sensitive things are mentioned. I wonder why more manufacturers dont do this.

I have not been excited about the release of a new consumer product in well over 5 years. The last real improvement in a consumer device for me was the iPhone 6s and even then I preferred the older form factor.

I no longer look forward to the release of any new device or expect it to make my life better in any way. I just assume it will spy on me and/or exploit some weakness in my subconscious.

When my current TV dies I might just go back to having no TV at all.

I terminated all my TV related subscriptions over the past two years and now also finally sold my TV. One of my best moves ever. I am not missing anything, have a lot more useful spare time, and save around 1k a year.

I knew a guy who worked on his paper about smart TVs and their potential exploitation vectors. That was back in 2015. His supervisor wrote that paper off bluntly as "scientifically not relevant". Oh well.

The supervisor can still be right! Scientific relevance and societal relevance are at odds all the time. Just look at cosmology or any other field with very very long term, slim, payoff and huge costs. As much as we curiosity oriented people dislike it, satifsying our curiosity about the origin of the universe has very low impact. The most impact probably comes from the theoretical understanding that results in new engineering capabilities to build new weapons, industrial machines or energy sources. |But then the question can be asked "why not fund that research direction directly ?"

And people thought I was weird for dancing by myself in front of my TV. The poor folks at the CIA will never un-see that.

I like leaving a device playing a number station[1] in front of devices I know can be accessed by government actors. Then I'll say random gibberish when I'm around so that the audio recording does not perfectly match the Youtube source.


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIH7cG3YmIo is a good start

People think i'm weird for never hooking my smart tv up to the network. It works, why does it need to be online?

I guess your definition of "works" differs from theirs.

You are counting on the WiFi module not to be remote hackable?

While that is possible I would consider this to be a case of outrunning your friends rather than the bear.

So, a neighbor’s compromised wifi router could remotely exploit your smart tv without even configured settings: https://blog.exodusintel.com/2017/07/26/broadpwn/

It is easy to "isolate" wifi module in most smart tv with a screwdriver and about 30 minutes. They use commodity parts so it is normally removable (like in laptops). If it isn't just screw up the antennae so the soc still sees its wifi device pop up but it sucks (ymmv). Not for your grandma but HN can handle it.

Good advice! I’d still rather buy a not-so-smart-tv /display.

I find it interesting that so many people think they are so important that the CIA would be interested in them.

Or that they think there are enough intelligence agency employees to bother.

I enjoy the idea of them staring at me all day long.

That said, it's not the CIA I would be overly concerned about. It's the skiddies that learn how to implement the same level of access. Imagine a child predator watching your kids in their room. Worse, they know when a latch-key kids parent is not there. Combine this with Wifi SSID data from wigle.net and they have your street address.

1) If you aren't important enough that the CIA would be interested in you, why not? Make it so.

2) There are plenty of innocuous people that fall under this category. Anti-war protestors, e.g., have been regular targets for this kind of activity (LBJ ordered the CIA to spy on the anti-war movement). Maybe you're politically inert, but not everyone else is.

> Make it so.

I have no interest in hurting anyone so the CIA has no interest in me

At least you were not dancing in front of your microwave.

This piece challenges the current narrative you read in the press. China is an evil surveillance state that spies on its citizens and the rest of the world.

Now we know. The greatest democracy of the world also spies on its citizen and the rest of the world.

This is just extreme whataboutism.

There is a vast difference between China spying on and locking people up for being the wrong religion, and the CIA secretly recording a conversation about the planning of a bombing.

That's true, but there's also a vast difference between the CIA spying on and locking people up for being the wrong religion, and China secretly recording a conversation about the planning of a bombing.

Similarities between the two governments are that they would both characterize their spying on, imprisoning, and torture of religious minorities as preventing potential bombings, and characterize their counterparts as oppressive police states. China might have the stronger case, as they have about a quarter of the prisoners per-capita that the US does.

I might prefer 4x detention time if I got to choose a US prison over China. I'd certainly prefer the freedom of thought and speech in the US.


I'm glad we can all agree that mass surveillance is bad.

> This is just extreme whataboutism.


> There is a vast difference between China spying



careful, long page.

It is now completely legitimate to be afraid of every single thing connected to the internet. Thanks technology!

I remember a time when typing your credit card number into a webpage was madness.

Aside from wanting to protect its citizens from foreign spying; I have to wonder if another reason for the US's curtailing Huawei is to simply eliminate the competition?

People with technical knowledge at this point shouldn't doubt this perspective anymore. No evidence of wrong doing was published, and the claim of the possibility of the Chinese government making Huawei do their bidding at some point, is no different from what other governments have been doing, including the U.S. (and getting caught in the wrong doing).

There's no shame in the hypocresy. It's a blatant attempt to damage Huawei.

I have no sympathy for what the Chinese government does to subdue everyone under their power, but the Americans seem to have been historically better at playing the victim and getting away with it while still managing to curtail on others.

I don't disagree with the general realpolitik you describe, but it's not clear that damaging Huawei isn't damaging the USA as well. American companies supply Huawei, and their business is being harmed; and American consumers buy Huawei equipment -- if Huawei is excluded from the US market then presumably that may have an inflationary impact on substitutes, so American consumers will be paying more for certain goods.

Wouldn't this also have been considered as part of the decision to ban Huawei? And yet the administration proceeded anyway.

That doesn't make sense to me. Especially given the GHCQ's break down of Huawei gear finding that Huawei can't even do version control right (they had revisions of firmware with the same version id for the same hardware with different build characteristics), and magically reintroducing vulnerabilities from 2006. Personally I feel that Huawei gear would be ripe for exploitation and then misdirection.

I don't get why people are so hung up on proof though. There doesn't have to be proof. No one who I've talked to in the networking industry cares about proof (this includes myself). Hell China already bans companies at will. The only thing that matters is enough of a non-zero chance of Huawei releasing malicious firmware updates to select targets in the future. Judging by their inability to have firmware revisions that completely match in functionality who knows if they're already doing so at a smaller scale.

> I don't get why people are so hung up on proof though.

The reason you look for proof is not that it gives you 100% security. It is the process of finding proof that helps us understand how secure a product is and what vulnerabilities need to be addressed. GHCQ's through examination of Huawei devices found problems with version control, and Huawei promised to fix those problems. This is how security could improve.

I think you also vastly underestimated how difficult it is to do version control for hardware due to extremely complex supply chain. If you examine products from any other brand, the situation is likely to be worse. I'm not suggesting Huawei's problems are acceptable. However, it is a misguided approach to decide which products are secure purely based on national origin rather technical merits.

I don't think anything ever gives 100% security. I was simply talking about people thinking proof is needed for justification of the ban.

Anyone using factory shipped firmware for the entire life cycle of a device is negligent. I don't think I've had firmware functionality mismatches with Cisco/Juniper/Arista/etc gear especially since we track hashes and store images locally.

You don't simply leave a gate open because the attacker can scale the walls. I don't see any reason to make it easier for the Chinese government to implant itself in our networking infrastructure. Being able to directly provide and modify Huawei's firmware sans resistance allows them far greater flexibility than what they would have attempting to compromise <insert_us_vendor>'s development resources (not that it's impossible, not even remotely saying that).

These also sound like the sort of problems that could be solved without a global sales ban, people seem to really like the Hand of the Market for stuff like this when it's not down nationalist lines.

This isn't why they were banned. They were banned for conducting corrupt espionage, violating the Iran sanctions, and lying about it to federal authorities.

I don't think GCHQ is a reliable source, but from what they have reported here, they paint a very realistic picture on your average tech company.

I don't like the idea of having important infrastructure like this in the hands of any foreign manufacturer. Not while there is indeed evidence that government try to enforce backdoors in tech equipment.

The western governments (in this case the UK) don't seem serious about the Chinese security scare, when they allow Chinese company to take part in the F-35 program.

[1] https://www.rt.com/news/461918-chinese-company-f35-parts/

RT is a propaganda outlet, this isn't compelling.

CIA is able to spy but Samsung doesn't even get screen mirroring work on my TV. Thankfully, I disabled the internet connectivity and forget about it, it turned out to be a good thing maybe.

Where to get modern TVs screen wise but dumb ones? Monitors go up to only somewhat limited dimension's. Anyone have ideas? Buy the screen from LG and build yourself?

To find modern dumb TVs, you usually need to look at the "commercial" or "business" lines (sometimes called "digital signage). Companies make them hard to find.

I have a 55" 4K LG dumb tv and I'm very happy with it: https://www.lg.com/ca_en/commercial-tv/lg-55UX340C-public-di...

It's just a tv. It turns on and off quick. The remote-control is simple. The only downside is it only has 2 HDMI inputs, and it doesn't do HDR.

The question is how much this matters if you already have 2-5 active microphones listening in when there are two normal people in the room. I bet if the CIA wants they can get enough data from the audio alone to even say who looked at whom during a conversation.

Why wouldn't they? In the current legal environment, that would be unprofessional and even a misconduct for them not to acquire these capabilities.

The CIA should be completely abolished. Unlike the FBI, it does not seek to enforce any laws whatsoever; instead, they operate with absolutely zero oversight, there only rule being that they're not supposed to be involved in domestic matters. I wouldn't be surprised if they tag-team with other friendly agencies like MI6 to spy on each other's domestic targets so as not to violate that rule.

> they operate with absolutely zero oversight

There is extensive oversight of the CIA.


> there[sic] only rule being that they're not supposed to be involved in domestic matters

There are extensive rules, law, regulations, and executive orders governing the CIA. Many are listed or referenced in this document.


But when have these laws been enforced? When have any CIA leaders suffered the consequences of breaking these laws? What impartial party is in a position to determine that the CIA is in compliance with the law? What recourse is available when it's proven that law has been violated?

You are begging the question. What laws have been broken? Which CIA leader should have been charged? Nobody is impartial, but you have Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee who seem pretty hostile to the CIA who can fill that role.

The last big CIA scandal was Iran/Contra, and four from the CIA ended up indicted: Joseph Fernandez, Alan Fiers, Duane Clarridge, and Clair George. The CIA director, William Casey, probably would have been indicted but died.

The last big CIA scandal was the Bush torture program, and nobody was indicted over that. They even burned tapes of the interrogations as part of a coverup and saw no consequences for it.

You could see "abolishing" the CIA by name and replacing it with a new agency over the Bush torture program, and the failure to cut through the legal morass erected to protect the authors of the torture program --- a lasting shame for the CIA and the nation --- would certainly justify that.

But there's no possibility of abolishing the function of intelligence analysis and clandestine service, nor should you want there to be: net-net, the CIA might in fact prevent more armed conflicts than it contributes to, and in any case no major power will ever unilaterally disarm.

Against all that, you have a 70-year legacy of people putting their lives on the line for the agency, which abolition/rebranding would likely be seen as sullying (further than the torture program already has).

It's not going to happen.

I echo the other commenters on this thread who suggest that we might want to think harder about holding Congress and our Presidents responsible for how they've overseen and directed the CIA.

> But there's no possibility of abolishing the function of intelligence analysis and clandestine service, nor should you want there to be: net-net, the CIA might in fact prevent more armed conflicts than it contributes to, and in any case no major power will ever unilaterally disarm.

This is a very interesting perspective. Using this kind of perspective, you can argue for any bad thing, can't you? How can you possibly measure the effectiveness of the CIA?

The alternate perspective is that the CIA are meant to be a tool for the protection of American interests around the world. To create and maintain an international order that is conducive to American interests, and to quash any possibility of Another power rising. Those goals are measurable, and the people working at the CIA probably have figured this out a long time ago and are optimizing for it too.

Just be mindful of what I'm defending. It's not the CIA; it's the concept of intelligence and intelligence analysis.

Then you should not refer to CIA twice in your defense, with its well documented history of war crimes and nation-breaking.

I'm not sure how one can defend the concept of foreign intelligence in the US and not mention the CIA. The premise of my comment is that they're separable, but that it's difficult to separate them as a practical matter.

To protect one's interests around the world. To create and maintain an international order conducive to one's interests, and to quash any possibility of any threat to said interests from rising.

Doesn't it also perfectly sum up the purpose of most (if not all) actions led by a state actor that can afford such policies? (quite a few companies may also fit the bill)

The fiction of Pax Americana is that the US is the policeman whereas in reality it is actually the Emperor. That is where the disconnect lies.

I do think it’s perfectly rational for a State to pursue those things but not necessarily a Superpower. There are many things America could choose to do (or not do) that may not provide short term benefits but over the long run would benefit every state.

>But there's no possibility of abolishing the function of intelligence analysis and clandestine service, nor should you want there to be: net-net, the CIA might in fact prevent more armed conflicts than it contributes to, and in any case no major power will ever unilaterally disarm.

I don't think you know anything about the history of the CIA if this is your assertion. First, the clandestine service was created in 1947, so the assertion that we can't do without it is belied by the preceding millenia of history. As for "might in fact prevent more armed conflicts than it contributes to", what is your basis for this? The way the CIA operates is to stir up trouble. They arm dissident factions, they bribe officials, they create and disseminate propaganda. Their entire history is one of fomenting conflict. Also, the torture program is not new - the CIA has tortured people throughout its history, in addition to doing things like running mind control programs and other bizarre nonsense.

Second, the CIA has historically been pretty shit at its intelligence work; just in the past twenty years they failed to anticipate 9/11, incorrectly said Saddam had WMDs, and were instrumental in ginning up the whole Russiagate fiasco. That's not much of a record; but it does have continuity with the rest of their sad history. In addition the function of this intelligence service - its ONLY function - is to provide intelligence briefings to the President. If the President doesn't listen, or can't comprehend, the entire analysis function of the CIA, however many thousands of people and billions of dollars are at work, goes to waste. This is a terrible way to organize an institution. It is designed to fail.

What the CIA actually represents is a key failure of American post-war policy: the decision to conduct foreign policy primarily through covert action. This has never worked, and it results in an unaccountable organization that has historically favored brutal, murderous individuals like Suharto, Pinochet, Mobutu, and many others. This is an organization that needs to die, now, and the more we can do to build momentum for that the better.

Smuggling guns from Benghazi to Syria, using the embassy in Benghazi as a means of cover, was the lastest I heard. Sey Hersh did a whole investigation and report on it

Note your own phrasing: "the Bush torture program". The torture program, if you oppose it, wasn't CIA oversight failure, it was a policy failure originating in the executive branch. There was plenty of awareness and oversight. Also, there was an indictment and conviction - David Passaro. He was sentenced to 8 years for the death in custody of Abdul Wali.

That "extensive oversight" apparently involves the CIA spying on a Senate committee investigating CIA torture, and the CIA deleting documents in order to hide them from the Senate:


The oversight is a joke. The CIA tortured people throughout its history, including following 9/11; what oversight did they face as a result? What were the consequences? More funding for running their drone program?

Torture was the official policy of the government. Oversight wasn't the problem, it wasn't rogue CIA black ops. Don't confuse lack of oversight with policies you don't like.

Torture is illegal under international law, and it is unconstitutional. It cannot be the official policy of the government, which is why they tried so hard to pretend they weren't doing it.

You are talking about how things should have been, not the reality. Reality was that it was explicitly policy, they weren't hiding it, they were rationalizing it. You can read much of it yourself:


Per your first article, the President has the discretion to limit reporting of intelligence activities to only eight members of Congress (all of whom, by definition, belong to the two major parties). That means most of the representatives and senators who we elect to actually vote on the laws governing and funding the CIA don't even get access to briefings on all of its activities (meanwhile, nearly 5 million Americans have a security clearance).

the President has the discretion to limit reporting of intelligence activities to only eight members of Congress (all of whom, by definition, belong to the two major parties)

1: that's not "absolutely zero oversight"

2: It seems like a reasonable way to maintain critical secret information while still informing members of the opposition party. That means at least several of these members are being briefed:

Dianne Feinstein - California

Ron Wyden - Oregon

Martin Heinrich - New Mexico

Angus King - Maine

Kamala Harris - California

Michael Bennet - Colorado

If something goes totally off the rails they can provide oversight.

> If something goes totally off the rails they can provide oversight.

Historically, that's not true at all. I was going to give a list of cases of egregious actions by the CIA, but quickly realized I'd be sitting here all night if I really wanted to put together any halfway complete list. The sheer number of coups, assassinations, drug-running operations, weapons smuggling operations, etc. that the CIA has run is just mind-boggling. The list of countries that haven't had a CIA-backed coup or insurgency might be shorter than the list of countries that have. Things "go off the rails" so often with the CIA that going off the rails seems to be the plan.

I have been reading Tim Weiner's excellent "Legacy of Ashes", a history of the CIA. Everyone should read it; it won a national book award and is generally well-researched and sourced.

What it indicates is that the CIA is essentially a long-running unconstitutional operation, and that every president since WWII has made use of the CIA to conduct covert actions in foreign countries that are entirely illegal, including operations like subverting elections, deposing governments, assassinating foreign leaders, running drugs, and more. Every President should basically have been impeached for running these covert actions, the Constitution has no authority for the President to wage undeclared wars and conduct hostile actions whenever they feel like it.

There is another branch of the CIA that conducts intelligence analysis; there might be some room for this half of the CIA, but this function has always been secondary, and has the problematic history of constantly tailoring what it says to satisfy the political demands of the President or Pentagon.

We'd be better to replace the CIA with a new agency, one which doesn't conduct covert action, and whose mandate is to make public intelligence assessments (because the public needs to be informed of these things in a democracy) rather than secret ones. The clandestine nature of the service should disappear entirely.

This is exactly what I'm saying. The CIA is not the only secretive and corrupt organization. But the CIA is the only one that has no role--by design--in either law enforcement or legitimate military action. The Army might be secretive, but if you're in the Army, you wear a dog tag and an American flag on your shoulder. If you're in the FBI, you wear a badge and give testimony in court. If you're in the CIA, you illegally enter a foreign country, commit crimes there, and are not bound by laws of war or rule of law.

The CIA essentially operates outside the framework of all laws and doesn't have any sort of international standards. Even war--legalized killing--has the Geneva Conventions, laws of war, etc. The CIA just does whatever it wants, almost always violating the laws and sovereignty of a foreign country while doing so, with no public, legislative approval. What the military is doing in the middle east is secretive and abusive but there is, however broad, an AUMF on the public record saying why we're there. If a solider gets captured in a foreign country, we don't just pretend we didn't send them there. The CIA can just deny that it even operates there forever. That's what I mean by no oversight.

Yes, because not having an Intelligence agency is a great idea for national security. You know the LAPD beat a man a few times. We should totally get rid of them also.

A rational proposal for over-site and control would be a useful comment.

The US spy and intelligence agencies frequently infringe on domestic and international human rights, and many people would rather they didn't exist. Some people don't even consider the agencies to be constitutional. Your sarcastic comments are certainly not useful.

The issue is not the CIA. It has been incredibly successfully in its job since it was founded as the OSS in WW2. We do not hear of the successes as most of it is highly classified. There are some great books on older stuff they did in the Cold War out now that are worth reading.

The reality is we only hear about the screw ups and the illegal things because that news worthy in the 24/7/365 hype cycle we now live it.

The fact is that we as citizens have failed to provide our voices asking for proper guidance of the CIA. We the people think that TV shows like 24 are the reality and torture is okay because it works on TV and only happens to the bad guys. Society as a whole have allowed things to end up this way.

Tell me what really happened when we the public found out about the tap rooms at ATT colo or some of the stuff Wikileaks and Snowden showed? Where is the protest? I do not see the streets full of outrage. Where are the brave Americas standing up for their rights. We could learn from the people of Hong Kong at this point.

The fact is that as long as we can order from amazon and Facebook works no one cares anymore.

We get the government we deserve. Disbanding the CIA just moves the issue to the next agency.

Yes, USA has 20+ intelligence agencies.

But all you refer to can and should be done by military intelligence.

> Yes, because not having an Intelligence agency is a great idea for national security.

It's not like the CIA is the only intelligence agency the USG has. Without the CIA there'd still be 16 other intelligence agencies left [0].

[0] https://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-17-intelligence-agencie...

Do you know what those other agencies do, and how they're staffed, and which functions they serve, as compared to the CIA? For that matter, how well do you feel you understand the high-level functions of the CIA?

Seeing that your posts throughout this thread whole heartedly defend their practices and ignore mentioning them taking any amount of accountability for their actions, would you care to provide your insights as a means of sharing knowledge with those of us you imply are ignorant regarding the matters of this topic?

I think you've responded to the wrong commenter. Check your links; it happens to me sometimes too!

This made me go back and re-read, and I could find no place where your parent made even a half-hearted defense of the CIA, never mind a full-throated one. I believe your passion for this topic might be leading you to misinterpret people. That's to your detriment, the comments are insightful.

It's like the "dudes on the ground" version of the NSA? I mean, they have a manual on how to kill people and plenty of more shady history, apparently without much of any accountability.

I imagine with that amount of agencies there's enough overlap to maybe reform that whole 3 letter forest into something more unified/streamlined while introducing some more oversight.

The CIA is not the only intelligence agency that the US has. Furthermore, most of what the CIA does should be the duty of the State Department.

On a more pedantic point, shutting down the CIA is the ultimate in oversight - you don't have to watch for crimes from an organization that does not exist.

The operations of the CIA would just shift to another agency. Do you really think they would just throw away all personnel, equipment, and data, and cancel all operations?

Moving current CIA operations to the other national agencies with the appropriate remit would be part of the whole point.

During that shift a comprehensive review takes place of each action and operation as the responsibility for it is transferred. This happens all of the time when agencies are absorbed or transfer responsibilities and is a cornerstone of a functioning, responsive government.

A rational proposal for closure and reinstitution under a different founding principle? "Because everybody does it" isn't actually good enough.

what has intelligence and national security to do with the things the CIA is best known for: endless subversive acts, overthrows of governments, creating and enabling terrorists, assassinations, torture programs, extraordinary renditions? if anything it's quite the opposite.

If you do not like LAPD it is very simple for LA residents to decide how to fix them. Part of the reason why SFPD does not simply shoot many of the hobos dead it because SF population has neccessary oversight on these cops.

CIA on other hand runs amock. It is the biggest supplier of weapons to Islamic terrorists who have eventually turned on USA.American citizens have very little control on CIA.

If the only reason the cops in SF are not shooting hobos is oversight then society is doomed.

Only if the Chinese, Russians, Germans, et al, promise to do the same thing.

Is it still possible to buy HD TVs that are not smart? That's a niche that may interest HN readers; I prefer smartness through a peripheral...

You can buy monitors made for commercial usage, such as signage. They'll be simple monitors with no TV tuner or "smart" functionality, and they'll be built to better resist burn-in.

They'll also cost you at least 2-3 times as much as an equivalent consumer TV.

There are a few, such as this one https://www.argos.co.uk/product/8159898

I bought a Philips 4k tv which works ok. But, when I plug it into my ethernet and hit the software update button it says it can't find the host. So I am guessing they hard coded the wrong IP/URL into the firmware. I am sure are there is some USB firmware patch I can do, but, I don't want to risk turning it into a giant doorstop/brick.

Who'd have thought that always-on, internet-connected cameras and microphones could be used for spying on you?

The Internet of Things is a surveillance entity's wet dream. And we are sleep-walking right into it.

Everyone is fully aware of the implications here. Even most consumers know the risks, they just don't care. The sad part isn't that people are stupid, it's that they are smart and just don't care.

I own a Samsung Smart TV, and I'd be interested in removing or disabling the microphone. Any ideas?

Image search "mems microphone" to get an idea of how it looks. There is a hole in the microphone body – fill it with glue. Or just remove the microphone.

Yeah, try a screwdriver. Or a wood chipper.

Wear your PPE.

"In America, you watch television. In Soviet Russia, television watches you!" <g>

-Comedian Yakov Smirnoff (http://wiki.c2.com/?InSovietRussia)

The tinfoil hat people get more and more correct, being validated at every turn.

Louis: Really? Inspector: Sure! Louis: Ohh!


Isn't the most obvious fix for this never connecting the TV to the internet in the first place? If your TV works the day you buy it, why do you need to connect it so it gets "firmware" updates? in some respect, isn't the user still capable of making their SmartTV a "dumb" TV?

There's a microphone in the Samsung TV smart remote.

In the actual tv's too in some cases.

I think you mean telescreen

Double-plus-good reference.


This does not go away.

That people treat this as news is for me an indication that people simply don't either read the news, or don't remember them.

I hope people maybe remembers now when they read it the 2nd time.. The US surveillance machine needs to stop.


Hey wiretap show me my favorite show. Hey wall with ears tell me the weather.

> to secretly spy on targets

Apparently everyone here thinks so much of themselves that they think they are important enough to be a target.

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