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London attack a reminder of fears for post-Brexit security cooperation

BRUSSELS Hours before Wednesday’s attack in London, the head of the European Union police agency Europol warned that a large group of radicalised individuals posed a constant threat to Britain and Europe.

“Some of these are likely to succeed in the future,” Rob Wainwright, who is British, wrote in a blog to commemorate the attacks in Brussels that killed 32 people on March 22, 2016.

In the year between those incidents and the attack that killed three people and injured dozens near Britain’s parliament, European security officials say intelligence sharing on potential threats has increased 10-fold.

More work is being done to tighten security by streamlining databases, clamping down on identity fraud and making reporting of suspicious individuals obligatory.

Britain is one of the top three users of Europol data . But as it leaves the EU, there is a risk that it will be shut out of this cooperation, becoming more vulnerable to Islamist radicals who have killed 300 people across Europe over the past two years.

The suspect in the London attack was British-born, and Britain is not part of the EU’s open-border Schengen zone . But London still shares with its EU peers fears – and information – about Islamists, often radicalised online, returning home after going to train or fight with jihadists in the Middle East, North Africa or Afghanistan.

British security officials warned parliament last year of the dangers of leaving Europol and the agreement covering the European Arrest Warrant, which requires all EU governments to arrest a suspect wanted in another EU country.

5,000 EXTRADITIONS

A year ago, when she was interior minister, Theresa May said that Britain’s close intelligence relationship with the United States “does not mean we would be as safe (outside the EU) as if we remain”.

May, now prime minister, said the Warrant had enabled Britain to extradite more than 5,000 people in the previous five years.

Being outside Europol, which was founded in 1998 to help combat organised crime, cybercrime and militant groups across borders, would leave Britain reliant on individual links with each of the other 27 EU governments, former officials say.

Before Europol existed, coordination was done “on the basis of who you knew and who you could ring up”, according to Bill Hughes, ex-director-general of Britain’s now defunct Serious Organised Crime Agency . He told parliament it was a “labyrinthine exercise”.

Besides Europol, Britain is also party to intelligence-sharing protocols of the Schengen agreement, and to a deal to exchange airline passenger data between EU security forces.

EU diplomats have refused to discuss Britain’s future defence and security cooperation until London triggers the formal exit proceedings, but one senior British diplomat said the government was likely to seek a “special relationship”.

“The European Union is not good at involving third parties and we need to be able to talk intimately,” the diplomat said.

May, expected to start two-year EU exit proceedings next Wednesday, has said she wants to retain a close relationship with the EU on security and defence, and the EU has expressed similar sentiments, but tensions are apparent.

She said in January that Britain’s intelligence capabilities were “unique in Europe” and that its military and counter-terrorism resources should help it to secure a better exit deal.

But EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier is dismissive. “Security cannot be weighed off against economic and commercial interests,” he said in a speech in Brussels on Wednesday.

LIMITS OF COOPERATION

Britain does already have additional bilateral security agreements with fellow EU members France and Germany, as well as the long-standing “Five Eyes” intelligence sharing pact with the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

But cooperation agreements between Europol and non-EU countries Russia, Turkey and Ukraine took several years to negotiate, and there are limits on what data can be shared.

Under EU agreements, transferring fingerprints and DNA data can take minutes . With Britain outside the EU, the Global Risk Insights think-tank says it could take months.

Some critics do note that information-sharing within the EU is still far for perfect .

While France and Germany have large, well-staffed intelligence agencies, years of neglect in Belgium’s secret services were exposed by last year’s airport and metro blasts.

And militant Anis Amri, who killed 12 people at a Christmas market in Berlin last December, was on watch lists but still managed to avoid detection by using 14 different aliases in different countries.

However, the recent attacks have pushed the EU to try to plug gaps with a proposal in December to make it obligatory for states to issue alerts on individuals who pose a potential threat, and to float a plan to build a shared database of biometric data, such as fingerprints.

Claude Moraes, a Briton who chairs the European Parliament’s Liberty, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, said the stakes for Britain were high: “We need to have a much tougher discussion about what it is we are going to lose.”

(Additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels and Guy Falconbridge in London; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

US military leak exposes ‘holy grail’ of security clearance files

US Military Leak Exposes 'holy Grail' Of Security Clearance Files NEW YORK — A unsecured backup drive has exposed thousands of US Air Force documents, including highly sensitive personnel files on senior and high-ranking officers. Security researchers found that the gigabytes of files were accessible to anyone because the internet-connected backup drive was not password protected.

The files, reviewed by ZDNet, contained a range of personal information, such as names and addresses, ranks, and Social Security numbers of more than 4,000 officers . Another file lists the security clearance levels of hundreds of other officers, some of whom possess “top secret” clearance, and access to sensitive compartmented information and codeword-level clearance1. Phone numbers and contact information of staff and their spouses, as well as other sensitive and private personal information, were found in several other spreadsheets.

The drive is understood to belong to a lieutenant colonel, whose name we are not publishing . ZDNet reached out to the officer by email but did not hear back.

The data was secured last week after a notification2 by MacKeeper security researcher Bob Diachenko. Among the most damaging documents on the drive included the completed applications for renewed national security clearances for two US four-star generals, both of whom recently had top US military and NATO positions.

US Military Leak Exposes 'holy Grail' Of Security Clearance Files US Military Leak Exposes 'holy Grail' Of Security Clearance Files

Both of these so-called SF86 applications3 contain highly sensitive and detailed information, including financial and mental health history, past convictions, relationships with foreign nationals, and other personal information. These completed questionnaires are used to determine a candidate’s eligibility to receive classified material. Several national security experts and former government officials we spoke to for this story described this information as the “holy grail” for foreign adversaries and spies, and said that it should not be made public.

For that reason, we are not publishing the names of the generals, who have since retired from service. Nevertheless, numerous attempts to contact the generals over the past week went unreturned. “Some of the questions ask for information that can be very personal, as well as embarrassing,” said Mark Zaid, a national security attorney, in an email .

The form allows prospective applicants to national security positions to disclose arrests, drug and alcohol issues, or mental health concerns, among other things, said Zaid. Completed SF86 forms aren’t classified but are closely guarded . These were the same kinds of documents that were stolen in a massive theft of sensitive files4 at the Office of Personnel Management, affecting more than 22 million government and military employees.

“Even if the SF86 answers are innocuous, because of the personal information within the form there is always the risk of identity theft or financial fraud that could harm the individual and potentially compromise them,” said Zaid.

One spreadsheet contained a list of officers under investigation by the military, including allegations of abuses of power and substantiated claims of wrongdoing, such as wrongfully disclosing classified information. A former government official, who reviewed a portion of the documents but did not want to be named, said that the document, in the wrong hands, provided a “blueprint” for blackmail. Even officers who have left in recent years may still be vulnerable to coercion if they are still trusted with historical state secrets.

“Foreign powers might use that information to target those individuals for espionage or to otherwise monitor their activity in the hopes of gaining insight into US national security posture,” said Susan Hennessey, a Brookings fellow and a former attorney at the National Security Agency. Government officials use the form as a screening mechanism, said Hennessey, but it also offers applicants the chance to inform the government of past indiscretions or concerns that eliminate the possibility of blackmail in the future, she added. “These are people whose lives can depend on sensitive information being safeguarded, so the notion they would fail to put country over self in that kind of circumstance is far-fetched and supported by relatively few historical examples,” she said. “Still, it is the obligation of the government to keep this kind of information safe, both in order to protect the privacy of those who serve and their families and to protect them against being placed in difficult situations unnecessarily,” said Hennessey.

Though many of the files were considered “confidential” or “sensitive,” a deeper keyword-based search of the files did not reveal any material marked as classified. A completed passport application for one of the generals was also found in the same folder, as well as scans of his own and his wife’s passports and driving licenses. Other data included financial disclosures, bank account and routing information, and some limited medical information.

Another document purported to show the lieutenant colonel’s username and password5 for a sensitive internal Dept . of Defense system, used to check staff security clearances. Another document listed the clearance levels6 of one of the generals.

And, a smaller spreadsheet contained a list of Social Security numbers, passport numbers, and other contact information on high-profile figures and celebrities, including Channing Tatum.

The records were collected in relation to a six-day tour to Afghanistan by Tatum in 2015 . An email to Tatum’s publicist went unreturned. The drive also contained several gigabytes of Outlook email files, covering years worth of emails . Another document purported to be a backup. Nevertheless, this would be the second breach of military data in recent months. Potomac, a Dept . of Defense subcontractor, was the source of a large data exposure7 of military personnel files of physical and mental health support staff . Many of the victims involved in the data leak are part of the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM), which includes those both formerly employed by US military branches, such as the Army, Navy, and Air Force, and those presumably still on active deployment. It’s not known how long the backup drive was active .

Given that the device was public and searchable, it’s not known if anyone other than the security researchers accessed the files.

The Office of Personnel Management, which processes security clearance applications, referred comment to the Pentagon.

A Pentagon spokesperson would not comment in an email Monday.

References

  1. ^ codeword-level clearance (www.documentcloud.org)
  2. ^ after a notification (goo.gl)
  3. ^ so-called SF86 applications (www.cbsnews.com)
  4. ^ a massive theft of sensitive files (www.zdnet.com)
  5. ^ lieutenant colonel’s username and password (www.documentcloud.org)
  6. ^ the clearance levels (www.documentcloud.org)
  7. ^ a large data exposure (www.zdnet.com)

Hello 2017: Auckland first to welcome New Year

Celebrations around the world to welcome in 2017 are being held amid heightened security in the wake of the deadly terror attacks in Berlin and Nice. Auckland in New Zealand was the first to usher in the new year at 11am UK time. In Australia, which will celebrate the New Year at 1pm UK time, around 1.5 million people are expected at Sydney harbour to watch the fireworks spectacular. :: Barriers in London to prevent NYE lorry attack1

An extra 2,000 police officers have been drafted in to the city while buses will be used to close off some pedestrian areas amid fears about a repeat of this year’s extremist atrocities in France and Germany. In Berlin, where 12 people were killed when a hijacked lorry was driven into a busy Christmas market, barriers have been installed around the landmark Brandenburg Gate to protect revellers. Security has also been ramped up in Cologne in a move to prevent a repeat of last year’s trouble, when police failed to failed to prevent a string of robberies and sexual assaults blamed largely on foreign men. :: Will fog ruin New Year firework displays?2

In New York’s Time Square, where the famed glitter ball is due to descend at 5am UK time, dozens of 20-ton refuse lorries weighted with an extra 15 tons of sand will block the streets around the celebrations, while there will be about 7,000 police officers on patrol. The US security crackdown is not just confined to New York . In Las Vegas FBI and Secret Service agents are working alongside local police departments in order to keep safe more than 300,000 expected visitors for the extravagant celebrations.

In the Indian capital New Delhi and many other of the country’s cities, security has been tightened around shopping centres and restaurants. Here are the UK times of New Year around the world: :: 11am – Auckland

:: 1pm – Sydney :: 3pm – Tokyo :: 3.30pm – Pyongyang

:: 4pm – Hong Kong

:: 9pm – Moscow

:: 11pm- Berlin/Paris

References

  1. ^ :: Barriers in London to prevent NYE lorry attack (news.sky.com)
  2. ^ :: Will fog ruin New Year firework displays? (news.sky.com)