Streetwise Professor

August 6, 2013

Be There. Aloha. A Hacker Convergence In Hawaii

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 8:36 am

We already know Jake Appelbaum was in Hawaii for a dream-of-a-lifetime birthday trip during the last week of March, 2013.*  Right when Snowden was starting work at Booz Allen Hamilton.

And wouldn’t you know, another famous-very famous-hacker, and BFF to Appelbaum, was also in Hawaii at that very time.  Specifically, Moxie Marlinspike, a rather renowned security expert and hacker noted for exploiting flaws in SSL held the “First Annual Spring Break of Coding” (“SBoC”)-wait for it-23 to 31 March.  First Annual.  Like, it never happened before.  The idea just came to him.

Interestingly, Appelbaum doesn’t mention Moxie (he does blather about his “20 friends” but doesn’t name any) and Moxie doesn’t mention Appelbaum, but we know that they knew of each others’ presence.  One of the SBoC attendees, one Christine Corbett, posted on Instagram a photo of Appelbaum in Hawaii in a series of photos taken at the SBoC (a stream that includes a photo of Moxie too). (Scroll down to March 2013 photos.  Oh, and don’t bother removing them, Christine.  I have the screen caps.)   The mutual non-recognition of the others’ presence is quite odd.

So odd, that it has to be deliberate, especially given that Moxie and Appelbaum have broadcast to the world when they are together, and mooted plans to get together.  Appelbaum and Moxie interact on Twitter.  They have traveled together.  And speaking of travel, they also have more in common, and in common with Poitras.  In particular, they-and their electronic-all get up close and personal attention from law enforcement whenever they fly.  Moxie can’t even print out his own boarding pass when flying domestic, and is subject to special TSA screening.  He has also fulminated, like Appelbaum and Poitras, against the security state.  They all share an agenda.

Note when the SBoC was announced.  23 January.  Poitras and Snowden-per Piotras’s own admission-were in communication by that time.

And speaking of Poitras, Corbett mentions an unnamed female journalist with an intense interest in politics being present at SBoC.  Given that Poitras and Appelbaum are closely connected-and connected to Snowden-what are the odds that said journalist was Poitras?

One more fun fact.  If this Cryptome post is to be believed, Snowden generated a PGP public key (using his BAH email address) on . . . 24 March, 2013.

Perhaps it’s all a coincidence that a group of hackers, including two of the most well-known hackers with a known animus to the “security state” are in Hawaii at the same time that Snowden starts his NSA work at BAH.  A group that has-at most-one degree of separation from Snowden: with Jake Appelbaum as the common link.

Perhaps.  But a far more plausible hypothesis is that this was a hacker version of Oceans Eleven, a gathering of specialists implementing a plan to steal information from NSA.

The most problematic aspect to this hypothesis is the tight timeline, with Poitras claiming first contact with Snowden about the same time as Moxie broadcast the invitation to SBoC.  But it is only problematic if you (a) believe Poitras is telling the truth, which can be doubted given that she has an incentive to dissemble and given her dissembling about her activities in Iraq, and more importantly, (b) you believe that Snowden reached out to Poitras first.

With regard to (b) I advance the following conjecture: Snowden was in contact with Appelbaum first, and well before January, 2013, and Appelbaum directed Snowden to Poitras.  It would be natural for a computer geek and hacker like Snowden to know of, and to reach out to, Appelbaum.  Far more natural than to reach out to Poitras first.

Under this conjecture, the timing works out.  Snowden, Appelbaum, and Moxie work out their basic plan in late-2012 or early-January, 2013.  Appelbaum activates the plan to disseminate the information via Poitras by putting Snowden in touch with her and near simultaneously Moxie initiates the SBoC to give him cover to travel to Hawaii (and perhaps too a team of unwitting accomplices that could help him cover his activities while there).   They all converge in Hawaii a couple of months later, and then or soon thereafter Snowden steals over 10K documents from NSA.

I’d be more than interested in reading an alternative explanation of this hacker convergence that shaves better with Occam’s Razor than the one I advance above.  Means, motive, motivation, and opportunity all line up.

Interestingly, Appelbaum doesn’t feel that it is safe for him to return to the US.  He is hanging out in Germany.  Which just happens to be where Poitras is leading a media campaign (through Der Spiegel) to whip up anti-US sentiment over spying-and with considerable success.

Just more coincidences, surely.

* Of course one can doubt this story.  Catherine Fitzpatrick believes that she can place Appelbaum in Hawaii the previous year.  And Appelbaum’s carrying on about this, with all the bologna about manta rays and unicorns and rainbows suggests he’s trying to construct some sort of cover story.

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  1. SWP, do you think the NSA should have a whistleblower protection plan, or a hotline for tips, or perhaps a confidential court to release mis-behavior?

    There are no checks and balances or reasonable oversight on the NSA. Are you comfortable with that?

    Comment by scott — August 6, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

  2. @scott. There are whistleblower procedures at NSA. Snowden could have gone to Wyden or another senator or representative. Perhaps there would have been a way for him to go to FISA.

    Let’s get real here. One can think of myriad ways to achieve legitimate outcomes, and to communicate legitimate concerns in ways that do not compromise national security. Going to Appelbaum/Poitras/Greenwald is not on that list. Not now. Not ever.

    More reality: It’s not like Snowden was Shocked! Shocked! by what he found by working for NSA. He, by his own admission, deliberately sought the BAH job for the explicit purpose of committing espionage. Moreover, he has routinely exaggerated and distorted in his accounts of the nature of the programs, which casts serious doubts on his motivations. As if there was room for doubt after he collaborated with people who are not shy about their anti-American agenda. His objective-which he shares with Appelbaum, Poitras, Greenwald, Assange, etc.-is to do the most damage possible.

    You exaggerate when you say there are no checks and balances. Indeed, that is a grotesque exaggeration, based primarily on Snowden’s misrepresentation of the way the system works.

    I have no problems with examining whether those checks and balances need to be re-calibrated. But if you think that is what Snowden, Greenwald, Appelbaum, Poitras, and Marlinspike are about, you are utterly deluded. Take them at their word.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 6, 2013 @ 2:41 pm

  3. Good work. I imagine that this “Spring Break for Hackers” was chosen as cover, or to enable Appelbaum and maybe Marlinspike to blend in, and also to ensure that if challenged about any relationship to Snowden, Corbett and others could predictably on cue shriek that anyone would suspect them and whine that people suspecting them are just McCarthyites blah blah — and they might honestly have nothing to do with Snowden. So it is really nefarious.

    It does seem as if Tyler’s blog about the Spring Break is mentioning a journalist who could fit Poitras’ description.

    It isn’t just that I “believe” I can place Appelbaum in Hawaii the year before — he himself has a tweet which I linked to dated April 3, 2012, the day of his birthday, saying he was in Hawaii. That’s why his weeping claim in the talk in Berlin that he was just fulfilling a dream in April 2013 — going to Hawaii because friends paid for the trip — seemed lame, because he wasn’t fulfilling a dream that he had already fulfilled the year before by going to Hawaii back then.

    Snowden arrived in Hawaii in 2012, but worked for Dell then. They could have met then. Then Snowden says he scouted out BHA as a place from which he could hack moar, and then got the job there in March 2013.

    I had noted the generation of his public key when I noticed Cryptome here:

    There’s that strange other account “Michael Vario” and his antics, and he may or may not be Snowden, or could be someone (law-enforcement?) chasing these people, as he is accused of infecting them.

    I knew that Poitras was close to Appelbaum and he helped her with crypto, and they likely met in Iraq in 2004-2005 and at other times. They were at the “teach-in” on the same platform at the Whitney in April 2012. Appelbaum was the one to help her communicate with Snowden clandestinely and encrypt files and comms.

    I noticed that she was in the picture of one of the crypto parties or hackathons to do crypto stuff in Germany.

    It’s funny that for all the planning of the staged leaks and positioning of the stories that had to go on, we’re not finding Glenn Greenwald ever meet any of these people anywhere. But there’s Ewan MacAskill of the Guardian who was the DC correspondent and who met Poitras in a NYC hotel at the start of this.

    When I look at these really chatty tweets and Instagrams and such from Hawaii from Xeni Jardin and others, talking about swimming with the sea turtles, etc. I wonder if they are speaking in code or whether they are just making a lot of noise to disguise what else is happening.

    Of course, these people don’t have to physically meet to leak and publish files. But I bet they do. I think they would have to have a meeting in person to build up a trust level and for Snowden to perform quests and satisfy this tight cell of people who had worked together for years that he was the real thing.

    Comment by Catherine Fitzpatrick — August 6, 2013 @ 9:08 pm

  4. @SWP, i am not advocating going to Appelbaum/Poitras/Greenwald, or support choices Snowden has made … however I have not been able to find whistleblower protections for NSA employees, (most companies are required by statue to provide protection and a channel to report mis-behavior, particularly in banks/ trading firms). The government security apparatus does not provide these channels. Going to Wyden would not protect him from prosecution- and Holder’s zealous pursuit of leakers would make any reasonable person unlikely to feel safe in Wyden’s hands. Snowden did not have a reasonable channel to blow the whistle on PRISM, Clapper lying and other illegal snooping activity. Plausibly Snowden ended up in enemy hands (China/Russia) exactly because the NSA does not offer whistleblower protection channels. Self-imposed wound for the NSA.

    The closing of 21 embassies this week is a similarly stupid action by the Obama administration. Rather that admit some wrongdoing with Benganzhi, and work towards making diplomatic missions safer, they deny any mistakes, and then spread fear and kill some Yemeni’s with a drone for theater. benganzhi will haunt the obama administration, which has little capacity for self-reflection or nuance in the world. Snowden could easily have been offered a plea-bargain by Obama and returned home, or some protection on the condition that he did not reveal more, and truly damaging material. Afterall- Snowden turned himself in, it is not like Holder unearthed his leaks through some investigations. Obama could have been looked at as benevolent ruler, and Snowden would get some jail time for reflection. But instead, Obama let’s Putin put a needle in his eye, and potentially truly put America at risk. He is no crafty statesman.

    The Snowden story is more about Obama acting towards him in s stupid heavy-handed way- (pursuit of Fox News/AP similarly). SWP, instead it is shooting fish in a barrel to judge the decisions of a 30-year old, scared for his life, and surrounded by wikileaks handlers and FSB personnel. Snowden is out of his league.

    Comment by scott — August 7, 2013 @ 12:37 am

  5. I really wish people would stop referring to Snowden as a whistle blower. If you discover your company is dumping mercury in the ground water and you out them, that makes you a whistle blower. If you get a job with a company with the deliberate intent of revealing their legitimate secrets – may I assume we agree that the NSA has legitimate secrets – then that is espionage.

    Snowden didn’t need whistle-blower protection. He didn’t want whistle-blower protection. He wanted an inside job where he could continue the work Wikileaks started, of exposing entirely legitimate Government secrets in an illegal way.

    As a taxpayer, I don’t want ‘activists’ taking it on themselves to decide that this and that Government activity is ‘illegal’. Leave that to Congress and the Courts. Your own opinion is strictly for amusement only.

    Comment by jon livesey — August 7, 2013 @ 4:52 pm

  6. @Jon. Spot on. Especially the part about individuals arrogating to themselves the power to decide what is, and what is not, legal, or desirable policy. Yes, secrecy can be used to conceal malfeasance. But especially in matters related to intelligence and defense, secrecy is essential. It is difficult to put the checks and balances in place, but letting grandiose activists decide what is right and wrong is a recipe for disaster.

    You are also right that Wikileaks’s purpose in disclosing secrets is to undermine the US. Assange et al cloak themselves in righteous justifications, but when they speak honestly, they reveal their true motive.

    Lastly, as you say, in all the hyperventilating about what Snowden has revealed, I’ve yet to have anyone argue credibly that he has disclosed anything that is actually, you know, illegal.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 7, 2013 @ 9:26 pm

  7. @Jon&SWP, you are not addressing my question of what “whistleblower” channels exist for NSA and security agencies of the US government? the question is not whether Snowden himself is a whistleblower, and whether secrecy is important. those are separate questions, and I purposely did not address them.

    please address my question of whether you think a government agency such as the NSA should have checks and balances or some kind of oversight. And if so, define what sort of reporting channel exists to express malfeasance.

    Comment by scott — August 8, 2013 @ 1:08 pm

  8. @scott-Had a few moments to find the relevant information. Book Review: The Snowden Operation (2014) by Edward Lucas | The Syrian Intifada — December 12, 2014 @ 8:03 pm

  9. […] of our people is accompanying him”), surrounded Snowden at every stage. Indeed, it seems likely that Snowden was in contact with Applebaum before he was in contact with Poitras in January 2013. […]

    Pingback by Film Review: Citizenfour (2014) by Laura Poitras | The Syrian Intifada — February 5, 2015 @ 6:44 pm

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