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Officials name FedRAMP cloud security assessors

It’s anyone’s guess how the FedRAMP cloud security initiative will pan out, but the pieces are coming together. Last week, the U.S. General Services Administration released an initial list of approved third-party assessment organizations (3PAOs). Launched by the Obama administration in December, the Federal Risk…

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Location Bill Would Slow Down Investigations, Officials Say

Law enforcement officials today expressed concern with a bill intended to provide guidelines for how and when they can access someone’s location-based data.

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Utah cities, officials leery of look-alike social media

Utah cities, officials leery of look-alike social media By Katie Drake The Salt Lake Tribune Published Apr 8, 2012 06:27PM MDT With 5,000 friends and 800 more on a wait-list to join, the “Riverton Utah” Facebook page should be the envy of other municipalities. But Riverton doesn’t own that page. It’s one of many look-alike pages, streams, feeds and profiles of government entities and politicians …

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Utah cities, officials leery of look-alike social media

Utah cities, officials leery of look-alike social media By Katie Drake The Salt Lake Tribune Published Apr 8, 2012 06:27PM MDT With 5,000 friends and 800 more on a wait-list to join, the “Riverton Utah” Facebook page should be the envy of other municipalities. But Riverton doesn’t own that page. It’s one of many look-alike pages, streams, feeds and profiles of government entities and politicians …

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Mossad Cutting Back on Covert Operations Inside Iran, Officials Say

Israel’s intelligence services have scaled back covert operations inside Iran, ratcheting down by “dozens of percent” in recent months secret efforts to disable or delay the enemy state’s nuclear program, senior Israeli security officials tell TIME.  The reduction runs across a wide spectrum of operations, cutting back not only alleged high-profile missions such as assassinations and detonations at Iranian missile bases, but also efforts to gather firsthand on-the-ground intelligence and recruit spies inside the Iranian program, according to the officials.

The new hesitancy has caused “increasing dissatisfaction” inside Mossad, Israel’s overseas spy agency, says one official. Another senior security officer attributes the reluctance to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who the official describes as worried about the consequences of a covert operation being discovered or going awry.  Netanyahu was Prime Minister in 1997 when a Mossad attempt to assassinate senior Hamas official Khaled Meshaal in Amman Jordan ended in fiasco.  Two Mossad operatives were captured after applying a poison to Meshaal’s skin, and returned to Israel only after Netanyahu ordered the release of the antidote.  The Prime Minister also was forced to release Hamas’ spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin from an Israeli prison, dramatically boosting the fortunes of the religious militant movement.

“Bibi is traumatized from the Meshaal incident,” the official says. “He is afraid of another failure, that something will blow up in his face.”

Iranian intelligence already has cracked one cell trained and equipped by Mossad, Western intelligence officials earlier confirmed to TIME.  The detailed confession on Iranian state television last year by Majid Jamali Fashid for the January 2010 assassination by motorcycle bomb of nuclear scientist Massoud Ali Mohmmadi was genuine, those officials said, blaming a third country for exposing the cell.

(PHOTOS:Explosion by New Delhi’s Israeli Embassy)

In that case, the public damage to Israel was circumscribed by the limits of Iran’s credibility: Officials in Tehran routinely blame setbacks of all stripes on the “Zionists” and “global arrogance,” their labels for Israel and the United States.  But that could change if the Islamic Republic produced a captured Israeli national or other direct evidence – something on the lines of the closed circuit video footage and false passports that recorded the presence of Mossad agents in the Dubai hotel where Hamas arms runner Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was found dead in his room in January 2010.  Difficult-to-deny evidence of Israeli involvement trickled out for weeks; Netanyahu was Prime Minister then as well.

The stakes are higher now. With the Iranian issue at the forefront of the international agenda, a similar embarrassment could undo the impressive global front Washington has assembled against the mullahs — perhaps by allowing Iran to cast itself as victim, or simply by recasting the nuclear issue itself, from one of overarching global concern into a contest confined to a pair of longtime enemies.

Some warn that the assassinations already run that risk.  After the most recent killing, of nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan in January, the United States “categorically” denied involvement in the death and issued a condemnation.  Western intelligence officials say he was at least the third Iranian scientist killed by Mossad operatives, who lately are running short of new targets, according to Israeli officials.

(MORE: Zip for Tzipi: Change Atop Israel’s Kadima Signals Opposition in Disarray)

“It undercuts the consensus, the international consensus on sanctions,” says Mark Fitzpatrick, a former State Department nuclear proliferation specialist who opposes the assassinations.

The covert campaign also invites retribution from Iran’s own far-reaching underground.  In the space of just days last month,  alleged Iranian plots against Israeli targets in Thailand, Azerbaijan, Singapore and Georgia were announced as thwarted, and Indian officials blamed Iran for a nearly fatal attack that went forward in New Delhi.  The wife of an Israeli diplomat was injured by a magnetic bomb attached to her car by a passing motorcyclist, the precise method Israeli agents are alleged to have used repeatedly on the crowded streets of Tehran.

But scaling back covert operations against Iran also carries costs, especially as Iran hurries to disperse its centrifuges, some into facilities deep underground. Quoting an intelligence finding, one Israeli official says Iran itself estimates that sabotage to date has set back its centrifuge program by two full years. The computer virus known as Stuxnet — a joint effort by intelligence services in Israel and a European nation, Western intelligence officials say — is only the best known of a series of efforts to slow the Iranian program, dating back years. That alleged effort involves a variety of governments besides Israel, involving equipment made to purposely malfunction after being tampered with before it physically entered Iran.  The resulting setbacks prompted Iran to announce it would manufacture all components of its nuclear program itself –  something outside experts are highly skeptical Tehran has the ability to actually do.

“Iran has said for some time that they’re self-sufficient, but that’s a bag of wind,” says Fitzpatrick, now at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies.  For example,  Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad in February announced that Iran had perfected a far more efficient centrifuge — a “fourth-generation” machine, three levels beyond its original centrifuges, made from designs purchased from Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan.  Fitzpatrick has his doubts. “They haven’t been able to get the second generation to work over the last ten years,” he says.

The alternative is importing equipment, which leaves the product vulnerable to continued tampering — especially in the shadowy markets of front companies where Iran has been forced by U.S. and international sanctions to do much of its business.  It can be almost impossible to know whom you’re actually doing business with, a circumstance that favors Western intelligence agencies.

“The easiest way to sabotage is to introduce faulty parts into the inventory from abroad,” says Fitzpatrick.

Between assassination and silent sabotage lies another covert option: Very loud sabotage. Recent years have brought a series of mysterious explosions at complexes associated with Iran’s nuclear program.  TIME has reported Western sources saying that Israel was responsible for the massive November blast at a Revolutionary Guard missile base outside Tehran, which by dumb luck also claimed the life of the godfather of Iran’s missile program.

But other blasts remain genuine mysteries. Weeks after a huge explosion darkened the sky over a uranium enrichment site in Isfahan, in central Iran, Israeli officials appeared eager to see what had actually happened.  “I’m not sure what,” a retired senor intelligence official said two weeks afterward, then offered an analysis based on open-source satellite photos available to anyone with an internet connection.

– Aaron J. Klein contributed from Jerusalem 

PHOTOS: Tempers Flare Across the Middle East

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Officials say Pakistani Taliban training Frenchmen


By Ishtiaq Mahsud Associated Press

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan — Dozens of French Muslims are training with the Taliban in northwestern Pakistan, raising fears of future attacks following the shooting deaths of seven people in southern France allegedly by a man who spent time in the region, Pakistani intelligence officials said Saturday.

Authorities are investigating whether Mohamed Merah, the Frenchman of Algerian descent who is suspected of killing three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three French paratroopers in Toulouse this month, was among the training group, the officials said.

Merah was killed in a dramatic gunfight with police Thursday after a 32-hour standoff at his Toulouse apartment. The 23-year-old former auto body worker traveled twice to Afghanistan in 2010 and to Pakistan in 2011, and said he trained with al-Qaida in the Pakistani militant stronghold of Waziristan.

Approximately 85 Frenchmen have been training with the Pakistani Taliban in the North Waziristan tribal area for the past three years, according to the intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. Most of the men have dual nationality with France and North African countries.

The Frenchmen operate under the name Jihad-e-Islami and are being trained to use explosives and other weapons at camps near the town of Miran Shah and in the Datta Khel area, the officials said. They are led by a French commander who goes by the name Abu Tarek. Five of the men returned to France in January 2011 to find new recruits, according to the officials. It's unclear whether Merah was among that group.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy promised a crackdown on French citizens found to have trained in terror camps abroad.

"Anyone who goes abroad to follow ideological courses that lead to terrorism will be criminally punished. The response will be prison," he said in a campaign speech Saturday.

A senior French official close to the investigation into the shootings told The Associated Press on Friday that despite Merah's claims of al-Qaida links, there was no sign he had "trained or been in contact with organized groups or jihadists."

A militant commander, Ahmed Marwat, claimed in a phone call with the AP on Saturday that Merah was affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban in Waziristan, but provided no details. Marwat said he was part of the Jundullah wing of the Pakistani Taliban.

The claim could not be independently verified.

The Pakistani Taliban, which is closely allied with al-Qaida, has carried out hundreds of attacks in Pakistan over the past several years that have killed thousands of people. Taliban leaders say they want to oust the U.S.-backed government and install a hardline Islamist regime. They also have international jihadi ambitions and trained the Pakistani-American who tried to detonate a car bomb in New York City's Times Square in 2010.

The main sanctuary for the Pakistani Taliban is the restive tribal region along the Afghan border, especially North and South Waziristan. Despite a large military offensive in South Waziristan in 2009, the government has very little control over the area.

Western officials have been concerned for years about Muslim militants with European citizenship visiting northwestern Pakistan, possibly training for missions that could include terror attacks in Europe where they would act as "lone wolves" or on the orders of others. In 2010 alone, dozens were believed to be there.

Merah told police during the standoff that he was trained "by a single person" when he was in Waziristan, not in a training center, so as not to be singled out because he spoke French," the director of the DCRI intelligence service, Bernard Squarcini, told the Le Monde newspaper.

Merah was questioned by French intelligence officers last November after his second trip to Afghanistan, and was cooperative and provided a USB key with tourist-like photos of his trip, the French official close to the investigation told the AP.

While he was under surveillance last year, Merah was never seen contacting any radicals and went to nightclubs, not mosques, the official said. People who knew him confirmed that he was at a nightclub in recent weeks.

Merah told negotiators during the police standoff that he was able to buy a large arsenal of weapons thanks to years of petty theft, the official said.

French prosecutors said Merah filmed himself carrying out the three shooting attacks in Toulouse that began March 11.


Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten, Elaine Ganley and Angela Charlton in Paris and Sarah DiLorenzo in Toulouse contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 Associated Press

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Fake NATO commander Facebook page friended by naive officials

A simple Facebook impersonation attack was used to tempt personal data from military and government associates of NATO’s supreme Commander James Stavridis, news sources have reported.

Despite NATO staff having been warned about fake Facebook pages in the past, The Daily Telegraph reports that “senior British military officers and Ministry of Defence officials” were among those temporarily fooled by ‘friend’ requests from the fake Stavridis page that appeared earlier this year.

The attackers will not have gained any vital information from this attack beyond a few phone numbers and a list if gullible and now embarrassed individuals worth targetting in their own right.

For the record, Admiral Stavridis does not have a Facebook page, nor would it be appropriate for a man with the job of heading the world’s most powerful military appliance to sign up for such a service in a professional capacity.

As with almost every other cyberattack with a geo-political dimension, the fake page attack is being pinned on Chinese intelligence although the level of sophistication required to create a bogus page would be open to anyone.

The frequency of fake Facebook pages claiming to be connected to important officials is now so significant that NATO has had to dedicate staff to liaising with the company to have them removed.

Last month, security company Barracuda published research that showed common features of malicious Facebook pages, which are 97 percent female, friend large numbers of individuals in a short space of time, and have a habit of embedding large numbers of tags on photographs, presumably for search engine optimisation reasons.

However, the phenomenon of impersonation is a trickier one. People are impersonated because there are deemed famous or important enough, which raises the issue of how the public can know whether a person is who they claim to be.

An infamous recent example of this at work is the battle between the service and author Sir Salman Rushdie to have his account re-activated after it was deemed fake because his pen name differed slightly from that stated in his passport.

Rushdie eventually vented his frustration on Twitter, which caught Facebook’s attention. The company eventually relented, accepting his identity as genuine.        

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Officials use NYC blackout scenario to sell senators on cyber-attack legislation

Senior Obama administration officials walked some 50 U.S. senators through a cyber-attack scenario Wednesday evening to press for pending legislation that would give the Department of Homeland Security authority to force critical industries to better protect their systems. Read full article >>

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Consumer officials warn about online dating scams

Tennessee officials say some fraud artists use online dating as a way to scam people out of their money.

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Anonymous Takes Revenge on Oakland Officials, Posts Private Data

Vigilante hacker collective Anonymous made public personal information of Oakland, Calif. city officials Tuesday, in response to what the group calls violent behavior toward Occupy Oakland protestors.

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