Evidence in Sony hack attack suggests possible involvement by Iran, China or Russia, intel source says

cyyber attackFox News, By Catherine Herridge, December 18, 2014

The U.S. investigation into the recent hacking attack at Sony Pictures Entertainment has turned up evidence that does not point to North Korea as the “sole entity” in the case, but rather, raises the possibility that Iran, China or Russia may have been involved, an intelligence source told Fox News on Thursday.

Earlier Thursday, Fox News confirmed that the FBI is pointing a digital finger at North Korea for the attack.

The source pointed to the sophistication of malware “modules or packets” that destroyed the Sony systems — on a level that has not been seen from North Korea in the past — but has been seen from Iran, China and Russia.

There is no evidence of a forced entry into the Sony systems, pointing to an insider threat or stolen credentials. And the first emails sent to Sony, described as blackmail or extortion, included demands unrelated to the movie.

The malware had two destructive threads, the source said: it overwrites data and it interrupts execution processes, such as a computer’s start-up functions. After the initial attack, the FBI warned the industry that the malware can be so destructive that the data is not recoverable or it is too costly a process to retrieve. The intelligence source added that the forensic evidence suggests that the final stage of the attack was launched outside North Korea’s borders — creating some plausible deniability.

“Given the destructive efforts or effects of this attack, we’re treating this as a national security matter, and as such, members of the president’s national security team have been in regular meetings regarding this attack,” State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Also, Fox News has learned that U.S. security firms were first notified Monday by the U.S. government that they planned to publicly blame North Korea, which is inconsistent with past practice, as the U.S. government often has chosen to work behind the scenes in similar instances.

The White House declined earlier Thursday to directly blame North Korea for the attack, though Press Secretary Josh Earnest referred to the incident as a “serious national security matter.”

The case is “being treated as seriously as you’d expect,” Earnest told reporters at an afternoon briefing. He added that the White House would allow the investigation to move forward before speculating about a response.

“There is evidence to indicate that we have seen destructive activity with malicious intent that was initiated by a sophisticated actor,” Earnest said. “And it is being treated by those investigative agencies both at the FBI and the Department of Justice as seriously as you would expect.”

The North Korean link came shortly after Sony canceled plans for its Dec. 25 release of “The Interview,” a comedy about the fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.  Getting Sony to pull the release of the movie had been one of the hackers’ public demands.

Officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the attack originated outside North Korea, but believe the individuals behind it were acting on orders from the North Korean government.

While the U.S. government is unlikely to issue formal charges against North Korea or its leadership, a formal announcement of North Korea’s involvement is likely to come Thursday.

The Sony hack attack is “deeply worrying” to the intelligence community because it is believed to be the first time destructive malware has targeted a U.S. firm, according to the Fox News source, who added that the cyber assault is seen as “retribution” for “The Interview.”

Fox News is told that the malware used in the Sony hack attack has two destructive threads: it overwrites data and it interrupts execution processes, such as a computer’s start-up functions. The FBI warns that the malware can be so destructive that the data is not recoverable or it is too costly a process to retrieve.

It is not clear how long the malware needs to be in the system before it brings on an almost complete paralysis. In the case of Sony, support functions — including emails –were knocked off-line, seen as a distraction while the more destructive attack was launching.

This week North Korea’s state-run media KCNA endorsed the Sony hacking, saying it was done by “sympathizers.” Andrei Lankov, an expert on North Korea who writes a column for The Korea Times, says this is as close to an endorsement as possible.

Another expert noted “ambiguity of attribution and guerilla-warfare approach” are the tactics of North Korea. The expert concluded it will be seen that America is vulnerable to blackmail and North Korea will try it again.

Fox News has also been told, however, there was “zero” chance there would have been any actual attacks on theaters.”

“Sony was stupid to make a movie about killing Kim Jung-un,” Lankov said, “but it was even more stupid to cave in to pressure.”

A Steve Carell “paranoid” thriller “that was to be set in North Korea” also has been scrapped, sources say. The project from director Gore Verbinski and writer Steve Conrad wasn’t yet titled, though industry outlets said the working title was “Pyongyang,” which is the North Korean capital.

“Sad day for creative expression,” Carell tweeted Wednesday evening, adding “#fear eats the soul” as a hashtag.

In an interview with ABC News aired Wednesday, President Obama encouraged Americans to go to the movies.

The Sony hacking saga took a sinister turn on Tuesday when hackers sent a message threatening to target theaters showing “The Interview” in a 9/11-type attack.

Sony then told theaters they will not be penalized should they choose not to show it.

A representative for the FBI Los Angeles Field Office told FOX411 that the bureau is “aware of the recent threats and continues to work collaboratively with our partners to investigate.”

Security experts told Fox that in the wake of the Sydney siege and the release of the CIA enhanced interrogation report last week, it was crucial the threat be taken seriously by authorities.

“This threatening statement obviously has some foundation and may be linked to current global hostilities toward the West and predominantly the U.S.,” said Lee Oughton, global security and risk management expert. “We are still unaware how deep the hackers were able to penetrate into the Sony systems. Only time will tell how much information they were able to ascertain and what price Sony will pay in the international market.”

Actors James Franco and Seth Rogen already canceled all media appearances promoting their film.

Fox News’ Greg Palkot, Lucas Tomlinson, Hollie McKay and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.

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Islamists Suspected in China’s Deadliest Terror Attack

China troopsBY RYAN MAURO:

McClatchy reports a “new, bloodier phase” of the conflict in China’s Muslim-majority Xinjiang Province has begun with bombings that killed at least 31 people and injured 94. The East Turkestan Islamic Movement is suspected of responsibility for what one expert says is “the single most lethal terrorist attack that China has suffered.”

The blasts took place in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. Over 10 million Turkic Muslims live in the province and identify themselves as Uighurs. Two cars drove through people at a market tossingexplosives. Some reports say the two cars collided and blew up, while others say only one car exploded. The attack happened one day after President Xi Jinping pledged to “make terrorists like rats scurrying across a street.”

The East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) sometimes goes by the name of the Turkestan Islamic Party. It killed three last month in an attack involving both explosives and knives at a train station. Prior to that, it killed 29 in a knife rampage at a train station. The escalation began in October when it killed two people by hitting them with a car in Beijing’s famous Tiananmen Square.

In February, ETIM released a video where it pledged to behead Chinese Buddhists and to “cut you piece by piece.” The cleric in it even made derogatory racial remarks, insulting the Chinese for their “small eyes, flat noses.” The group stated that it believes its attacks on China would help usher in the fulfillment of Islamic prophecy.

Judgment day will not come, until we attacked them. Judgment day will not come, until we slaughter them. Judgment day will not come, until our war with them and attacking them,” a translation reads.

ETIM is an Al-Qaeda affiliate largely based in Pakistan that is fighting for the independence of Xinjiang Province as it had from 1644-1991 and 1944-1949. It desires the creation of a new state called East Turkestan.

The Uighur population is hostile to the Chinese authorities, but ETIM has little support among them and is said to have only about 200 members. The Council on Foreign Relations says, “Although the ETIM seeks to establish an independent Islamic regime, the majority of Uighurs do not support an Islamic state.” China expert Gordon Chang says Uighur protests have not been about Sharia and few of them are terrorists.

Read more at Clarion Project

Two Terror Groups Suspects In Malaysian Airplane Crash

China terror attackBy Ryan Mauro:

The sudden mid-flight disintegration of a Malaysian Airlines flight to Beijing appears increasingly likely to have been an act of terrorism. No group has claimed responsibility, but there are two chief suspects: The East Turkestan Islamic Movement and/or Jamaat e-Islami. Both have Al-Qaeda links.

All 239 passengers are thought to have perished in the disappearance of the Boeing 777. Although no firm conclusion has been reached, the most probable cause is an intentional explosion.

There was no distress signal from the pilots, as would happen in the event of a weather emergency, mechanical failure or hijacking. It isbelieved that the plane exploded at around 35,000 feet in the air. There are no signs of poor weather in the area. Malaysian Airlines has a good reputation and the specific flight was recently examined and cleared of any problems.

The suspected culprits are two passengers who got on board using European passports that were stolen in Thailand up to two years ago. Their tickets were purchased together, $625 apiece in Thai currency. Interpol says it is looking at other “suspect passports,” but the Malaysian Transportation Minister said reports that there were two more suspects are false.

After the passports were reported stolen in 2012 and 2013, Interpol logged them into its international database. It stated that no country accessed its database to check on those specific passports since then, which is how the two passengers were able to enter the aircraft.

If the disappearance was indeed a terrorist attack, it was most likely aimed at China. It was a flight headed towards Beijing, so the operatives understood that the majority of the passengers would be of that nationality. The list of passengers shows that 154 were Chinese or Taiwanese. There were also three Americans, but it is improbable that the perpetrators knew the nationalities of all those onboard.

Read more at Clarion Project

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China Decries Recent Terror Attack But Still Helps Hamas

China

‘Beijing supports Iran to the hilt, so it supports those organizations that Iran wants it to support,’ says China expert Gordon Chang.

BY RYAN MAURO:

On October 28, an Islamist suicide bomber struck Tiananmen Square in Beijing and killed two tourists. The Chinese government says that Islamist terrorists are its greatest threat, but Israeli intelligence found that Hamas has found China to be friendly territory.

China says that the bombing was carried out by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) that is based in China’s Muslim-majority Xinjiang Province. It is populated by Uighurs, a minority that does not identify as Chinese and speak Turkic. The ETIM says it is fighting for independence.

The U.S. says it considers ETIM to be a threat because of its affiliations with Al-Qaeda. Two of its top leaders, including its founder, were killed in Pakistan in 2003 and 2010 by Pakistani soldiers. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, hundreds of Uighurs were hosted by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and 22 were captured by U.S. forces.

The United Nations says it has been led by a member of Al-Qaeda’s Shura Council and that ETIM has targeted U.S. interests in the past, including the embassy in Kyrgyzstan. The U.N. estimates its strength to be only around 200 members.

China expert Gordon Chang, however, told the Clarion Project to be skeptical of Chinese claims about the group.

“Except for spontaneous street fights between Han and Uighurs, mostly Uighur act of violence in Xinjiang has been directed against the Chinese authorities and not civilians,” he said in an interview prior to the suicide bombing.

Read more at Clarion Project

Traitor

trait-450x300 By Arnold Ahlert:

Edward Snowden, 29, a former CIA technical assistant and current employee of military contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, went to the Guardian and the Washington Post newspapers and spilled national security secrets that he had promised not to divulge. U.S. Ambassador John Bolton puts that effort in the proper perspective:

Number one, this man is a liar. He took an oath to keep the secrets that were shared with him so he could do his job. He said said he would not disclose them, and he lied. Number two, he lied because he thinks he’s smarter and has a higher morality than the rest of us. This guy thinks he has a higher morality, that he can see clearer than other 299-million 999-thousand 999 of us, and therefore he can do what he wants. I say that is the worst form of treason.

Those who consider Snowden a “hero” might want to consider two other realities as well. First, he clearly violated the Espionage Act. If he isn’t punished for doing so, then the act is utterly toothless. Second, contrast his behavior with that of Benghazi witness Gregory Hicks. Hicks endured the crucible of appearing before Congress and giving testimony about possible State Department improprieties that could ruin him. He didn’t run to a newspaper, then run to Hong Kong and then vanish.

Or possibly defect.

Former CIA case officer Bob Baer told CNN that intelligence officials were speculating that Snowden may be part of a Chinese espionage case. “On the face of it, it looks like [Hong Kong] is under some sort of Chinese control, especially with the president meeting the premier today,” Baer said. “You have to ask what’s going on. China is not a friendly country and every aspect of that country is controlled. So why Hong Kong? Why didn’t he go to Sweden? Or, if he really wanted to make a statement, he should have done it on Capitol Hill.”

Baer also noted the convenient timing of Snowden’s revelation. It followed a weekend summit between Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, during which the issue of cyber security remained unresolved. “It almost seems to me that this was a pointed affront to the United States on the day the president is meeting the Chinese leader,” Baer speculated, “telling us, listen, quit complaining about espionage and getting on the Internet and our hacking. You are doing the same thing.”

Unfortunately, in the wake of this obviously egregious security breach and possible Chinese meddling, a number of Republicans are more interested in bringing the hammer down on Obama than on Snowden. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has been on the fore of this wrongheaded approach. ”I’m going to be asking all the Internet providers and all of the phone companies: ask your customers to join me in a class action lawsuit,” he told Fox News’ Chris Wallace. “If we get ten million Americans saying we don’t want our phone records looked at, then maybe someone will wake up and something will change in Washington.”

Other Republicans are equally misguided. They have joined Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), signing a letter to the FBI and NSA impugning the programs. Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), who has adopted the libertarian outlook of former Rep. Ron Paul, explained their rationale. “You’ll find a lot of names [on the letter] of people who were recently elected,” Amash said. “We’re not tied to the Bush administration’s policies, which were also wrong.”

In reality, the controversy surrounding the NSA necessitates a serious discussion, apart from both the media-driven hysteria and the partisan politics that inform much of it. There is little question our nation still faces the kind of threat manifested on 9/11. There is no question one of the federal government’s primary functions is to provide for the national defense. Yet as Andrew McCarthy explained at National Review Online, there are two “inseparable issues” that must be reconciled in the process: the government’s seemingly limitless ability to gather information — and how much trust Americans should place in government officials to do it within the confines of the rule of law.

As revealed respectively by the Guardian and the Washington Post via Snowden, the government has been collecting “metadata” from phone companies and Internet servers in order to detect patterns that may reveal burgeoning threats against the nation, which might otherwise go unnoticed. This metadata does not include content, and thus, it does not fall under the auspices of Fourth Amendment protection.

Read more at Front Page

 

 

Obama’s Global Makeover

Obama 6Center for Security Policy

By Frank Gaffney, Jr.

In an impromptu conversation with Joe the Plumber during the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Barack Obama famously and unintentionally acknowledged his support for redistributing the nation’s wealth. And he has been hard at it ever since.

Mr. Obama has yet to cop, however,to another, arguably even more radical agenda: redistributing the nation’s power. We are, nonetheless, beginning to witness the poisonous fruits of his efforts to enhance the relative might of America¹s adversaries while degrading our own.  Call it Obama’ s global makeover.

The most obvious example is in the Middle East, where each day brings fresh evidence of how the Obama administration’s disastrous policy of embracing Islamists is transforming and destabilizing the region.  Of particular concern is the Muslim Brotherhood’s accelerating domination of the Egyptian government, which is turning the Arab world¹s most populous nation, one that sits astride the strategic Suez Canal and wields a formidable, American-supplied arsenal, into a shariah-adherent, Islamic supremacist state.  This is a formula for mass repression in Egypt, war in the Mideast and increased jihadist terror elsewhere.

Less obvious, but potentially even more problematic, is the effect of the Obama-facilitated redistribution of power on Communist China. The Chinese have not been fooled by the President’s putative strategy of ‘pivoting’ to Asia. They understand that his administration is eviscerating American military power ­ a process that will become even more draconian (and perhaps substantially irreversible) as a result of Mr. Obama¹s determination to impose the so-called sequestration round of half-a-trillion dollars more in cuts on a Pentagon already reeling from early $800 billion in previously approved reductions.

As one wag put it, the PRC views us more of a pirouetting paper-tiger than a formidable foe, whose pivot represents a meaningful trategic redeployment.

The ominous repercussions of such a perception are already beginning to manifest themselves:

Last week, police in the Chinese province of Hainan Island announced that they would stop, board, search and possibly seize vessels hey deemed to be ³illegally² plying areas of the South China Sea that Beijing has declared to be its sovereign territory.  That could apply to as much as half the world’s oil tanker traffic that passes through those waters. Some observers believe this may be a feint, designed to test American responses and resolve.  If so, the U.S. response has been negligible and the Chinese can only be further emboldened by our irresolution to stand up to their aggressive behavior.

It can hardly be an accident that China has begun throwing its weight around in other ways, as well.  As David Goldman wrote in the Asia Times on November 27th  under the nom de plume Spengler: “It is symptomatic of the national condition of the United States that the worst humiliation ever suffered by it as a nation, and by a U.S. president personally, passed almost without comment last week. I refer to the November 20 announcement at a summit meeting in Phnom Penh that 15 Asian nations, comprising half the world’s population, would form a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership excluding the United States.

We were not accidently barred from this new grouping. Rather, Goldman reports, Obama triedto use the summit to promote a U.S.-sponsored “Trans-Pacific Partnership” that would exclude China.  He not only failed.

The ASEAN nations plus India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand actually agreed to form instead a new club with China in, and the United States out. Spengler attributes this poke in the eye to a cold calculation by the Pacific rim types that the United States is no longer the region’s dominant economic power.  That may be.

But whether it is a recalibration rooted in changing financial and trade relations or a sense that China is emerging as the new hegemon in their part of the world, the result is the same: Dynamics in Asia that are unlikely to prove conducive to our economy or security.

Then, there is President Obama’s rash effort to rid the world of nuclear weapons, starting with ours.  A State Department advisory committee made up of rabid disarmers has just issued a recommendation that the United States make still further, deep reductions in its nuclear stockpile, through negotiated agreements with Russia, if possible, and unilaterally if Vladimir Putin will not go along. This panel ­ like the Obama administration that is expected to embrace its recommendations ­ seems indifferent to the growing evidence that China may have substantially more deployed nuclear weapons than we do. And, unlike ours, theirs are on modern launch vehicles, many of which appear to be hidden in 3,000 miles of hardened tunnels.  Meanwhile, Team Obama is ensuring that there will be no modernization of the U.S. arsenal and that its weapons, and the industrial complex vital to their future deterrent value and readiness, will continue to atrophy.

President Obama is redistributing power, all right, and is thereby giving the globe a strategic makeover.  Think of it as his “fundamentally transforming the United States of America” by diminishing its power and upgrading that of its enemies.

Does any one actually think this is going to have any effect other than emboldening those who wish us ill, even as we reduce our capacity to deter and, if necessary, to defeat them?

International Religious Freedom Report: Time to Back Up Tough Talk with Tough Actions

By John G. Malcolm:

Yesterday, the State Department issued its 2011 International Religious Freedom Report, which represents the culmination of an annual review the State Department must undertake pursuant to the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA). However, other than exhorting countries that are egregious violators of religious liberties (as defined in IRFA) to stop doing bad things, the report appears to be short on specific recommendations designed to improve the situations in those countries.

IRFA affirmed America’s commitment to religious freedom as enshrined in our Constitution and in various international instruments, such as Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which provides:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

At the release of the report, Suzan Johnson Cook, the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, stated:

Freedom of religion is not just an American right but the right of all people. It goes hand in hand with freedom of expression, freedom of speech and assembly, and when religious freedom is restricted, all these rights are at risk. And for this reason, religious freedom is often the bellwether for other human rights. It’s the canary in the coal mine.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a serious and sobering speech later in the day at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in which she noted that “[m]ore than a billion people live under governments that systematically suppress religious freedom.” She stated that the report “sends a signal to the worst offenders that the world is watching.” Unfortunately, if “what’s past is prologue,” to quote Shakespeare, there is reason to believe that insufficient action will be taken by President Obama to undergird the Secretary’s inspiring words.

IRFA requires the President, who has delegated this authority to the Secretary of State, to designate as “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) those countries whose governments have engaged in or tolerated “particularly severe violations of religious freedom,” which are defined in Section 3(11) of the Act as ones that are systematic, ongoing, and egregious, including acts such as torture, prolonged detention without charges, disappearances, or other flagrant denials of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons. After a country is designated a CPC, the President is required by law to conduct an annual review, no later than September 1 of each year, and to take one or more of the actions specified in the IRFA.

Section 405 of the IRFA provides the President with an array of options to consider including demarches; private or public condemnation; the denial, delay or cancellation of scientific or cultural exchanges; the cancellation of a state visit; the withdrawal or limitation of humanitarian or security assistance; the restriction of credit or loans from United States and multilateral organizations; the denial of licenses to export goods or technologies; a prohibition against the U.S. government entering into any agreement to procure goods or services from that country; or “any other action authorized by law” so long as it “is commensurate in effect to the action substituted.”

Although IRFA provides that the “President shall seek to take all appropriate and feasible actions authorized by law to obtain the cessation of violations,” the President retains the authority to invoke a waiver of sanctions against a CPC if, in his judgment, circumstances warrant it.

Unfortunately, although IRFA envisions an annual review by the President of the State Department’s CPC recommendations, yesterday’s report did not contain any, citing instead CPC recommendations that were made by the State Department in August 2011. The eight countries that were designated as CPCs by the State Department in August 2011 were Burma, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), Eritrea, Iran, the People’s Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan. These are the same eight countries that have been designated as CPCs since January 2009, and many have been on the list for far longer than that.

Although the IRFA is ambiguous as to whether a new designation is required, it is seems strange that, as part of an annual review, the State Department did not proffer an updated list. Equally strange is that the State Department did not offer any explanations as to why it rejected many of the recommendations of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan federal government commission, that recommended CPC designation for several other countries in its 2012 Annual Report.

Specifically, USCIRF, where I used to serve as General Counsel, recommended that Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam be designated as CPCs and provided detailed information to support those recommendations, along with specific policy recommendations to remediate the problems in those and other countries. IRFA provides that the Secretary of State must take “into consideration the recommendations of the Commission.” While this does not mean, of course, that the Secretary must or even should adopt all of the Commission’s recommendations, it is somewhat surprising that the International Religious Freedom Report doesn’t address—even in passing—these seeming discrepancies in views toward the appropriate designation of these additional eight countries.

And what actions have been taken against the eight countries that the State Department did designate as CPCs? Well, in the case of Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, the answer is none, since the President has waived the imposition of sanctions supposedly to further the purposes of the IRFA, although it is hard to see how. With respect to the other countries, sanctions have been imposed, some of them quite severe. However, unfortunately, even with respect to these countries, the sanctions that have been imposed have been under other statutes for other violations of law. While this practice of “double-hatting” is permissible under the IRFA, it sends the wrong signal that our government cares more about other violations of law than it does about egregious violations of religious liberty, and it also provides little incentive for CPCs to ameliorate those violations and improve the human rights of people living within their borders.

Religious freedom has often been given short shrift at Foggy Bottom. Indeed, the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom is one of the few Ambassadors who does not report directly to the Secretary of State, reporting instead to the Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Let us hope that the President will take sufficient action under the IRFA to attempt to address the suffering that many people of faith endure at the hands of egregious violators of religious liberties abroad.

Read more at Heritage

View Hillary Clinton’s 57 minute speech to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on C-Span and here is the Transcript

Clinton praises GOPers for denouncing Islamophobic attacks on top aide