On Tuesday afternoon, the Edward Snowden-loathing hacker who calls himself "The Jester" hacked the website of one of Venezuela's top newspapers, El Nacional, in order to express his displeasure that the country's government has offered asylum to the former NSA contractor. In a letter posted on the paper's website, he asked Venezuela to "reconsider your stance on this small but volatile matter, before weird things start happening."
The self-described "patriot" hacker, who has one of his computers on display in the International Spy Museum, is famous for launching cyberattacks against WikiLeaks and Al Qaeda-linked web sites. He identifies himself as a former soldier, and he denies working for a US government agency. In recent weeks, he has been busy targeting Snowden's allies. He has launched successful denial-of-service attacks on the website's of Bolivian vice president Álvaro García Linera and Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro. The hacker has vowed to target any country that offers asylum to Snowden, whom he calls "a traitor" who "has jeopardized all our lives."
On Tuesday, a Russian lawmaker tweeted that Snowden had accepted asylum in Venezuela, but WikiLeaks, which has been assisting the leaker, later denied that he had formally done so. The Jester tweeted out a link to his El Nacional hack at about 4:45 p.m. Eastern time. The Jester did not respond to requests for comment from Mother Jones. It's not clear why the Jester targeted El Nacional, which in the past has openly opposed former President Hugo Chavez, who hand-picked Nicolás Maduro.
Here's a screenshot of the Jester's hack, which appears to be a URL-injection hack, not viewable from the main website without the correct link:
Update (7/9/13): Agence France-Presse reported that, according to a "top lawmaker," Edward Snowden has agreed to asylum in Venezuela. According to the Associated Press, the source is the head of the Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee, who made the statement on his Twitter account. The Tweet has since been deleted and WikiLeaks denies that Snowden has formally accepted asylum there.
Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua have offered asylum to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who is marooned in the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow while trying to avoid extradition to the United States, where he faces indictment under the Espionage Act. But if Snowden wants to go to one of those countries, will he be able to get there?
Cuba is the only country in which a commercial plane carrying Snowden could safely land without him facing the threat of US extradition—and en route he would have to pass through airspace belonging to the United States or one of its allies, whereby the US government could force his plane to land based on extradition treaties. There is a route that Snowden could take to avoid crossing the airspace of Canada, Norway, and the state of Florida, but he would need to charter a very expensive private plane to do so.
"A private plane certainly looks like the best bet to me," says former CIA analyst Allen Thomson. "It has the advantage of simplicity and minimum involvement by the Russian government." As Thomson told Foreign Policy, in order for Snowden to avoid US-influenced airspace, he would have to fly "North to the Barents Sea, thence over to and through the Denmark Strait. Continue south, steering clear of Newfoundland until getting to the east of the Windward Islands, then fly through some convenient gap between islands."
Update: Ecuador claims that the bug came from the Surveillance Group Limited, one of the largest private surveillance companies in the United Kingdom. Ecuador is asking the UK for help on further investigations. The company has denied the claim.
Ecuador's foreign minister Ricardo Patiño has claimed that a hidden microphone was recently found in the country's embassy in London, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is taking refuge. Patiño has yet to provide further details about the alleged bugging, but theAFPreports that he plans to publicly point the finger at the country he believes was involved on Wednesday. Obama administration officials tell Mother Jones they will not comment on Patiño's allegations or say whether the United States was involved in any bugging of the embassy. And a spokeswoman for the Ecuadorean Embassy in London says, "At the moment, there's nobody saying anything more."
In a statement (in Spanish) posted on the web site of Ecuador's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Patiño said: "We regret to say that this is another testament of the loss of ethics at the international level." He added, "We are infiltrated from all sides."
The device was allegedly found in the office of ambassador Juan Falconi Puig during a routine sweep, according to AFP and the Australian newspaper the Age. Many sensitive discussions have taken place in the office, including conversations between Patiño and Assange.
The allegations come as former Snowden seeks asylum in Ecuador—a request that the country says it will not consider unless Snowden manages to reach Ecuadorean territory. Ecuador also continues to shield Assange from extradition to Sweden, where he's wanted for questioning in connection with a sexual assault investigation. Last night WikiLeaks tweeted a comment on the alleged bugging and the news that a flight from Moscow carrying Bolivian president Evo Morales was diverted to Austria after several European countries refused to allow the jet cross their airspace, believing that Snowden might be on board:
Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, says she has "no comment" on the incident. But she notes that the issue of who supposedly planted the bug "is a question for Ecuador." Asked if the US had any role in the bugging, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined comment.
A shadowy, self-described "patriot" hacktivist has launched a series of cyberattacks against Ecuador and says he plans to direct a similar onslaught against any country considering granting asylum to former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. The hacker, who calls himself the "th3J35t3r" (the Jester) and in the past has identified himself as a former soldier, has also taken aim at Julian Assange. The WikiLeaks founder has been assisting Snowden in his efforts to seek safe haven.
More on Edward Snowden and the NSA's electronic surveillance program.
On Monday, the Jester launched denial-of-service attacks against Ecuador, which is considering an asylum request from Snowden. He targeted the primary email server for the second biggest Ecuadorean stock exchange and the country's official tourism website. Gabrielle Murillo, a spokeswoman for Ecuador's tourism site, could not confirm the attack and said only that "the internet was working," but the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Dave Maass, who follows the Jester, told Mother Jones that he was unable to access the tourism website after the infiltration occurred. Officials at the stock exchange did not respond to questions sent by Mother Jones.
The Jester, who has one of his computers on display in the International Spy Museum, is famous for launching cyberattacks against WikiLeaks and Al Qaeda-linked web sites. According to a May story inNewsweek, he's also sought to reveal the identities of jihadists recruiting online and affiliates of the hacktivist group Anonymous. The Jester told the magazine that he views his hacking as an extension of his former military service (he claims that he was affiliated with a "rather famous" unit in Afghanistan), but he said that he has "no official relationship with law enforcement agencies." On his website he describes himself as "pro OUR Military, LEA [law enforcement agencies], & Intel Communities who do the same job no matter who is sitting in the big seat."
In a June 26 blog post, the Jester writes that Snowden "is not a goddam hero, here to save Americans from 'the government' because of privacy infringements and breaches of the 4th amendment, he is a traitor and has jeopardized all our lives." He launched a similar tirade against Assange, who has been living in London's Ecuadorean Embassy for more than a year to dodge extradition, writing, "[L]et's not forget Assange isn't seeking asylum because he's some heroic whistleblower or do-gooder. He's wanted for questioning on a rape charge."
On July 1, the Jester tweeted this:
In a subsequent series of tweets, the Jester alluded to hacking into the embassy's fire alarm system to force Assange out of the building. If Assange were to leave the embassy compound, he would face extradition to Sweden—where he's under investigation for sexual assault—or potentially to the United States, where Assange fears he could be prosecuted in connection with the publication of classified information allegedly leaked by Bradley Manning.
In addition to targeting Assange and Ecuador, the Jester circulated a list of 52 servers used by the Venezuelan government, which Snowden has reportedly also petitioned for asylum. The hacker told FoxNews.com on Tuesday that he would treat countries that consider housing Snowden as "enemies" (Snowden is requesting asylum in at least 21 countries). The Jester did not respond to an interview request from Mother Jones.
In a blog post earlier this week, the Jester wrote that he didn't fear prosecution: "Before you start slinging mud at me about my own activities. Two things to note. I never target the US and If I am arrested, and convicted in due process by a jury of my peers I will consider that justice will have been served."
Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden is reportedly hunkered down at Moscow's international airport, but over the weekend his disclosures about US surveillance programs continued to send shock waves through the international community. On Friday, the Guardian's Glenn Greenwald gave a sneak preview of a yet-to-be released document detailing the startling number of phone traffic the NSA collects daily. On Saturday, the Washington Post released more top-secret slides showing how the NSA's PRISM program captures information from tech giants. And the German magazineDer Spiegeldropped a bombshell report about US spying on European Union diplomats. As WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange warned on Sunday, "Look, there is no stopping the publishing process at this stage…Great care has been taken to make sure that Mr. Snowden can't be pressured by any state to stop the publication process." Here are five of the most intriguing disclosures to arise from the latest round of stories:
1. The US is bugging EU buildings and has 38 Diplomatic "targets." Der Spiegel reported that it had seen secret documents, grabbed by Snowden, revealing that the United States had spied on European Union diplomats stationed in Washington, New York, and Brussels. According to Der Spiegel's report, in 2010, the NSA bugged EU buildings in downtown Washington, DC, and also infiltrated the diplomats' computer networks, allowing the agency to access "emails and internal documents." The documents also show that the United States was behind a telephone eavesdropping incident that was detected in Brussels about five years ago. On Sunday, the Guardianreleased new documents from Snowden revealing that the NSA has listed 38 embassies and missions as "targets." The European Union is still waiting for the United States to confirm or deny the report, but senior EU officials are predictably furious: "If the allegations prove to be true, it would be an extremely serious matter which will have a severe impact on EU-US relations," European Parliament President Martin Schulz said in a statement.