Wikileaks uncovers TrapWire surveillance: FAQ

Wikileaks uncovers TrapWire surveillance: FAQ

Summary: Wikileaks' latest trove of leaked Stratfor emails details the breadth and potential impact of the TrapWire surveillance system. What is it, and are you affected?


Who in the technology world  enables or powers TrapWire?

Despite the recent news that Microsoft and New York City were partners in a new system that on the face of it appears similar to TrapWire, the two systems are not connected or related.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced this month the Domain Awareness System, a system developed with Microsoft, which performs " data aggregation and analysis," according to sister-site CNET.

CNET's Elinor Mills wrote:

"We're finding new ways to leverage already existing cameras, crime data, and other tools to support the work of our investigators, making it easier for them to determine whether a crime is part of an ongoing pattern," Bloomberg said. For example, the system can alert analysts to the presence of suspicious packages and cars while police search for suspects using smart cameras and license plate readers.

Microsoft was not mentioned any of the The Global Intelligence Files leaks as far as we can tell.

Another leaked email suggested Salesforce may have been interested in TrapWire, and Google had some "relationship" with the firm. 

Salesforce Hqs in San Fran is interested in TrapWire after I briefed them on their wonderful capabilities

Salesforce said it does not comment on "rumors". 

Regarding Google's connection to TrapWire, claims were made that Google had some connection with the company following the search giant's pulling out of China in 2010 over the government's alleged hacking.

I think the timing is right to revisit our relationship w/GOOGLE and sense growing frustration (and chaos) on their part in light of the Chinese penetrations and intellectual property theft. I've been playing constant phone tag w/their security director, who I believe is traveling.

Google did not comment on the claims. 

PC maker chief executive Michael Dell is also mentioned in a number of emails, but the connection is not clear from the context. 

If TrapWire is 'centralized,' does it breach EU data protection laws?

The Safe Harbor framework allows for U.S. companies to comply with strict European Union data protection laws. Companies must be certified by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Because TrapWire Inc. is a U.S.-based company, to operate within the EU, it must comply with the EU's laws. While a Safe Harbor agreement does not prove that TrapWire is used within the 27 member states of Europe, but it does strongly suggest that it is. 

From TrapWire's Safe Harbor privacy policy:

This Policy outlines our general policy and practices regarding personal information entered into our United States based systems by European Economic Area (“EEA”) subscribing customers, and personal information entered into our EEA based systems which may be accessed from the United States.  

Having said that, under the Patriot Act, it is technically possible for the U.S. government or judiciary to force a wholly owned EU subsidiary of a U.S. parent company to hand over data across the Atlantic, Safe Harbor notwithstanding, without the data subject from being informed, such as the person whose data is collected.

The U.S. Department of Commerce's Safe Harbor certification pages says TrapWire was verified "in-house" -- a valid form of compliance under the rules -- in 2008, and is scheduled for its next certification in 2013. 

The certification page says that the United Kingdom comprises the only named "relevant countries from which personal information is received." This suggests a U.K. headquarters or a primary client in the U.K., such as Downing Street, as previously mentioned.

ZDNet's Michael Lee reports that on Wednesday, Sen. Scott Ludlam will ask the Australian Senate to force the Australian government to confirm or deny whether or not it uses TrapWire, and what it knows about the surveillance system.

If TrapWire networks are decentralized, can they communicate with each other?

In one leaked email from Abraxas employee, R. Daniel Botsch explains that:

If a network has 25 sites, those 25 sites match against each other's reports. They can also send reports to any other site on the network and they can post reports to a network-wide bulletin board.

He notes: "Sites cannot share information across networks." However, there was suggestion back in 2010 that some networks, such as the Las Vegas and the LAPD networks, could eventually merge:

However, we do cross-network matching here at the office. If we see cross-network matches, we will contact each affected site, explain that the individual(s) or vehicle they reported has been seen on another network, and then offer to put the affected sites into direct contact. We have not yet had a cross-network match. I think over time the different networks will begin to unite."

How did Wikileaks end up with this information? 

In late 2011, it was revealed that 'hacktivist' collective Anonymous had stolen a vast cache of emails from Stratfor. These were handed to Wikileaks for analysis and ultimately distribution. Anonymous claimed to have accessed more than 200 gigabytes of data.

In February 2012, Wikileaks said it would begin publishing the 5 million emails. Stratfor founder and chief executive George Friedman described the release as 'deplorable," but warned, "some of the emails may be forged or altered to include inaccuracies."

In similar vain to the Wikileaks' "Spy Files" and "Syria Files," the leaks were published incrementally. Anonymous is thought to have also been behind the theft of the Syria Files.

Wikileaks down: Was it under attack? 

It's possible, and highly likely. Sister-site CBS News reported that Wikileaks said it had suffered a denial-of-service attack that saw the whistleblower's website swamped with visitors that pushed the servers over capacity. The attacks "intensified" earlier this month and expanded to include sites affiliated with Wikileaks. 

A group dubbed 'Anti Leaks' said the attacks will "continue and widen," but noted the assault does not relate to the latest TrapWire leaks. Despite the tight timing, the supposed 'leader' of the group claims they are not part of the U.S. intelligence community, such as the CIA, FBI, or NSA, or even Wikileaks themselves. 

Wikileaks' Twitter account said: "The attack is well over 10Gbps/second," adding: "the rage of IPs used is huge. Whoever is running it controls thousands of machines or is able to simulate them." 

The site was back online late Monday after CloudFare, a private cloud provider, stepped in to assist the whistleblowing organization to mitigate the week-long downtime.

Topics: Government US, Google, Legal, Microsoft, Privacy,, Security, EU

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  • Well done research on the issue

    When the work is good, gratitudes should follow.
  • Not bad

    That was a surprisingly investigative report. As a random dude on the Internet, I can say that, generally, when spy-ish IT stuff traces back to the greater DC area, like Reston, Viginia, you can safely assume a few things:

    1) It's not being used "properly" (aka in complete accordance with US and International law.)

    2) It probably doesn't function very well (numerous software and hardware bugs tied in with poor design.)

    3) It doesn't deliver the goods (it's less effective than traditional, heads up investigative work.)

    4) It will be misused for political/personal purposes (and inevitable consequence of "if it can be used this, it will be used for that.)
    • Not for nothing...

      ... were they called the Beltway Bandits when I lived and worked in the area.
  • WoW

    and here I was thinking the TV show Person of Interest was a little far fetched ;-)
    • Yup!!

      Your thoughts are the same as mine as I read through the article - I know London is intermeshed with cameras, but was not aware as to how widespread this was becoming - what limit is privacy stretched to??
  • Zack Is A Trained Criminologist

    That gives him a nose for sniffing out dodgy activities like this.
    • Not quite...

      We're more about 'why' than 'how.' But I appreciate the thought nonetheless.
  • This article is an example of journalism should be

    I've been following the trapwire saga for 3 days and have read every story posted.

    This article has been the best balanced, most thoroughly researched and accurately delivered piece I have come across.
    I can't stress enough how superior it is to everything else I have read. The Times, Salon and MSNBC were too obsessed with downplaying the situation to actually look into what it was about.

    Only some of the raw details that continue to emerge in the #Trapwire twitter stream could possibly add anything of substance. But that info isn't quite ready to weave into the storyline just yet.
    beau parisi
    • Circumstantial and Asumptive.

      All I really see is a lot of circumstantial "evidence" based on hearsay and allegations that may or may not be fabricated. I suspect the major networks remain cautious as they are concerned about the "egg on their face" epidemic that would occur if these claims were found to be falsified.

      It's a conspiracy theorist's dream come true, no doubt, but if you read through the article carefully, you see phrases such as "declined to comment on rumors" and the group "anonymous" was used for the individuals taking credit for the capture of the documents.

      My experience with these type of articles (based on speculation, unofficial transcripts, and guilty until proven innocent) is that they have a 50/50 chance of being correct. To the scope of what is discussed here? Not likely. As one person noted, the software likely over-promises and under-delivers.

      I could make an article based on a few produced documents (I'm sure "anonymous" would be happy to provide them) stating that the government has hidden E.T. in their basement, and imply the guilt of the government through their lack of cooperation on commenting, but it wouldn't make it true.
      • I thought about this a little more...

        And if we trust WikiLeaks and "anonymous" more for providing accurate and non-fabricated/altered news channels than we do the Associated Press, and the target of allegations, then we will believe anything.

        I believe our society has become too engrossed with what "could be" than what "actually is." VERIFIED FACTS should be the foundation and cornerstone of the press (and no, I'm not accusing the Associate Press of being accurate in their reporting).

        Lives are ruined, uprisings are started, and businesses are tarnished by what we "believe" to be true, rather than what we "know" to be true.
      • It makes a lot of effort to gather all of this circumstantial evidence

        Zack gives all the links and quotes, so everyone can harvest primary sources for information and come to different conclusions, if they want.

        So this is real journalism. Journalism is not about articles that have no point, it is about the kind of work that Zack did based on listed sources information.
        • It is a lot of work...

          And it is good for an entertainment piece, but sources based on circumstantial evidence is not necessarily rooted in fact. Therein lies the problem. The masses accept what they are told if it is a well written piece, regardless of the actual facts behind the story (because if there are no actual facts, and everyone declines to comment, it must be true, right?).

          There is a danger behind sensationalist journalism, and it's that the masses don't think for themselves. Most journalism is sensationalist, as that's what sells. It feeds the fear of the masses. That's why roller-coasters are so popular.
  • The Last Enemy

    (TV mini-series 2008) - IMDb

    We are rapidly yielding all personal privacy in this world.

    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." ~Benjamin Franklin
    David A. Pimentel
  • Brad Thor's new novel "Black List"

    Just read Brad Thor's new novel "Black List". Very interesting and timely given these reports.
  • Question

    Is Abraxas CEO and "former CIA employee" Richard Helms the same one who was CIA director under Richard Nixon? If so, he must be quite old.
    John L. Ries
    • I looked it up

      That Richard Helms died in 2003. I'm guessing that this one is his son or grandson (the CIA connection is unlikely to be a coincidence).
      John L. Ries
  • Excellent article Zack

    An excellent round up of the key details of Trapwire, thank you Zack. As others note, much superior to the dismissive coverage from the NYT (written by Scott Shane, who also wrote "The Moral Case for Drones) and Gawker, which appeared to repeat what they were sent from a Cubic Corp press release.

    You've also done a great job of explaining the concerns over US intelligence services having real-time access to UK CCTV. If footage sent to Trapwire is being stored on centralised US servers, as is believed to be the case as it's a Software-as-a-Service product, then the CIA/NSA have access to it under the Patriot Act. How a private corp is getting away with sending photos and footage of random EU civilians' faces over to the US in breach of Data Protection legislation I do not understand.

    One contentious point, with some MSM articles claiming there's no evidence, is whether TW includes facial recognition tech. As Zack notes, the Stratfor e-mails include references from head honcho Burton to Trapwire's ability to "track the suspects from the get go w/facial recognition software".

    Trapwire Inc's production description page also included (before it was edited in response to the publicity): "Pictures for Identification: Face & Torso, and Full Body .. These will be used for tracking purposes." Abraxas CEO Richard H Helms wrote in 2005: "It can collect information about people and vehicles that is more accurate than facial recognition."

    Trapwire's product brochure states: "To collect and process suspicious event data, TrapWire utilizes a facility's existing technologies (such as pan-tilt-zoom [PTZ] cameras) .. TrapWire records .. PersonPrint, a 10-characteristic description of individuals; .. matches this human-entered data with information collected by sensors [video & photography] and enters the reporting into the TrapWire database."

    None of this conclusive answers whether facial recognition is built into the system, but boy some writers have been quick to dismiss the possibility. Furthermore they fail to consider the fact that even if facial recognition isn't built into TW itself, it is trivial enough for US Intell to run 3rd party FR tools against video stored within TW, which has as identical result.

    All very worrying - thank you Zack for highlighting this as an area for concern.
  • Have you watched Spooks? (UK Spy TV Series)

    On a perahps lighter note - Anyone on the UK side of the pond will be no stranger to this; it was all used on a daily basis by the imaginary team in Spooks. I wonder where the script-writers got the idea?
  • trapwire

    Good article
    Makes a good case for technology bringing unintended consequences to the table
    along with more than a little chaos .
    preferred user
  • we also need to know this:

    We must open all fbi/cia files in order to understand the total corruption of these two groups of homicidal sociopaths and how they blackmail all other branches of gov, including congress & courts.
    Must also understand the threat to the people of the WHOLE world by the assassins & torturers of the fbi/cia/mi6/mossad; start here: