US Government Error Just Revealed Snowden Was the Target in the Lavabit Case
IT’S BEEN ONE of the worst-kept secrets for years: the identity of the person the government was investigating in 2013 when it served the secure email firm Lavabit with a court order demanding help spying on a particular customer.
Ladar Levison, owner of the now defunct secure email service, has been forbidden since then, under threat of contempt and possibly jail time, from identifying who the government was investigating. In court documents from the case unsealed in late 2013, all information that could identify the customer was redacted.
But federal authorities recently screwed up and revealed the secret themselves when they published a cache of case documents but failed to redact one identifying piece of information about the target: his email address, Ed_Snowden@lavabit.com. With that, the very authorities holding the threat of jail time over Levison’s head if he said anything have confirmed what everyone had long ago presumed: that the target account was Snowden’s.
Document from the Lavabit case mistakenly made public by the government showing Edward Snowden’s email address was the target of the 2013 investigation.
The documents were posted on March 4 to the federal court system known as Pacer as part of Levison’s long battle for transparency in the case that ruined his business. They were spotted this week by the transparency site Cryptome and published online.
Here’s a quick recap of that case: On June 28, 2013, shortly after newspapers published the first NSA leaks from Snowden, FBI agents showed up at Levison’s door in Texas and served him with a pen register order requiring him to give the government metadata for the email activity of one customer’s account.
The case was initially sealed and the public didn’t learn about it and the fight over Levison’s customer until after he had shuttered his email service in defiance of the government. But even after he closed Lavabit and there was no hope of the government obtaining information about the account that it had been seeking, the target was never identified. When some of the documents in the case were finally unsealed in redacted form in October 2013, however, the unredacted parts left little doubt that the Lavabit case was about Snowden, who was known to be using a Lavabit account in the spring of 2013 when his first NSA leaks were published and when he was hiding in a safe house in Hong Kong. It was still an educated guess, however.
Cut to now. With the Lavabit case long ended, Levison has kept fighting to get more of the documents unsealed and unredacted. He’s been using money raised by supporters back in 2013 to fund the fight for transparency. He filed a motion in December asking an appeals court to unseal documents and vacate a non-disclosure order that has silenced him about the target. It turns out he was a little more successful in that latter request than he thought he was—with a little help from a government error. After a hearing earlier this year, a court denied his motion to unseal and vacate but ordered US attorneys in the case to re-release all “previously filed pleadings, transcripts, and orders” with everything unredacted except “the identity of the subscriber and the subscriber’s email address.” After some negotiation, the government got the court to agree to let it redact other information as well that might harm its investigation into the target.
Then the government messed up. When the documents were re-posted to Pacer this month, Snowden’s Lavabit email address was left unredacted in plain sight in an August 2013 document.
When asked for comment, Levison’s lawyer Jesse Binnall said in an email that “due to the letter and spirit of the court’s January 7, 2016 order, Lavabit has no further comment on the unredacted email address.”
Binnall is referencing the January 2016 order in which the court denied Levison’s motion to unseal records and vacate the non-disclosure order in the case.
Levison, prior to his learning that the government had made the redaction error, about his struggle to obtain transparency. “Three years later, I still cannot tell you who they were after. I keep getting asked the question, and I can’t answer.”
Now, it appears he doesn’t have to. The government has answered for him.
Unable to comment on the court case due to gag orders, Levison stated – “This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would _strongly_ recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.”
NSA and GCHQ spy agencies already have your SIM card encryption key
News Updates from CLG
22 February 2015
All links are here:
Previous edition: Obama Signs Executive Order Encouraging Companies to Share Cyber Security Information With U.S. Government
Australia’s most senior Muslim says it was a mistake to vote for Tony Abbott | 20 Feb 2015 | Australia’s most senior Muslim leader has said he won’t “repeat the mistake” of voting for Tony Abbott, and publicly advised the prime minister to “work in any field other than politics”. The strong comments by the Grand Mufti Ibrahim Abu Mohammed come amid other signs of a serious breakdown in relations between the Abbott government and large elements of Australia’s Muslim communities, ahead of the expected announcement of new security legislation on Monday. Nearly 100 Islamic clerics, activists and organisations released a petition on Thursday rejecting what they called “the Abbott government’s predictable use of Muslim affairs and the ‘terror threat’ to attempt to stabilise a fragile leadership and advance its own political agendas”.
Did NSA, GCHQ steal the secret key in your phone SIM? It’s LIKELY | 19 Feb 2015 | The NSA and Britain’s GCHQ hacked the world’s biggest SIM card maker to harvest the encryption keys needed to silently and effortlessly eavesdrop on potentially millions of people. That’s according to documents obtained by surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden and leaked to the web on Thursday. The damning slides, published by Snowden’s chums at The Intercept, detail the activities of the as-yet unheard-of Mobile Handset Exploitation Team (MHET), run by the US and UK. The group targeted Gemalto, which churns out about two billion SIM cards each year for use around the world, and targeted it in an operation dubbed DAPINO GAMMA.
Top-secret military warning on Ebola biological weapon terror threat –Porton Down memo marked ‘UK secret UK eyes only’ reveals scientists analysed use of virus by al-Qaida or Isis [or the Pentagon, to facilitate the theft of Africa’s oil] | 21 Feb 2015 |Scientists at the top-secret military research unit at Porton Down, Wiltshire, have been assessing the potential use of Ebola as a bioterrorism weapon, according to confidential documents. A three-page memo, marked ‘UK secret UK eyes only’, reveals that the unit, where chemical, radiological and biological threats are analysed, was tasked with evaluating whether terrorist organisations such as al-Qaida and Islamic State (Isis) could use the deadly virus to attack western targets. The heavily redacted document, which has been released under the Freedom of Information Act, reveals that the unit was asked last October to provide “guidance on the feasibility and potential impact of a non-state actor exploiting the Ebola outbreak in west Africa for bioterrorism”.
U.S. and Iraq Planning Massive Mosul Offensive With 20,000 Iraqi Troops | 19 Feb 2015 | The U.S. and Iraq are planning a spring offensive to retake the city of Mosul that will require 20,000 to 25,000 Iraqi troops to defeat 1,000 to 2,000 Islamic State fighters, according to an official from U.S. Central Command. The main attack force of five Iraqi army brigades will need to be trained first by U.S. advisers, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity at a briefing Thursday to discuss military operations…The U.S. is considering offering a range of backing for the offensive, such as air support, intelligence and logistics, the official said. The military also hasn’t ruled out deploying a small number of U.S. troops on the ground to find targets and call in airstrikes.
US Reveals Mosul Assault Timing in Rare Move –A force of 20,000-25,000 Iraqi and Kurdish forces will aim to seize the city back from thousands of Islamic State fighters. | 20 Feb 2015 | An Iraqi military operation to retake the country’s second largest city [Mosul] from Islamic State is likely to begin in April or May, according to a US official…The planned spring assault on the city, with a population of over a million, will involve about 12 brigades, five of whom will soon have coalition training, the official at US Central Command added. No decision has been made on whether small numbers of US military advisers might need [sic] to be on the ground close to Mosul to direct close air support.
Work of prominent global warming denier was funded by energy industry –Documents: Koch brothers foundation among groups that gave total of 1.25m | 21 Feb 2015 | A prominent academic and climate change global warming denier’s work was funded almost entirely by the energy industry, receiving more than 1.2m from companies, lobby groups and oil billionaires over more than a decade, newly released documents show. Over the last 14 years Willie Soon, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, received a total of 1.25m from Exxon Mobil, Southern Company, the American Petroleum Institute (API) and a foundation run by the ultra-conservative Koch brothers, the documents obtained by Greenpeace through freedom of information filings show. According to the documents, the biggest single funder was Southern Company, one of the country’s biggest electricity providers that relies heavily on coal.
Ohio high court rules against local fracking ban, opponents may seek civil rights argument| 19 Feb 2015 | The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled [Munroe Falls v. Beck Energy] that a local ordinance couldn’t block a fracking company from drilling, affirming priority of state law. Yet observers say the decision leaves room for a challenge based on civil rights. The court ruled on Tuesday in a split 4-3 decision that a Munroe Falls ordinance that banned hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the town did not trump state permitting power.
The coldest day ever! Temperature records broken across the country by the ‘Siberian Express’ cold snap as Manhattan hits 1F | 20 Feb 2015 | The weather phenomenon dubbed the Siberian Express caused record-breaking low temperatures in almost every single area in the central and eastern US on Friday, with all major cities reporting record lows for this date and many reporting record lows for the month of February. The temperature dropped to a 60-year-low of 1F in New York City Friday morning, caused fruit crops to freeze in Florida, and in Embarrass, Minnesota, it got all the way down to -41F on Thursday. The air mass known as the Siberian Express traces a line all the way back to the Russian territory, crossing over the North Pole on its way to Canada and into the U.S.
Snowy owls have come to New York City –These owls are from the Arctic. | 20 Feb 2015 | Snowy owls are invading New York. And the freezing cold temperatures are to thank for their arrival. So far, at least seven of the owls have been spotted in the New York City area, including on Governor’s Island which tweeted a picture of a new feathered friend. New York Magazine reports bird experts believe this may be the first time snowy owls have started living on that island.