HOUSTON, Texas | DMN — Former First Lady Barbara Bush has been admitted to Methodist Hospital in Houston, a spokesperson for the hospital has confirmed. Methodist spokesman George Kovacik says Barbara was showing early signs of pneumonia. The Office of George H. W. Bush issued the following statement: “Former First Lady Barbara Bush was admitted to Methodist Hospital in Houston’s Texas Medical Center yesterday for treatment on a respiratory related issue. She is in great spirits, has already received visits from her husband and family, and is receiving fantastic care.” In 2008, Bush was admitted to Methodist after suffering a perforated ulcer. Two years later, the former first lady returned to Methodist for routine but precautionary tests.
A US federal judge has reaffirmed an Obama administration policy granting officials the authority to search Americans’ laptops, citing a controversial premise that makes citizens within 100 miles of the border eligible for a police check. District Judge Edward Korman made his ruling in New York on Tuesday, more than three years after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit. The ACLU claimed that – since Americans put so much of their lives on their computers, cell phones, and other devices – border officials should have reasonable suspicion before sifting through someone’s personal files.
Attorneys argued that searches conducted without reasonable suspicion are a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure. Not so, according to Judge Korman. In his decision Tuesday he argued that the area 100 miles inland falls under a “border exemption.” “Laptops have only come into widespread use in the twenty-first century. Prior to that time, lawyers, photographers, and scholars managed to travel overseas and consult with clients, take photographs, and conduct scholarly research,” wrote Korman.
“No one ever suggested the possibility of a border search had a chilling effect on his or her First Amendment rights. While it is true that laptops make overseas work more convenient, the precaution plaintiffs may choose to take to ‘mitigate’ the alleged harm associated with the remote possibility of a border search are simply among the many inconveniences associated with international travel.” The federal government has long conducted searches on travelers entering and leaving the US, but Congress expanded that policy by creating the Department of Homeland Security and setting up at least 33 checkpoints inside the country where people are stopped and asked to prove their citizenship.
The trouble is, the ACLU noted, that almost two-thirds of the population (197.4 million people) live within 100 miles of the US border. New York, Washington, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, and dozens of other major metropolitan areas fall under the so-called “exemption” zone. The civil-liberties advocacy group filed suit in 2010 on behalf of Pascal Abidor, a 29-year-old Islamic Studies student whose laptop computer was held for 11 days when he was traveling by Amtrak rail from Canada to his parents’ home in New York.
Abidor was sitting in the train’s cafe car when an officer forced him to take out his laptop then “ordered Mr. Abidor to enter his password,” the suit claimed. The computer contained images of Hamas and Hezbollah rallies and the agents, unmoved by Abidor’s assertion the images were related to his studies, handcuffed the young man and kept him detained for three hours, questioning him numerous times. Department of Homeland Security data indicates that 6,500 people had their devices search between 2008 and 2010 alone.
Catherine Crump, the ACLU attorney who argued Abidor’s case, told Wired that the group was considering filing an appeal. “We’re disappointed in today’s decision, which allows the government to conduct intrusive searches of Americans’ laptops and other electronics at the border without any suspicion that those devices contain evidence of wrongdoing,” she said. “Suspicionless searches of devices containing vast amounts of personal information cannot meet the standard set by the Fourth Amendment… Unfortunately, these searches are part of a broader pattern of aggressive government surveillance that collects information on too many innocent people, under lax standards, and without adequate oversight.”
The hit’s just keep on coming for the National Security Agency. Security researcher Jacob Appelbaum dropped a bombshell of sorts earlier this week when he accused American tech companies of placing government-friendly backdoors in their devices. Now Texas-based Dell Computers is offering an apology. Or to put it more accurately, Dell told an irate customer on Monday that they “regret the inconvenience” caused by selling to the public for years a number of products that the intelligence community has been able to fully compromise in complete silence up until this week.
Dell, Apple, Western Digital and an array of other Silicon Valley-firms were all name-checked during Appelbaum’s hour-long presentation Monday at the thirtieth annual Chaos Communication Congress in Hamburg, Germany. As DMN reported then, the 30-year-old hacker-cum-activist unveiled before the audience at the annual expo a collection of never-before published National Security Agency documents detailing how the NSA goes to great lengths to compromise the computers and systems of groups on its long list of adversaries.
Spreading viruses and malware to infect targets and eavesdrop on their communications is just one of the ways the United States’ spy firm conducts surveillance, Appelbaum said. Along with those exploits, he added, the NSA has been manually inserting microscopic computer chips into commercially available products and using custom-made devices like hacked USB cables to silently collect intelligence.
One of the most alarming methods of attack discussed during his address, however, comes as a result of all but certain collusion on the part of major United States tech companies. The NSA has information about vulnerabilities in products sold by the biggest names in the US computer industry, Appelbaum said, and at the drop off a hat the agency has the ability of launching any which type of attack to exploit the flaws in publically available products.
The NSA has knowledge pertaining to vulnerabilities in computer servers made by Dell and even Apple’s highly popular iPhone, among other devices, Appelbaum told his audience. “Hey Dell, why is that?” Appelbaum asked. “Love to hear your statement about that.” Equally as curious were Dave Waterson and Martijn Wismeijer — two IT experts who took to Twitter to express their outrage before Appelbaum’s lecture was even presented and preliminary information about the NSA leaks were published in an article he co-authored for Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine. “NSA planet backdoors to access devices from Cisco, Dell, Western Digital, Seagate, Maxtor and Samsung,”Waterson wrote in a tweet that linked to a CNET article from Sunday that quoted from Der Spiegel’s top-secret documents.
“Thanks,” Wismeijer wrote on Monday. “I just found out my Dell server has NSA bug in Rand BIOS,” he said of one critical component that’s easily exploited, according to Appelbaum.
@DavidLWaterson Thanks I just found out my #Dell server has #NSA bug in RAID Bios.@DellCares You obviously don’t care about your customers!
— Martijn Wismeijer (@twiet) December 30, 2013
TechDirt reporter Mike Masnick noticed early Tuesday that Dell’s official customer service Twitter account opted to issue a cookie-cutter response that drips of insincerity.
“Thanks you for reaching out and regret the inconvenience,” the Dell account tweeted to Wismeijer. “Our colleagues at @DellCaresPro will be able to help you out.”
“Inconvenience? You got to be F*ckin kidding me!” Wismeijer responded. “You place an NSA bug in our servers and call it an inconvenience?”
@DellCares @dellcarespro Inconvenience? You got to be F*ckin kidding me! You place an NSA bug in our servers and call it an inconvenience?
— Martijn Wismeijer (@twiet) December 31, 2013
“There are times when big brands with ‘social media people’ might want to teach those junior level employees to recognize that using one of the standard ‘scripted’ answers might be inappropriate,” opined Masnick.
Appelbaum didn’t leave Dell off the hook after revealing just that one exploit known to the NSA, however. Before concluding his presentation, he displayed a top-secret document in which the agency makes reference to a hardware implant that could be manually installed onto Dell PowerEdge servers to exploit the JTAG debugging interface on its processor — a critical circuitry component that apparently contains a vulnerability known to the US government. “Why did Dell leave a JTAG debugging interface on these servers?” asked Appelbaum. “Because it’s like leaving a vulnerability in. Is that a bugdoor, or a backdoor or just a mistake? Well hopefully they will change these things or at least make it so that if you were to see this, you would know that you have some problems. Hopefully Dell will release some information about how to mitigate this advance persistent threat.”
Appelbaum also provoked Apple by acknowledging that the NSA boasts of being able to hack into any of their mobile devices running the iOS operating system. “Either they have a huge collection of exploits that work against Apple products — meaning they are hoarding information about critical systems American companies product and sabotaging them — or Apple sabotages it themselves,” he said. “Apple has never worked with the NSA to create a backdoor in any of our products, including iPhone,” the company responded through an official statement on Tuesday. “Whenever we hear about attempts to undermine Apple’s industry-leading security, we thoroughly investigate and take appropriate steps to protect our customers. We will continue to use our resources to stay ahead of malicious hackers and defend our customers from security attacks, regardless of who’s behind them.”
Meanwhile, other top-tier computer companies have already addressed Der Spiegel and Appelbaum’s allegations that they either colluded with the NSA or complied with the spy firm as they exploited vulnerabilities, known or unknown, in their own products. A representative for Microsoft told the Huffington Post on Monday that their companies “does not provide any government with direct or unfettered access to our customer’s data” and said the tech giant “would have significant concerns if the allegations about government actions are true,” but a Washington, DC representative for Chinese company Huawei was more upfront when reached for comment by Wired about any cooperation with the US government or other entities.
“We read the media reports, and we’ve noted the references to Huawei and our peers,” Huawei vice president William Plummer told Wired from the US capital. “As we have said, over and over again — and as now seems to be validated — threats to networks and data integrity can come from any and many sources.” “Everything that the United States government accused the Chinese of doing — which they are also doing, I believe — we are learning that the United States government has been doing to American companies,” Appelbaum said towards the end of Monday’s presentation. “That to me is really concerning and we’ve had no public debate about these issues.”
LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas | DMN — Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, has asked Republican Lieutenant Gov. Mark Darr, the state’s second in command, to resign over campaign finance impropriety. Beebe called Darr on Tuesday to ask for his resignation, according to a spokesman for Beebe, after an Arkansas ethics commission ruled that Darr had broken 11 campaign finance laws since 2010. “I think it’s in everybody’s best interest, including Mr. Darr, if he resign,” Beebe said at the press conference. “The facts speak for themselves. Other people resigned, other people of varying degrees of similar situations.”
The Ethics Commission released a letter Monday offering Darr a settlement to claims that he misspent campaign funds and failed to keep complete records. The commission proposed $1,000 fines for each of 11 violations and said that, by signing, Darr agreed with the findings. Darr signed the settlement later that day. Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson called the violations “troubling and serious.” Hutchinson said elected officials should be held accountable for their conduct. “In the case of Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, the ethical violations are troubling and serious and should be reviewed by the prosecuting attorney. As a former prosecutor, I understand the importance of holding public officials accountable for improper conduct,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson added that if criminal charges are filed then Darr should resign. “In my view, the public has a right to expect the highest level of ethical conduct by its elected officials and the public should demand resignation when criminal conduct has occurred. It should be noted that only a prosecutor or grand jury can assess the question of criminal conduct and whether there is probable cause for criminal charges. It is my understanding that the Pulaski County prosecutor is reviewing the ethical violations of Lt. Gov. Mark Darr. It is important that the prosecutor assess the violations to determine whether criminal conduct has occurred and charges should be filed. If criminal charges are filed then a resignation should be demanded. Until then, we should let the process work and expect the decision of the Ethics Commission in terms of fine and amended reports to be fulfilled,” Hutchinson said.
Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross echoed that sentiment in a statement of his own. “Our elected officials must be held to the highest possible standard, and they must have the people’s absolute trust and confidence in order to effectively do their jobs. Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr has admitted he improperly spent campaign and taxpayer dollars, and therefore he should act in the best interest of the state of Arkansas and resign immediately,” Ross said. Republican members of Arkansas’ Congressional delegation, Sen. John Boozman, Reps. Rick Crawford (AR-1), Tim Griffin (AR-2), Steve Womack (AR-3), and Tom Cotton (AR-4), issued a joint statement Tuesday calling for the immediate resignation of Lt. Governor Mark Darr, saying:
“As elected officials, we are keepers of the public trust. We are bound by a very strict code of conduct that is the basis of that trust. Based on Lt. Governor Darr’s own admissions, it is clear he has violated that trust, and he should step down immediately for the good of our state.”
A spokesperson for Darr said Tuesday morning the lieutenant governor had no plans to quit.