Analyzing the Miranda Laptop Theft (and psychology, sovereignty)

I didn’t really have time or space to cover this earlier… the Buzzfeed profile of David Miranda has some neat details on the laptop theft.

While he was still working in Hong Kong, long before there was reason to suspect their conversations would be tapped, Greenwald told Miranda he’d email him an encrypted copy of the docs to keep safe. This had been Greenwald’s interpretation of Snowden’s instructions to keep a copy safe with some third person who was absolutely trustworthy, as a dead-man switch.

The result happened after Miranda had spent the night partying until daylight. He got home at 6am, fed all ten — notoriously intruder-sensitive — dogs, checked his email, and went upstairs for a four-hour nap.

When he came back down the laptop was gone.

The next morning men claiming to be from the electric company came to shut off the power, claiming Miranda and Greenwald hadn’t paid the bill (they had). Calling the representative from his phone, Miranda was told the account was fine but there was some kind of hold on it “she could not undo.”

Analysis? First, the clear goal of the intruders was to interdict any re-distribution by Miranda, and through denying him electricity keep him from recovering / deleting any uploaded documents after the theft.

Presumably they chose to steal the laptop after Miranda came home for two reasons:
a) he was more likely to have left it open and unsecured while he was sleeping, and,
b) to demonstrate they could get past the dogs and come in while he was sleeping.

b) is of course the most notable. Whoever the intruders were, they were able to walk past all ten dogs as if they were a friend of the house, take the laptop, and leave. They also knew that Miranda was asleep and not going to walk in on the theft.

The possibility exists that the intruders have some “magic dog disabling” technology that renders canine watchers moot. (And does it without leaving them noticeably off afterwards.) Ultrasound, brainwave entrainment, maybe even personal magnetism and a life spent around dogs.

But, given that they had to know Miranda was asleep, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a more mundane explanation… that those intruders had already been in the house so many times, installing cameras and microphones, that the dogs recognized them as friends!

Dealing with canine watchmen is a common enough problem in that line of work that even FOIA’ed and released documents from FBI surveillance teams detail many ways of doing it. Sometimes it’s a dose of sedative carefully calculated by a vet with covert-ops inclinations. Sometimes it is just getting friendly over time.

Also notable is the Brazilian power company’s cooperation. That’s an extremely overt act, in a very high profile case — someone who ought to be paranoid of any hint they’re involved, felt quite sure they’d have their derriere covered if Questions Were Asked.

Either the CIA/NSA has really tremendous influence in Rio, or the Brazilian government may have been involved.

And no matter what, maybe time for everyone’s favorite Rio gay couple to bring in some TSCM talent. I’m reminded of a trick — grab a Xenon flashlight (to get the whole spectrum), and sweep it across the walls while holding it against your forehead. The goal being to look for retroreflection sparkling from hidden lenses.

Sadly, advanced hidden cameras have specially designed antireflective coatings to prevent just this.

Psychology: The USA is officially fucked in the head. A new study reveals Americans — that is, the average-Joe with no particular reason to fear anything — attach more importance to “maintaining security” than sex.

Look, it’s one thing for people like Snowden or Assange, who have a reason to believe someone’s after them, but as a collective cultural thing? Sounds like somebody’s been sticking subliminal messages on the powerlines again, or maybe y’all just watch too much Fox News. WATCH OUT THERE’S A TERRORIST RIGHT BEHIND YOU!!!

The Brazilians, on the other hand, rank their top 3 (in order) as tradition, indulgence, and sexual fulfillment.

Sovereignty? LOL. Not in southwest Germany. The US Secret Service regularly arrests wanted-in-the-US hackers and such who transit the airport in Frankfurt there. Even those hackers are traveling from Latvia to Bali, and the German police have no idea who they are. Quick, somebody do a video — “Under arrest? I didn’t expect some kind of American occupation…”
“NOBODY expects the American occupation! Our two, err, four main weapons are blaming the terrorists…”

“t was June when Snowden, Greenwald, and Poitras were working out of Snowden’s cramped, littered Hong Kong hotel room with Guardian reporter Ewan MacAskill, pushing out the most explosive stories about government overreach since the Pentagon Papers. Snowden offered Greenwald some advice before he headed back Brazil with a cache of NSA documents: Make a copy and give them to someone Greenwald trusts with his life. There needed to be contingencies, Snowden told Greenwald — a backup plan should Greenwald’s archive be damaged, confiscated, or if the exiled NSA contractor should ever be captured or disappeared.

“There’s only one person who fits that description, of course,” Greenwald says, reaching across the outdoor dinner table to Miranda. The floppy tropical fronds of the restaurant veranda hang motionless in the dank Brazilian dusk as Greenwald lightly brushes Miranda’s fingertips with his own. Miranda, sitting in front of a roiling fondue bowl, scrunches his lips sideways and nods with a cocksure smirk to Greenwald. “That’s right!” declares Miranda.

From Hong Kong, Greenwald told Miranda by Skype — they had not yet had reason to suspect their conversations would be monitored — he would be taking Snowden’s advice and in a few days would email Miranda a heavily encrypted copy of the NSA archive to be stored on a thumb drive or a cloud, in a place that nobody but Miranda would know. Miranda would not be able to access the documents — he would not have the encryption key — but there would always be an available copy should something happen to Greenwald’s.

“And that’s when it all started,” Miranda says in a once-upon-a-time tone.

It was with this Skype conversation, the couple believe, that Miranda became a target not only of government surveillance but intimidation to suppress Greenwald’s journalism. “The whole thing is disgusting,” Miranda snorts.[…]

“Heathrow was no big deal compared to the 12 hours I thought I was going to be murdered in my house when Glenn disappeared,” Miranda says with a flustered laugh. Greenwald begins to blush a bit.

Miranda spent a Sunday evening in early June partying until daylight: partly to celebrate Greenwald’s triumph for publishing the first NSA story, partly to avoid being alone in the house while Greenwald was in Hong Kong. This is the same weekend Greenwald told Miranda over Skype he was giving him his own copy of the NSA archives for safekeeping. Miranda went out for the evening and returned home at 6 a.m. He fed the 10 dogs, which bark, growl, and snarl at the slightest noise emitting from inside or around the couple’s large two-story house. Miranda plopped down at the kitchen table, checked his email on his laptop, and then dragged himself upstairs for a power nap. Four hours later, Miranda groggily walked downstairs and his laptop was gone.

“I looked everywhere, for over an hour, and I couldn’t find it,” Miranda says. “Then I thought, OK, someone broke in while I was asleep.” Miranda assumed that perhaps it was someone he was friendly with. “Maybe it was someone who knew I was married to Glenn and wanted to make money by breaking into our house and getting one of our laptops.” But how did they get past his dogs? That’s when Miranda started to get scared, but he didn’t want to throw Greenwald’s focus with talk of black-op home invasions.

Miranda went to bed early that evening and awoke the next morning to banging on his front door. Two men who said they were from the electric company came to shut the power off. “They said we were late on our bill, which is impossible because we’re never late.” He showed the men bills to no avail. The power went off. When Miranda called the electric company from his cell phone, the representative said their account was up to date but had some hold on it she could not undo. Greenwald was still in the air, unreachable on his flight between Dubai and Rio. Adding to Miranda’s anxiety was Snowden’s unknown whereabouts at the time — he had gone into hiding 48 hours prior.

“I spent the next 10 hours at home, with my dogs, with no electricity, waiting for Glenn to come home,” Miranda says. “But maybe he wasn’t going to come home! I started going crazy. I thought anything could happen to me, like bad things, and it could look like an accident or whatever. I stayed up all night in the dark.”

Greenwald arrived the following morning to a frantic Miranda. “I thought they got Snowden,” Miranda said, near tears. “I thought they got you.”

Greenwald thought it was a strange series of events but nothing like the sort of paranoid nightmare Miranda imagined. He dismissed Miranda’s consternation with a hug and some soothing words.”

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