[News] NSA Spies on Venezuela's Oil Company, Snowden Leak Reveals

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Wed Nov 18 12:39:20 EST 2015


  NSA Spies on Venezuela's Oil Company, Snowden Leak Reveals

18 November 2015

This content was originally published by teleSUR at the following address:
<http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/NSA-Spies-on-Venezuelas-Oil-Company-Snowden-Leak-Reveals-20151118-0010.html>. If you intend to use it, please cite the source and provide a link to the original article. www.teleSURtv.net/english

18 November 2015

This content was originally published by teleSUR at the following address:
<http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/NSA-Spies-on-Venezuelas-Oil-Company-Snowden-Leak-Reveals-20151118-0010.html>. If you intend to use it, please cite the source and provide a link to the original article. www.teleSURtv.net/english

November 18, 2015

U.S. intelligence agents posing as diplomats in Caracas helped an NSA 
analyst try to crack open PDVSA’s computer network.

The U.S. National Security Agency accessed the internal communications 
of Venezuela's state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela and 
acquired sensitive data it planned to exploit in order to spy on the 
company’s top officials, according to a highly classified NSA document 
that reveals the operation was carried out in concert with the U.S. 
embassy in Caracas.

The March 2011 document, labeled, “top secret,” and provided by former 
NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden, is being reported on 
in an exclusive partnership between teleSUR and The Intercept.

Drafted by an NSA signals development analyst, the document explains 
that PDVSA’s network, already compromised by U.S. intelligence, was 
further infiltrated after an NSA review in late 2010 “showed telltale 
signs that things were getting stagnant on the Venezuelan Energy target 
set.” Most intelligence “was coming from warranted collection,” which 
likely refers to communications that were intercepted as they passed 
across U.S. soil. According to the analyst, “what little was coming from 
other collectors,” or warrantless surveillance, “was pretty sparse.”

Beyond efforts to infiltrate Venezuela’s most important company, the 
leaked NSA document highlights the existence of a secretive joint 
operation between the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency operating 
out of the U.S. embassy in Caracas. A fortress-like building just a few 
kilometers from PDVSA headquarters, the embassy sits on the top of a 
hill that gives those inside a commanding view of the Venezuelan capital.

Last year,//Der Spiegel published top-secret documents 
<http://www.spiegel.de/media/media-34100.pdf> detailing the 
state-of-the-art surveillance equipment that the NSA and CIA deploy to 
embassies around the world. That intelligence on PDVSA had grown 
“stagnant” was concerning to the U.S. intelligence community for a 
number of reasons, which its powerful surveillance capabilities could 
help address.

“Venezuela has some of the largest oil and natural gas reserves in the 
world,” the NSA document states, with revenue from oil and gas 
accounting “for roughly one third of GDP” and “more than half of all 
government revenues.”

“To understand PDVSA,” the NSA analyst explains, “is to understand the 
economic heart of Venezuela.”

Increasing surveillance on the leadership of PDVSA, the most important 
company in a South American nation seen as hostile to U.S. corporate 
interests, was a priority for the undisclosed NSA division to which the 
analyst reported. “Plainly speaking,” the analyst writes, they “wanted 
PDVSA information at the highest possible levels of the corporation – 
namely, the president and members of the Board of Directors.”

Given a task, the analyst got to work and, with the help of “sheer 
luck,” found his task easier than expected.

It began simply enough: with a visit to PDVSA’s website, “where I 
clicked on 'Leadership' and wrote down the names of the principals who 
would become my target list.” From there, the analyst “dumped the names” 
into PINWALE, the NSA’s primary database of previously intercepted 
digital communications, automatically culled using a dictionary of 
search terms called “selectors.” It was an almost immediate success.

In addition to email traffic, the analyst came across over 10,000 
employee contact profiles full of email addresses, phone numbers, and 
other useful targeting information, including the usernames and 
passwords for over 900 PDVSA employees. One profile the analyst found 
was for Rafael Ramirez 
PDVSA's president from 2004 to 2014 and Venezuela's current envoy to the 
United Nations. A similar entry turned up for Luis Vierma, the company’s 
former vice president of exploration and production.

“Now, even my old eyes could see that these things were a goldmine,” the 
analyst wrote. The entries were full of “work, home, and cell phones, 
email addresses, LOTS!” This type of information, referred to internally 
as “selectors,” can then be “tasked” across the NSA’s wide array of 
surveillance tools so that any relevant communications will be saved.

According to the analyst, the man to whom he reported “was thrilled!” 
But “it is what happened next that really made our day.”

“As I was analyzing the metadata,” the analyst explains, “I clicked on 
the 'From IP' and noticed something peculiar,” all of the employee 
profile, “over 10,000 of them, came from the same IP!!!” That, the 
analyst determined, meant “I had been looking at internal PDVSA comms 
all this time!!! I fired off a few emails to F6 here and in Caracas, and 
they confirmed it!”

“Metadata” is a broad term that can include the phone numbers a target 
has dialed, the duration of the call and from where it was placed, as 
well as the Wi-Fi networks used to access the Internet, the websites 
visited and the times accessed. That information can then be used to 
identify the user.

F6 is the NSA code name for a joint operation with the CIA known as the 
Special Collection Service, based in Beltsville, Maryland – and with 
agents posing as diplomats in dozens of U.S. embassies around the world, 
including Caracas, Bogota and Brasilia.

In 2013, Der Spiegel reported that 
it was this unit of the U.S. intelligence bureaucracy that had 
installed, within the U.S. embassy in Berlin, “sophisticated listening 
devices with which they can intercept virtually every popular method of 
communication: cellular signals, wireless networks and satellite 
communication.” The article suggested this is likely how the U.S. tapped 
into German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cellphone.

SCS at the U.S. embassy in Caracas played an active role throughout the 
espionage activities described in the NSA document. “I have been 
coordinating with Caracas,” the NSA analyst states, “who have been 
surveying their environment and sticking the results into XKEYSCORE.”

XKEYSCORE, as reported by 
The Intercept, processes a continuous “flow of Internet traffic from 
fiber optic cables that make up the backbone of the world's 
communication network,” storing the data for 72 hours on a “rolling 
buffer” and “sweep[ing] up countless people's Internet searches, emails, 
documents, usernames and passwords.”

The NSA’s combined databases are, essentially, “a very ugly version of 
Google with half the world’s information in it,” explained Matthew 
Green, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute, 
in an email. “They’re capturing so much information from their cable 
taps, that even the NSA analysts don’t know what they’ve got,” he added, 
“an analyst has to occasionally step in and manually dig through the 
data” to see if the information they want has already been collected.

That is exactly what the NSA analyst did in the case of PDVSA, which 
turned up even more leads to expand their collection efforts.

“I have been lucky enough to find several juicy pdf documents in there,” 
the NSA analyst wrote, “one of which has just been made a report.”

That report, dated January 2011, suggests a familiarity with the 
finances of PDVSA beyond that which was public knowledge, noting a 
decline in the theft and loss of oil.

“In addition, I have discovered a string that carries user ID's and 
their passwords, and have recovered over 900 unique user/password 
combinations” the analyst wrote, which he forwarded to the NSA’s elite 
hacking team, Targeted Access Operations, along with other useful 
information and a “targeting request to see if we can pwn this network 
and especially, the boxes of PDVSA's leadership.”

“Pwn,” in this context, means to successfully hack and gain full access 
to a computer or network. “Pwning” a computer, or “box,” would allow the 
hacker to monitor a user’s every keystroke.

*A History of US Interest in Venezuelan Affairs *

PDVSA has long been a target of U.S. intelligence agencies and the 
subject of intense scrutiny from U.S. diplomats. A February 17, 2009, 
cable <https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09CARACAS214_a.html>, sent 
from the U.S. ambassador in Caracas to Washington and obtained by 
WikiLeaks, shows that PDVSA employees, were probed during visa 
interviews about their company's internal operations. The embassy was 
particularly interested in the PDVSA’s strategy concerning litigation 
over Venezuela's 2007 nationalization of the Cerro Negro oil project – 
and billions of dollars in assets owned by U.S. oil giant ExxonMobil.

“According to a PDVSA employee interviewed following his visa renewal, 
PDVSA is aggressively preparing its international arbitration case 
against ExxonMobil,” the cable notes.

A year before, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told 
reporters that the U.S. government “fully support the efforts of 
ExxonMobil to get a just and fair compensation package for their 
assets.” But, he added, “We are not involved in that dispute.”

ExxonMobil is also at the center of a border dispute between Guyana and 
Venezuela. In May 2015, the company announced it had made a “significant 
oil discovery 
in an offshore location claimed by both countries. The U.S. ambassador 
to Guyana has offered support for that country’s claim.

More recently, the U.S. government has begun leaking information to 
media about allegations against top Venezuelan officials.

In October, The Wall Street Journal reported in a piece, “U.S. 
Investigates Venezuelan Oil Giant 
that “agents from the Department of Homeland Security, the Drug 
Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and 
other agencies” had recently met to discuss “various PDVSA-related 
probes.” The “wide-ranging investigations” reportedly have to do with 
whether former PDVSA President Rafael Ramirez and other executives 
accepted bribes.

Leaked news of the investigations came less than two months before Dec. 
9 parliamentary elections in Venezuela. Ramirez, for his part, has 
rejected the accusations, which he claims 
<https://twitter.com/RRamirezVE/status/657250284398342144> are part of a 
“new campaign that wants to claim from us the recovery and revolutionary 
transformation of PDVSA.” Thanks to Chavez, he added, Venezuela’s oil 
belongs to “the people.”

In its piece on the accusations against him, The Wall Street Journal 
notes that during Ramirez’s time in office PDVSA became “an arm of the 
late President Hugo Chavez’s socialist revolution,” with money made from 
the sale of petroleum used “to pay for housing, appliances and food for 
the poor.”

The former PDVSA president is not the only Venezuelan official to be 
accused of corruption by the U.S. government. In May 2015, the U.S. 
Department of Justice accused Diosdado Cabello 
president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, of being involved in 
cocaine trafficking and money laundering. Former Interior Minister Tarek 
El Aissami, the former director of military intelligence, Hugo Carvajal, 
and Nestor Reverol, head of the National Guard, have also faced similar 
accusations from the U.S. government.

None of these accusations against high-ranking Venezuelan officials has 
led to any indictments.

The timing of the charges, made in the court of public opinion rather 
than a courthouse, has led some to believe there’s another motive.

“These people despise us,” Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said in 
He and his supporters argue the goal of the U.S. government’s selective 
leaks is to undermine his party ahead of the upcoming elections, helping 
install a right-wing opposition seen as friendlier to U.S. interests. 
“They believe that we belong to them.”

Ulterior motives or not, by the NSA’s own admission the intelligence it 
gathers on foreign targets may be disseminated widely among U.S. 
officials who may have more than justice on their minds.

According to a guide 
issued by the NSA on January 12, 2015, the communications of non-U.S. 
persons may be captured in bulk and retained if they are said to contain 
information concerning a plot against the United States or evidence of, 
“Transnational criminal threats, including illicit finance and sanctions 
evasion.” Any intelligence that is gathered may then be passed on to 
other agencies, such as the DEA, if it “is related to a crime that has 
been, is being, or is about to be committed.”

Spying for the sole purpose of protecting the interests of a corporation 
is ostensibly not allowed, though there are exceptions that do allow for 
what might be termed economic espionage.

“The collection of foreign private commercial information or trade 
secrets is authorized only to protect nation the national security of 
the United States or its partners and allies,” the agency states. It is 
not supposed to collect such information “to afford a competitive 
advantage to U.S. companies and U.S. business sectors commercially.” 
However, “Certain economic purposes, such as identifying trade or 
sanctions violations or government influence or direction, shall not 
constitute competitive advantage.”

In May 2011, two months after the leaked document was published in NSA’s 
internal newsletter, the U.S. State Department announced it was imposing 
sanctions on PDVSA – a state-owned enterprise, or one that could be said 
to be subject to “government influence or direction” – for business it 
conducted with the Islamic Republic of Iran between December 2010 and 
March 2011. The department did not say how it obtained information about 
the transactions, allegedly worth US$50 million.

Intelligence gathered with one stated purpose can also serve another, 
and the NSA’s already liberal rules on the sharing of what it gathers 
can also be bent in times of perceived emergency.

“If, due to unanticipated or extraordinary circumstances, NSA determines 
that it must take action in apparent departure from these procedures to 
protect the national security of the United States, such action may be 
taken” – after either consulting other branches of the intelligence 
bureaucracy. “If there is insufficient time for approval,” however, it 
may unilaterally take action.

Beyond the obvious importance of oil, leaked diplomatic cables show 
PDVSA was also on the U.S. radar because of its importance to 
Venezuela’s left-wing government. In 2009, another diplomatic cable 
<https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09CARACAS564_a.html> obtained by 
WikiLeaks shows the U.S. embassy in Caracas viewed PDVSA as crucial to 
the political operations of long-time foe and former President Hugo 
Chavez. In April 2002, Chavez was briefly overthrown in a coup that, 
according to The New York Times, as many as 200 officials in the George 
W. Bush administration – briefed by the CIA – knew about days before it 
was carried out.

The Venezuelan government was not informed of the plot.

“Since the December 2002-February 2003 oil sector strike, PDVSA has put 
itself at the service of President Chavez's Bolivarian revolution, 
funding everything from domestic programs to Chavez's geopolitical 
endeavors,” the 2009 cable states.

Why might that be a problem, from the U.S. government's perspective? 
Another missive from the U.S. embassy in Caracas, this one sent in 2010, 
sheds some light: Chavez “appears determined to shape the hemisphere 
according to his vision of 'socialism in the 21st century,'” it states, 
“a vision that is almost the mirror image of what the United States seeks.”

There was a time when not so long ago when the U.S. had an ally in 
Venezuela, one that shared its vision for the hemisphere – and invited a 
U.S. firm run by former U.S. intelligence officials to directly 
administer its information technology operations.

Amid a push for privatization under former Venezuelan President Rafael 
Caldera, in January 1997 PDVSA decided to outsource its IT system to a 
joint a company called Information, Business and Technology, or INTESA – 
the product of a joint venture between the oil company, which owned a 40 
percent share of the new corporation, and the major U.S.-based defense 
contractor Science Applications International Corporation, or SAIC, 
which controlled 60 percent.

SAIC has close, long-standing ties to the U.S. intelligence community. 
At the time of its dealings with Venezuela, the company’s director was 
retired Admiral Bobby Inman. Before coming to SAIC, Inman served as the 
U.S. Director of Naval Intelligence and Vice Director of the U.S. 
Defense Intelligence Agency. Inman also served as deputy director of the 
CIA and, from 1977 to 1981, as director of the NSA.

In his book, “Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and 
Policies of the Chavez Government,” author Gregory Wilpert notes that 
Inman was far from the only former intelligence official working for 
SAIC in a leadership role. Joining him were two former U.S. Secretaries 
of Defense, William Perry and Melvin Laird, a former director of the 
CIA, John Deutsch, and a former head of both the CIA and the Defense 
Department, Robert Gates. The company that those men controlled, INTESA, 
was given the job of managing “all of PDVSA’s data processing needs.”

In 2002, Venezuela, now led by a government seeking to roll back the 
privatizations of its predecessor, chose not to renew SAIC’s contract 
for another five years, a decision the company protested to the U.S. 
Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which insures the overseas 
investments of U.S. corporations. In 2004, the U.S. agency ruled that by 
canceling its contract with SAIC the Venezuelan government had 
“expropriated” the company’s investment.

However, before that ruling, and before its operations were 
reincorporated by PDVSA, the company that SAIC controlled, INTESA, 
played a key role in an opposition-led strike 
aimed at shutting down the Venezuelan oil industry. In December 2002, 
eight months after the failed coup attempt and the same month its 
contract was set to expire, INTESA, the Venezuelan Ministry of 
Communication and Information alleges, “exercised its ability to control 
our computers by paralyzing the charge, discharge, and storage of crude 
at different terminals within the national grid.” The government alleges 
INTESA, which possessed the codes needed to access those terminals, 
refused to allow non-striking PDVSA employees access to the company’s 
control systems.

“The result,” Wilpert noted, “was that PDVSA could not transfer its data 
processing to new systems, nor could it process its orders for invoices 
for oil shipments. PDVSA ended up having to process such things manually 
because passwords and the general computing infrastructure were 
unavailable, causing the strike to be much more damaging to the company 
than it would have been if the data processing had been in PDVSA’s hands.”

PDVSA’s IT operations would become a strictly internal affair soon 
thereafter, though one never truly free from the prying eyes of hostile 

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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