People Freaking Out Over FBI Surveillance of Burning Man

Image: Beverly & Pack/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Image: Beverly & Pack/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Earlier in the year, VICE news published a story When the DEA Went to Burning Man, Shit Got Redacted about the DEA’s activities at Burning Man, based on a heavily redacted FOIA response.

When we discussed the story in April, we also published the results of a FOIA request made by “Inkoo Kang” in 2012 (responded to after much chasing in Feb 2013). This provided documented proof that the FBI have been active at Burning Man.

For some reason, this story has hit the mainstream media this week. Here’s some of the coverage:

FBI Infiltrates Burning Man Festival, Collects Intelligence, Documents Show – CBS News

Undercover FBI agents spy on Burning Man Festival – Daily Mail

FBI kepts tabs on Burning Man Festival – NY Post

Burning Man Testing Ground For Free Speech, Drugs and New Spy Gear – Slashdot

The FBI are far from the only agency operating there.

Agencies Spotted at Burning Man

  • 200+ police; BLM and sheriff’s combined patrols, integrated teams
  • Night vision goggles, sniffer dogs, drones
  • Run by Special Agent Dan Love – Bundy Ranch standoff
  • Bureau of Land Management
  • Department of the Interior senior management
  • Pershing County Sheriff’s Office
  • Washoe County Sheriff’s Office – ATAC (All Threats All Crimes)
  • Nevada Highway Patrol
  • Paiute Indian Reservation Police
  • DEA
  • FBI
  • Centers for Disease Control
  •  Department of Agriculture
  • Department of Public Safety (Investigation Division)
  • US Forest Service
  • US Customs & Border Patrol
  • Nevada State Board of Health

Not to mention Google’s prototyping of new technologies, such as Google Earth. Another technology prototyped at Burning Man, Firechat, played a big role in the Hong Kong protests a month after its Playa debut.

The festival takes place on a former military site that is still used for space launches. It is very close to Naval Air Station Fallon, and every year there are fly-overs. There are also all kinds of elite military personnel at the festival, plugged directly into reconnaissance satellites.

Blackhawk at Burning Man. Image: Chris Olewnik

Blackhawk hovers low over Burning Man. Image: Chris Olewnik, Facebook

Military aircraft that have been spotted at Burning Man include:

  • Blackhawk
  • Chinook
  • Apache
  • F-18
  • F-22
  • F-14
  • F-16
  • C-130
  • V-22 Osprey tiltrotor

Recently Alex Jones’ show did a special on Burning Man’s bugs, asking if they also could be tied to government agency activities.

In Operation Chaos and COINTELPRO the FBI and CIA infiltrated the counter-culture of the 1960’s. History is repeating itself…perhaps by accident, or perhaps by design.


Did We Just Get Cyber Attacked? [Updates]

The last few days have been pretty hectic in the financial world. You may have heard some of this on mainstream media.

Zero Hedge asked “Is This What The First World Cyber War Looks Like?”

Alarmist? I don’t think so. Nothing like this has ever happened before.

Here is my interpretation of what just happened:

July 5:

Greece voted “NO” to their bail-out, meaning they will most likely leave the European Union and issue their own national currency. Other countries may follow suit, “falling like dominoes” due to their banks’ exposure to Greek debt.

A major hacker group “Hacking Team” themselves got hacked. More than 500 GB of emails, financial and other data was leaked to the Internet. They revealed that the company had sold hacking tools to the FBI, DEA, and Department of Defense; as well as to the governments of Mexico, Australia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the UAE, Spain, and many others.

July 7:

The Intercept published documents about the Hacking Team corporation that was selling its secrets to 3rd world despots, as well as G20 countries and alphabet agencies. They revealed Zero-Day Exploits in Windows and Flash, which could be a major vulnerability across the entire Internet.

The zero-day vulnerability affects all major web browsers, including Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Google’s Chrome, Mozilla’s Firefox as well as Apple’s Safari.

[Source: Hacker News]

Such exploits need to be exploited immediately, before the companies who created them (either accidentally, or deliberately) can scramble to fix them.

The Chinese stock market tanked and trading was suspended. It has dropped more than 30% from its high a month ago. China implemented trading controls, freezing out $2.6 trillion of shares – about 40% of the country’s market capitalization.

Chinese equities have lost more than $3.5 trillion of value in less than a month as traders liquidated leveraged bets at an unprecedented pace. Foreign investors extended a record three-day exodus on Wednesday…On the Shanghai exchange, 365 companies suspended trading, equivalent to 33 percent of all listings. A further 992 were halted in Shenzhen, or 56 percent of the total.

[Source: Bloomberg]

China has been following the “Wall Street 1929 Crash” playbook with this one:


Time magazine publishes a story How Real Is The Threat Of a Cyber Attack, warning that a “black swan” cyber attack could really destabilize the world economy over the next, ummm, year – and the government has been consistently surprised by cyber attacks recently. This blames the Chinese as the most sophisticated group of cyber hackers.

Just before midnight, Anonymous tweets “I wonder if tomorrow will be bad for Wall Street”

July 8:

8:22am Bloomberg, CNet, TIME, and many others pick up the story: Attack on Power Grid Could Cost $1 Trillion

The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) was shut down for 5 hours due to a “glitch”, only opening in time for the last hour of trading.

Amazing how they can diagnose that so quickly. Especially given that by definition, “hacking” is intruding into internal technical systems.

A trader on the floor described the situation as unprecedented:

In my time in the capital markets or working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, I have never seen a complete halt of the markets due to technology problems.  Even 9/11 cannot be considered a halt because the markets never opened that day.  This is extraordinary.
There was no clue, or early indication that this would happen. The music just simply stopped playing.  There is no panic on the part of the trading community and right now we are just ensuring that we are prepared when the market re-opens… Most of the volume in this market (and most markets, for that matter) happens in the first half hour and last half hour, so the NYSE is scrambling to get us back on line for a close of the market.

[Source: Yahoo Finance]

The Wall Street Journal web site was taken down by hackers.

Zero Hedge, one of the world’s most popular financial commentary sites, was shut down. Their servers are located in Zug, Switzerland.

United airlines was shut down worldwide, affecting nearly 5000 flights.

The computer problem in the airline’s reservation system caused the FAA to impose what is known as a ground stop at 8:26 a.m. ET, meaning United flights were not allowed to take off. It lifted the stop for feeder airlines that fly under the name United Express about 15 minutes later, but it took until just before 9:47 a.m. for the ground stop to be lifted for United flights.

The computer problem had forced United to hand write tickets for passengers at multiple airports. But Record said the lack of a reservation system meant that the airline was not able to check to confirm that passengers were not on a no-fly list or that everyone on the flight was supposed to be there.

“Because of the safeguards and the backups built into the reservation system, once that goes down, everything has to stop,” Record said.

[Source: CNN]

Power was shut down in Washington DC, affecting 2500 people in the home town of Homeland’s Carrie Mathieson.

Earlier today, Anonymous tweeted this:

Was this just a one off, or has it been brewing for a while? How do we know “Anonymous” is really behind this, and not a state actor?

Going back a little earlier in the year, we can see the build up to this “First Cyber War” being seeded in the media. In particular, software pioneer, cyber-security expert, and hacker of entire countries John McAfee has been sounding the alarm.

A couple of months ago, seemingly out of the blue he started writing a column about hacking – his stories are excellent and he’s quite a character, follow him on Facebook. His most recent columns seem to have been “priming the pump” for today’s events. Prescience? Inside track? Or just a series of lucky guesses?

The first big event of the year was the infamous Sony hack – which led to racist emails between senior Sony Execs circulating.

Then we had the “next level” Sony hack – the one blamed on North Korea, timed to come out at the same time as a comedy film about assassinating the leader of North Korea.

June 4

McAfee wrote about the most damaging hack in history: Adult Friend Finder, 15 million records. There were senators and governors and their staffers in the list, using their own names and official email addresses. There were also church leaders and celebrities.

June 8

McAfee’s next column Four Million Ways To Lose Your Secrets is about how the Office of Personnel Management got hacked, the intruders stole 4 million detailed records. This includes comprehensive and highly sensitive information that is collected as part of the application for Top Secret and other security clearances. This was blamed on the Chinese government.

June 25

McAfee said the OPM hack was smokescreen for a much bigger problem: 24 major hacks in the last 30 days. None of these appear to be linked to Anonymous.

From Silicon Angle:

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) hack has acted as a smokescreen to mask a far broader problem that has occurred in the past 30 days. Here’s the full story in headlines (those in italics are included for completeness only and are not counted in the 24 hacks.):

April 7th 2015 – Russians Hack White House Computers and Even Access President Obama’s Schedule – New York Post

May 22nd 2015 – Adult Friend Finder hack exposes millions of sex seekers – SiliconANGLE #GetMcAfee’d

May 26th 2015 – 104,000 records taken from IRS Website – CNN

May 29th 2015 – IRS Blames Russia For $50 Million Hack  – Engadget

May 27th 2015 – Kentucky GOP Website Hacked – GovTech

June 1st 2015 – 1.25 Million records from Japan’s Pension System Hacked – Japan Times

June 4th 2015 – U.S. agency handling security clearances hacked – SiliconANGLE

June 5th 2015 – Records of 4 million Federal Employees Exposed in OPM Hack – NPR

June 15th 2015 – US Officials Now Say 14 Million Records Taken In OPM Hack – NPR

June 23rd 2015 – OPM Hack 4 Times Larger Than Reported – 18 Million Records Now Reported Taken – CNN

June 23rd 2015 – John McAfee predicts OPM number will reach 30 Million – SiliconANGLE

June 4th 2015 – Russia Hacks German Parliament – Business Insider

June 8th 2015 – US Army’s Website Hacked By Unknown Intruders – NBC News

June 8th 2015 – 70% Of U, S. Businesses Hacked In Past Year – Property Casualty 360

June 10th 2015 – Arizona Vehicle For Hire Licensing Agency Hacked.  Computers Still Down. – Arizona Central

June 10th 2015- Kaspersky Labs Security Company Hacked – CNET

June 10th 2015 – Apple iCloud Hacked.  Millions of Passwords Targeted – IBTimes

June 11th 2015 – Indiana Health Software IT Firm Hacked – Modern Health Care

June 12th 2015 – New Data Reveals 96% of UK Corporations Have Been Hacked – Information Age

June 13th 2015 – TV Giant Canal+ Has Been Hacked – Torrent Freak

June 15th 2015 – Newly Disclosed Hack of Homeland Security Exposes Records of 390,000 Employees, Contractors And Job Applicants – Newser

June 16th 2015 – North Dakota Workers Comp Insurer Hacked – Business Insurance

June 16th – LastPass Revealed That The Master Passwords For Its 7 Million Users May Have Been Compromised In Hack –Forbes

June 16th 2015 – Computers In House of Congress Hacked: – Breitbart

June 16th – University of Baltimore Website Hacked – WBAL-TV

June 17th 2015- Canadian Government Computers Go Dark After Cyber Attack – BBC

June 20th 2015 – Microsoft Website Dedicated to online Privacy Gets Hacked – ArsTechnica

June 22nd 2015 – Polish Airline Hack Attack Leaves 1,400 Passengers Stranded – CNBC

June 22nd 2015 – U.S. National Archives Says It’s Data Was Hacked – NextGOV

June 22nd 2015 – The NSA Hacked Into Popular Antivirus Software To Track Users And Infiltrate Networks – TechTimes

June 22nd 2015 – Script.CC. Hacked, Large Number of Bitcoin Stolen – NewsBTC

June 23rd 2015 – Britain’s National Health Services Hacked – Mirror

What can we make of the above headlines?

MCAFEED-194x194The first thing that I noticed was the complete absence of the type of hacks that appeared in the news in the previous year.  Nothing similar to the Target Corporation, Nordstrom Inc. and long string of other retail hacks; no mention of credit cards; no mention of individual financial loss.  All the mentioned hacks had to do with Political and Government personnel, or with gaining access to the deeper layers of individual lives – going way beyond mere financial data which is in constant flux.

The data taken focused on the more permanent aspects people’s lives.  For example, medical data was targeted in nearly 20 percent of the hacks (Japan’s Pension System, Indiana Healthcare Software, North Dakota Workers Comp, Britain’s National Health System).  The OPM hack, by far the most devastating, focused on the intensely personal data collected during the process of vetting people for secret security clearances.  This data included everything required to determine a person’s fundamental character.

Given the above, we can predict the following with a high degree of accuracy:

  1. More hacks of medical data within multiple states (and countries) will soon be reported.
  2. Reported hacks within the U.S. Government will spread to a number of other Government agencies.
  3. As currently known hacks unfold, they will significantly worsen.

People may be astonished by the increasing frequency of the number of hacks

[Source: Silicon Angle]


July 8

In a story this morning in IB Times, which doesn’t mention today’s attacks, McAfee said the leaks portends a grim future of global cyber war. One which we are already in.

Nothing to see here, sheeple, move along. As long as CNN tells you everything’s fine, it’s fine.

Burners have always been preparing for a post-apocalyptic, post-economic civilization – that time might be coming sooner than we think.

I don’t want to give a spoiler alert for the end of the new season of Orange is the New Black, but for anyone who’s seen it, I’m kind of imagining that…if the system shut down, and no bank accounts were working, that would probably seem fine for a moment. Eventually, reality would set in.

Wonder what is going to happen tomorrow: will the markets just shrug and move on? Will The Powers That Be continue to deny vehemently that it was a hacker attack, without even investigating?

anonymous fire satan-Fawkes

anonymous ferguson

[Update 7/9/15 5:41pm]

In today’s news, the OPM hack has now been increased to 22.1 million people’s records stolen, 1 in 15 Americans.

Officials have concluded that the larger breach, which targeted background investigation records kept by OPM, included Social Security numbers, information on family members and other contacts, as well as health and criminal records. The data haul also included an estimated 1.1 million fingerprint records.

In total, hackers are thought to have netted records on 19.7 million people who applied for background check investigations with the federal government, and another 1.8 million people including spouses who did not apply for a background check but whose information was included in the forms. Anyone who applied for a background check from 2000 on is likely to have had their information compromised…

Among the forms used in federal background checks is the Standard Form 86, an 127-page document that delves into intimate questions about prior brushes with the law, drug use, psychiatric health, and info on friends and family members. It requires the applicant to put his or her Social Security number on nearly every page of the document.

China was named as “the leading suspect” in the breach last month by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper…Officials did confirm on the call that both attacks were the work of “the same actor” who gained access to the OPM system probably starting in May or June of 2014 with a contractor’s stolen username and password. 

 [Source: NBC]

It sure seems like a lot of hacker related stuff was launched yesterday. In the Washington Post, DARPA announced a “Cyber Grand Challenge”, noting that we’re losing the cybersecurity war.

Image: DARPA/Facebook

DARPA initially started  with more than 100 teams when it began the program a year ago, but the field was quickly whittled down. On Wednesday, it announced the seven finalists chosen to compete in the competition next year. They are an eclectic band of cyberwarriors, ranging from academics representing major university computer science programs  to well-known hackers and defense industry heavyweights.

[Source: Washington Post]

[Update 7/9/15 7:24pm]

The White House and the FBI might be saying “no cyber attack”, but John McAfee thinks it was. I’m more inclined to go with the billionaire domain expert on this one, rather than the hasty diagnosis by political mouthpieces.

At around the same time that the NYSE went down, the Wall Street Journal’s website went offline, as did that of popular financial blog Zero Hedge. United Airlines also experienced a “network connectivity issue” which impacted almost 5,000 flights worldwide.

Given the criticality of technology to United Airlines, let’s assume for a moment it has a daily reliability rate of 99.9%, meaning it has a system failure once every 1,000 days – which equates to once every three years. Now, let’s assume the NYSE and the Wall Street Journal also have a daily reliability rate of 99.9%.

If these events were truly random and independent, then the frequency of all three of these events happening on the same day is once in a billion days (or if you prefer to count in years, almost 2.8 million years).

Coincidental failure is possible, sure, but it does seem highly unlikely. If you add Zero Hedge to the mix, then the probability of all four events happening on the same day rapidly approaches zero.

If we throw in the near simultaneity of the NYSE and the Wall Street Journal issues (happening within minutes of each other), then it is more likely that your car, using quantum probability effects, would leak out of your garage and show up instantly in my driveway an ocean away.

It is certainly possible, but no one in their right mind would bet on it.

[Source: IB Times]

The Financial Times commented on the attacks, and was rather dismissive of the official denials. They call for a new Agency to manage cyber defense, or just take it out of the hands of the USAF and give it to Homeland Security. That way, the same TSA goons groping you at the airport, can be looking up all your personal records in the Cyber databases too.

On paper, there is no shortage of resources; earlier this year, for example, President Barack Obama earmarked $14bn for the cyber fight. But the key problem now is not so much a lack of cash — but co-ordination: as fear spreads, a bewildering alphabet soup of different agencies and task forces is leaping into cyber battle, often with little collaboration. The institution that is supposed to be in charge of security threats is the Department of Homeland Security. But its skills are viewed with scepticism by military officials. The Pentagon has its own cyber warriors, as do America’s intelligence agencies.

The White House has tried to force these bodies to work together. Separately, civilian agencies such as Nuclear Regulatory Commission started holding discreet meetings with each other last autumn on cyber issues too. But collaboration across sectors is patchy. “The level of readiness in different agencies varies enormously,” admits a senior Washington figure at the centre of these efforts. Add in private sector bodies and the picture is even worse: not only is the Pentagon wary of sharing data with, say, the Chamber of Commerce, but companies are often terrified of revealing attacks to each other.

Is there a solution? One sensible response might be to create a new agency to provide a central focus for the cyber fight. There is precedent for that; most Washington regulators emerged in response to a new threat. The Securities and Exchange Commission, for example, was created after the 1929 stock market crash; the Food and Drug Administration appeared after scandals over dangerous medicines. A second option might be to relaunch the DHS to focus on the cyber fight. It could, for example, be named the Department of Cyber and Homeland Security.

[Source: FT]

7 hackers from L0pht raised the alarm about this to Congress in 1998, saying that any one of them could take down the entire Internet in about 30 minutes. [Source: Washington Post]

[Update 7/9/15 10:45pm]

A detailed post-mortem at Zero Hedge.

So, to summarize, the NYSE has a disaster recovery center which… they choose not to use because it is an inconvenience to clients who would rather be unable to trade!

Maybe there was a different angle altogether: with China crashing and halting 70% of the market, the US had just one response:

The Chinese stock market surged again today, after the government threatened short sellers with arrest. This may merely be a “dead cat bounce”, a reflexive response from the market when technical indicators show it as massively oversold.

It raises the prospect that the motivation of the hackers may not have been to destroy, but in fact to profit from wild swings in the stock market. The use of derivative instruments like Put and Call options can create massive profits from swings of only a few percentage points. Certainly, Anonymous would have been in a position to take out such trading positions before making their threat – and, it looks like, executing their plan.

[Update 7/11/15 2:04pm]

Financial Times: US Agency Head Resigns Over Cyber Attack


Bloomberg On SherpaGate and Burners.Me [Update]

lear jet bm 2014

The sorry saga of the Sherpa and the Popsicle Camp has made it to Wall Street. Bloomberg BusinessWeek has published a lengthy article on the whole affair, titled Occupy Burning Man: Class Warfare Comes To The Desert Festival. Yes, we’re in it..the lone voice speaking out against this Class Warfare being at Burning Man. Larry Harvey’s shifted from “rich people are straw men”, to seeing Burning Man as an educational tool for the 1%…and apparently this was the thinking behind Caravancicle. Now they are promoting all types of ironic theatrical pranks being planned for the event by Burners as our response, like Commodification Camps are now some sort of art theme in the Carnival. Burners will jump to create another bingo item for the amusement of the safari selfie sherpas crowd. Have they read some of the comments on groups like Sherpa Liberation Front? Maybe the online feedback gets filtered before it is handed up the pyramid to the board.

[Update: 2/6/15 8:47pm] Bloomberg TV delves further into this story.


The Billionaires at Burning Man

Move over, Google Bus. There’s a new symbolic fight over tech money, class, and privilege

by Felix Gillette

For his 50th birthday, Jim Tananbaum, chief executive officer of Foresite Capital, threw himself an extravagant party at Burning Man, the annual sybaritic arts festival and all-hours rave that attracts 60,000-plus to the Black Rock Desert in Nevada over the week before Labor Day. Tananbaum’s bash went so well, he decided to host an even more elaborate one the following year. In 2014 he’d invite up to 120 people to join him at a camp that would make the Burning Man experience feel something like staying at a pop-up W Hotel. To fund his grand venture, he’d charge $16,500 per head…

The mission of the new organization is to propagate the Burning Man culture throughout the world, in part by launching a series of smaller, regional festivals. In theory, the beefed-up board will use its far-reaching professional connections to help accelerate the global spread. “It’s not a thoughtless amassing of rich folks,” says Harvey of the expanded board. “But if you want to change the world, you’d better get some people who have real muscular power.”

Outtrim points out that for years there have been wealthy people at Burning Man. In the past it wasn’t in people’s faces. “What’s really been an issue with the Caravancicle camp,” Outtrim says, “is the involvement of someone from the Burning Man Project’s board of directors.

Historically, he adds, Burning Man was “a great leveler”—nobody in Black Rock City cared who you were. The prevalence of costumes allowed the rich and famous to mingle with the masses. “For a lot of captains of industry and the celebrities, it was a chance for them to go and be a normal person at the party like anybody else,” says Outtrim. “But bringing in servants is where it’s become a bit of a problem. It’s pushing buttons related to class war in San Francisco.”

Lillie liked the idea of using Burning Man as a crucible to re-educate the 1 Percent. She signed on to work as a bartender and server. Her pay would be a flat rate of $180 per day…The only employees who appeared to be enjoying themselves, Lillie wrote, were the attractive models, a posse dubbed the “mistresses of merriment,” who had traveled from L.A. ostensibly to flirt with and help entertain the male guests. During the telephone interview, Lillie concedes that she never saw any harassment of workers take place. But she says the introduction of paid laborers like her into the libertine atmosphere of Burning Man created an awkward dynamic. “It was like a bunch of old, married men expecting a freaky sex party at Burning Man. The girls were all kind of looked at as though we were going to be a part of that.”

…For his part, Harvey, who personally invited Grover Norquist last year, continues to see the arrival of the ultrawealthy as a good thing for Burning Man. “I want to convince people that it isn’t as if the 1 Percent represents an evil bacillus that like Ebola will sweep through our city,” he says. “That’s not possible. Much of the anger is because of a feeling of impotency. The whole issue of the 1 Percent has been a matter of public discourse for some time now, and nothing has changed. People are frustrated. … My mission is to reform the 1 Percent.”

Read the full article here.

Invoking ebola here seems to be the ultimate use of the straw man rhetorical diversion tactic. People want to be convinced that the Board are going to uphold the Tin Principles, instead of coming up with new ways to run ever-more lavish and high dollar Commodification Camps with Exclusive wrist-band only Gifting. That’s the issue Larry, not Ebola.

I must commend Sherpa Beth Lillie for everything she has done for the community in being the whistleblower on this story, as well as thanks to all the other sources who have also come forward. And we should thank the OS “Original Sherpa” Tyler Hanson, who first raised the alarm about ridiculous gentrification replacing radical self-reliance in the New York Times the week before the last Burning Man. Perhaps from now on the Commodification Camps will fund more (and better) art, or culturally indoctrinate their wealthy clients more thoroughly. Free the sherpas!

Will some fresh LSD Billionaire Burgins arrive as a result of this article, lining up for Larry & Co to re-educate them with a life-changing experience, and pulling out their checkbooks to donate to the Burning Man Project’s global colonizing mission? Stay tuned.