Over the past few days, I’ve seen several columns, articles and comments claiming that the Signal secure SMS system is run by the CIA or a CIA spinoff and/or is owned by Twitter.
Disclaimer: I’m just a layperson and this is based on the limited time I’ve had to research things and my own common sense. I could easily be wrong. I’m just providing you with information so that you can make a more informed decision. Personally, I’m not worried about Signal.
This apparently stems from This Article by a journalist named Yasha Levine.
It’s basically a bunch of “connect the dots” conspiracy theories that rely on innuendo rather than evidence.
First, is Signal owned by Twitter? No, that’s the easy one. That one isn’t a claim made by Levine, but I believe it’s based on a misunderstanding about one of the points he raises in his article.
The Signal Encryption Protocol (upon which the Signal App’s end to end encryption is based) was invented a guy named Moxie Marlinspike. Moxie Marlinspike was one of the founders of a company called “Whisper Systems” that was acquired by Twitter in 2011. It is possible that some precursor encryption protocol was acquired by Twitter in the sale, but the Signal Encryption Protocol didn’t exist at the time of the sale. Moxie Marlinspike started a new, nonprofit called “Open Whisper Systems” in 2013 and that’s where the Signal Encryption Protocol was developed. Twitter had and has nothing to do with it.
Secondly, the “Signal is a CIA false flag” charge.
Again, the Signal Protocol was developed by Moxie Marlinspike in 2013. It was at that time called “TextSecure” and was incorporated into an open source messaging app by the same name. The name was changed to the Signal Protocol in 2016 and the Signal App was born.
Before I delve into the “evidence” against Signal, I want to talk about my impressions about Mr. Levine.
I’m the first to decry the use of ad-hominems in an argument because if the information provided is true, it doesn’t matter where it came from, but in a case like this where the information is based more on innuendo and “analysis” than facts, it is important to get a feeling for the possible motivations of the person providing the analysis.
A little searching on the internet reveals that Yasha Levine is an immigrant from the USSR. On it’s face, that’s no big deal…in fact it could be a positive, but I don’t think it is. The first thing that caught my attention is the titles of a few of his pieces including A Journey Through California’s Oligarch Valley and The Koch Brothers: A Short History.
The next thing I noted was the publications he has written for. The list is a who’s who of leftist pablum: Wired, The Nation, Slate, TIME, The New York Observer, etc.
Finally, I find that he’s one of the co-founders of the “S.H.A.M.E project”, which is nothing more than an exercise in maligning prominent right leaning journalists and commentators by prodigious use of out of context or misleading quotes and information, or just good old fashioned guilt by association.
So, Levine is a refugee from an oppressive Socialist regime, but apparently his takeaway was to hate “oligarchs” rather than Socialism itself. I can’t say I blame him for disliking Oligarchs considering the fact that in the USSR, Oligarchs attained their wealth and power primarily through corruption, political connections and ruthless abuse of power – but failing to consider the role that the form of government itself had in enabling this behavior is a fatal flaw in my opinion.
At any rate, Levin is a dedicated leftist. So, what possible motivation could he have for maligning a communication avenue that is becoming increasingly popular on the right?
Hm…quite the mystery.
So…what about his claim about Signal?
Apparently, he bases his entire premise that Signal is a false flag for the CIA on three paragraphs from this article in the Wall Street Journal.
Around that time, the State Department was looking to use technology to support pro-democracy movements overseas. Mr. Marlinspike’s work caught the attention of Ian Schuler, manager of the department’s Internet freedom programs. Encrypted messaging was viewed as a way for dissidents to get around repressive regimes.
With help from Mr. Schuler, Radio Free Asia’s Open Technology Fund, which is funded by the government and has a relationship with the State Department, granted Mr. Marlinspike more than $1.3 million between 2013 and 2014, according to the fund’s website.
Mr. Marlinspike was hardly a conventional Washington player. He and a government official missed meeting one another at a San Francisco burrito joint because the visitor assumed the dreadlocked Mr. Marlinspike couldn’t be the person he was there to see, Messrs. Schuler and Marlinspike said.
The fact that the State Department liked his work and he received a grant from a government sponsored fund is firm evidence that the Signal Protocol is compromised?
More of that patented innuendo and out of context information that Mr. Levin is so fond of.
What about counter evidence? Well, there’s the fact that there have been several analysis and reviews of Textsecure an Signal over the years, none of which have found any major issues with the encryption protocol or have indicated that it may be compromised in any way. These are not the contributions of a “journalist” with an axe to grind against the right, but analysis of cybersecurity experts from such organizations as The University of Waterloo, The University of Bonn, Stanford University, The Electronic Frontier Foundation, The University of Applied Sciences Austria…
I could go on but I think you get the drift.
Personally, I’d rather rely on crypto security experts more than a leftist journalist who relies on innuendo and vague conspiracy theories.
But that’s just me, what do I know?