computer `trap' probed
Rigged software claimed to hack
By Valerie Lawton and Allan
Toronto Star Ottawa Bureau
OTTAWA - The RCMP is conducting a probe related
to allegations that foreign spies used rigged
software to hack into Canada's top secret
Star investigation has found the probe revolves
around stunning claims that computer software
used by the Mounties and Canada's spy service to
co-ordinate secret investigations was rigged with
a ``trap door'' to allow American and Israeli
agents to eavesdrop.
If this proves true, it would be the biggest ever
breach of Canada's national security.
experts say a sophisticated trap door -
essentially a computer bug - can be impossible to
find, even if you know it's there. They can be
hidden in either software, as a tiny bit of rogue
code, or in the computer's hardware, stored on a
Canada already shares a wealth of intelligence
information with the U.S. and Israel, there are
many elements of Canadian intelligence gathering
that the government wouldn't be anxious to share
`We welcome any
credible and serious investigation of
|- Bill Hamilton
Joint owner of Inslaw Inc., the
Washington-based company that developed
Promis. He refused to say whether the
Mounties have contacted him.
That could include economic intelligence on
trading partners, detailed information on the
whereabouts of terrorism suspects in Canada or
strategic information on the positions Canada
intends to take in international relations.
RCMP would not formally confirm the existence of
the probe by its National Securities
cannot either confirm or deny what you're looking
into,'' RCMP spokesperson Sergeant Marc Richer
sources close to the investigation say it
revolves around Promis, a software program first
developed to assist prosecutors in the United
States Department of Justice. The case management
software also has application for intelligence
agencies keeping track of surveillance and
Promis software was at the centre of a major U.S.
scandal a decade ago.
and Nancy Hamilton, owners of Washington-based
Inslaw Inc., the company that developed Promis,
caused a sensation when they alleged the U.S.
government had stolen their software and pedalled
pirated versions to intelligence agencies around
former Israeli spy also alleged the software had
been fitted with an electronic trap door to allow
American and Israeli agents to spy on those who
used the software.
a series of contradictory court rulings and
investigations, the story dropped out of the
headlines years ago. But now, a Star
investigation has found that a number of people
linked to the Promis affair have been interviewed
by RCMP investigators in recent months.
Buffardi, a lawyer who represents an American
computer wizard, who claims he helped prepare
Promis software for sale to Canada, said his
client was interviewed by RCMP officers who said
they are probing a possible breach of Canada's
former stockbroker, John Belton, who lives in
Eastern Ontario and has been tracking the Promis
case for years, said RCMP investigators have made
repeated trips to his home to conduct interviews
on the subject.
player in the saga, who asked not to be
identified, said RCMP investigators have talked
to him about their concerns that Canada's
national security may have been breached.
said Bill Hamilton was among those interviewed by
the RCMP. Reached in Washington yesterday,
Hamilton refused to say whether or not the
Mounties had talked to him, but said he was glad
to hear there was an investigation.
welcome any credible and serious investigation of
this affair,'' Hamilton said.
Promis case was never fully resolved in the U.S.
but many regard it as the domain of conspiracy
1987, a U.S. court upheld some of the software
company's claims of stolen software and found
there was evidence the U.S. justice department
used ``trickery, fraud and deceit,'' to steal the
Promis software from Inslaw Inc.
ruling was later overturned on procedural
grounds. And in 1993, the report of a retired
judge hired to probe the matter concluded there
was no credible evidence the software had been
stolen by the justice department.
Promis software is still in use in some U.S.
prosecutors' offices and available for sale
Canadian government entered the story - publicly,
at least - in 1991.
when a federal bureaucrat called Inslaw with a
routine request: Was the Promis software, already
in use by some government departments, also
available in French?
was, Inslaw hadn't sold its product to anyone in
started asking questions in Ottawa, where
officials quickly backtracked. There had been a
mix-up, they said, some confusion about the name
of the software.
insisted at the time no government department was
using Inslaw's Promis.
RCMP Corporal Glen Kibsey refused to comment on
whether the RCMP uses Promis software.
spokesperson for CSIS, the spy service, also
refused to comment on what software the agency
uses, or the reports of an RCMP investigation.
embassy spokesperson Buck Shinkman said he was
not aware of any RCMP investigation, or any
developments in the Promis file.
unaware of any renewed interest in this story,''
spokesperson at the Israeli embassy could not be
reached for comment.
former Ontario stockbroker involved in Promis
affair said he has been interviewed by the
Mounties numerous times over the last 18 months.
said RCMP officers told him they are
investigating whether the Mounties have Inslaw's
Promis software, if it was stolen, and whether
the security of the RCMP has been compromised as
a result of trap doors in the software.
said he's aware some people will regard him as
someone who lives in a fantasy world of
conspiracy theories and spooks.
not dealing with paranoid crazies, or the UFO
guys. I'm very serious about this,'' Belton said.
said the proof that his allegations are being
taken seriously is the fact that RCMP
investigators have been coming to see him for 1
1/2 years to discuss the evidence he has to
said RCMP officers have already confirmed to him
that they do use the Promis software and have
told Hamilton his software was in use by the
chainsmoking Belton unraveled his story at the
kitchen table of his sprawling, ramshackle house
near Ottawa. The table is stacked with thick
binders jammed with documents detailing his
documents, detailed notes of telephone
conversations and newspaper clippings are marked
up with highlighter and neatly organized.
addition to Belton, an Illinois lawyer
representing Riconoscuito - the American computer
whiz who has publicly claimed he helped prepare
Inslaw's Promis software for sale to Canada in
1983 and 1984 - said in an interview that RCMP
investigators talked to his client.
was first contacted by the RCMP, oh geez, eight
or nine months ago,'' Riconoscuito's lawyer Louis
said the RCMP investigator told him the matter
involved a possible breach of Canada's national
were interested both in going over Riconoscuito's
previous claims about his involvement in
modifying the Promis software, as well as asking
him about some new information, the lawyer said.
of the modifications that I made were
specifically designed to facilitate the
implementation of Promis with two agencies of
Canada: the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the
Canadian Security Intelligence Service,''
Riconoscuito once said in a sworn affidavit.
who is currently being held at a federal prison
in Pennsylvania on drug charges, couldn't be
reached for comment.
player in the saga, who asked not to be
identified, also confirmed he has been contacted
by RCMP investigators who want to question him
about the Promis software.
another person who sources claimed was on the
RCMP interview list - Madison Brewer, who managed
the Promis software project at the U.S.
Department of Justice in the 1980s - said the
allegations were fantasy.
people who make these accusations are just
crazies,'' said Brewer, insisting he has had no
contact with the RCMP.
said the Promis software wasn't all that it was
cracked up to be and that Inslaw fomented the
scandal as ``a bunch of public relations crap.''
lead RCMP investigator working on the file, Sean
McDade, was reached by telephone this week but
refused to divulge any information about the
putting me in a bad spot here. I can't comment on
what's happening right now,'' McDade said.
issues that I am not able to talk about and have
nothing to do with what you're probably making
a matter that is under investigation - not that
Inslaw is under investigation by any sense, but
certain elements have just twigged my interest
and that's it. There is no official investigation
that I can talk to you about right now.''
also warned reporters to be wary of the web of
intrigue surrounding the affair. ``I kind of get
a chuckle out of how something so small has been
blown out of proportion.''
a history of Israel's Mossad published last year
suggests the software did wind up in Canada.
his book, Gideon's Spies, Welsh author Gordon
Thomas recounts the tale of how Rafi Eitan,
former deputy director of operations at Mossad,
claimed that both Israel and the United States
had sold modified Promis software to other
countries through front companies.
of the characters linked to the affair is Ari
Ben-Menashe, a former Israeli intelligence agent
now living in Montreal. He claimed in his book,
Profits of War, that he played a role in having a
trap door installed in the Promis software, which
was then distributed around the world. He wrote
that the Americans and the Israelis sold the
doctored software to many countries, including
Canada, Britain, Australia, South Korea, Iraq,
Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Nicaragua.
an interview, Ben-Menashe said Canadian
authorities quizzed him about Promis seven years
ago in the course of security screening
interviews after he applied for Canadian
Ben-Menashe, who now runs a security consulting
firm in Montreal, was adamant that he has had no
contact with the RCMP in connection with the
the Promis story line sounds like a Le Carre
novel, intelligence experts say it is not
entirely implausible that some of Canada's close
allies would use software to spy on this country.
the RCMP officers investigating the affair use a
mysterious electronic mail address to pass
messages. The e-mail address includes the word
Promis, spelled backwards - simorp.
say a sophisticated trap door can be impossible
to find. The trap door code is tucked within
hundreds of thousands of lines of programming
hacker can activate it with a specific set of key
strokes and then use it to download all the
information on a database - completely
micro-chip trap door would have to be implanted
in the computer main frame, likely replacing a
chip that's actually supposed to be there.
allows a hacker to used a modem to dial into the
central computer and pull out any interesting
information stored there.
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