Home > NewsRelease > US Forensic Expert: UK Defendant Convicted with NSA Email Sweep
US Forensic Expert: UK Defendant Convicted with NSA Email Sweep
Steven Burgess -- Computer Forensics Expert Steven Burgess -- Computer Forensics Expert
Los Angeles, CA
Monday, July 15, 2013

An email account created by co-defendants of Russell Knaggs, who the BBC calls a "drug kingpin," was surveilled by the NSA. The American spy agency apparently provided a half year's worth of ongoing surveillance to British authorities. The data from the email account was used in trial against all of the co-defendants. California forensic expert Burgess produces report showing where the data came from.

The American spy agency, NSA, secretly surveilled a Yahoo! mail account belonging to co-defendants of UK prisoner, Russell Knaggs, in connection with an alleged complex drug conspiracy. The users of the account were employing a draft email in the Yahoo! account as a messaging board - deleting, editing, and rewriting drafts, but never actually sending an email. Said interceptions occurred continuously over several months, even while draft emails were in the process of being edited.

California forensic expert, Steve Burgess, analyzed evidence presented by the UK authorities and showed that captures of email drafts in the account were intercepted ongoingly, and that at times multiple copies of a draft only minutes apart were intercepted, even as the author was typing.

Yahoo! officers in the UK and US said that such capabilities did not exist - that any deleted draft email data older than 48 hours that was unavailable to the user of the account was also unavailable to Yahoo! - that it was rendered impossible to recover.

Nonetheless, 83 pages of email drafts covering about 29 weeks were produced as evidence. SOCA (Serious Organized Crime Agency) Senior Investigating Officer, Paul Ashton, told the jury in the drug conspiracy trial that a letter of request (LOR) for assistance was sent to the FBI, which in turn provided the

Yahoo! data that the jury was reviewing. Although the email evidence was discussed in open court, multiple reports by BBC News never mention email.

Speaking from the California laboratory of Burgess Forensics, the analyst said, "With Snowden's releases in the Washington Post and Guardian and the NSA's subsequent acknowledgement of the formerly secret PRISM program, we now know a means for that Yahoo! data to have surfaced, and at this point PRISM is the only possible known route for it to have come to light."

UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague addressed the UK House of Commons on June 10, 2013 and stated that "It has been suggested GCHQ [The UK's Government Communications Headquarters] uses our partnership with the United States to get around UK law, obtaining information that they cannot legally obtain in the UK. I wish to be absolutely clear that this accusation is baseless."

However, counsel for the defendant states that "the email data produced at trial was not produced as stated by the prosecution, based on expert reports. As the experts state the email data has been produced by interception of the email account, and PRISM is the only explanation - such obtained evidence would be inadmissible in a UK courtroom."

Responses to the legal team's requests of Yahoo!, law enforcement agencies in the both the UK and the US have continued to hold a pall of secrecy over official explanations as to how the email evidence was obtained. Nevertheless, the defendants in the case have been given more than 80 years' imprisonment on the basis of such evidence.

Counsel has sent a letter directly to the Yahoo! Board of Directors in Sunnyvale in an attempt to receive an explanation as to how Yahoo! obtained the email data, which they themselves said could not be obtained.

Appeals are ongoing.
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