9 August 2013 — Strategic Culture Foundation
Just what has got American politicians so worried about Moscow’s decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum in Russia?
It seems like this decision caught the American administration off guard. At any rate, on the day when the issuing of Russian documents to Snowden was the main world news story, Barack Obama was planning a conciliatory meeting with congressmen, including fellow Democrats, who were especially critical of the administration and the National Security Agency with regard to spying on American citizens.
The day before, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper released hurriedly declassified NSA documents which the mainstream press did not rush to publish or comment on. The documents were meant to persuade the indignant congressmen to call a truce and to stanch the wave of their reproaches against the administration. Not only did it clearly follow from the declassified NSA materials from 2009-2011, addressed to the Committees on Intelligence of both houses of Congress, that the U.S. Congress was fully informed about the monitoring regimen which restricted Americans’ right to privacy, but they also contained paragraphs which justified the NSA. The documents indicated that intelligence is conducting routine monitoring only of the “metadata” of Internet searches or e-mail without viewing the content of e-mail messages. For greater persuasiveness, in both of the letters to the Committees on Intelligence the words about the exclusion of the content of telephone conversations or e-mails from monitoring were boldly underlined. (1)
Need it be said that by the time of the planned meeting, on the backdrop of the news which had just come in from Russia and Europe the boldly underlined copy looked unconvincing? Russia calmly granted Snowden temporary asylum at his request, and The Guardianprinted the next batch from the arsenal of disclosures it has at its disposal. This time it threw an information bomb right at the reasoning in defense of the NSA about its “ignoring” the content of private correspondence, and it knocked the arguments out of the hands of the American intelligence agency by citing its own documents which stated quite the opposite.
The National Security Agency, reported The Guardian, quoting the agency’s documents, has a “wide-reaching” program called “XKeyscore” which makes it possible to closely monitor “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet”. (2) A presentation on the program boasted of the NSA’s ability to accurately detect providers of private networks in country X or obtain data for decoding and detection of users speaking, for example, German and located in another country. It’s not surprising that Berlin, considering the upcoming Bundestag elections in September and under the barrage of public criticism for the government’s connivance with American monitoring of German citizens, made the extraordinary decision to break off long-standing relations with its allies’ intelligence agencies.
On August 2, as reported by DPA, Germany announced the cancellation of an agreement on surveillance of its telecommunications networks made in 1968 with the United States, France and Great Britain (at the same time in Germany a law restricting secrecy of correspondence, as well as of postal and telephone communications, came into force). Under this agreement the German Federal Intelligence Service (Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND) was obligated to provide Washington, London and Paris with requested information. According to the DPA report, there has not been a single request since 1990. And why should there be, if, as it turns out, the needed information can be obtained without any requests or red tape?
In connection with such a serious decision from Berlin, France’s attempts not to lose face under the pressure of the revelations looked like a desire to shift the anger of the French people at their government’s groveling before the Americans onto Great Britain. On August 4 Le Monde published an entire series of analytical materials and reports; one of the headlines, which was typical for the entire set, read: “How Great Britain Spied With the Help of Operators” The report lists English telecommunications and Internet companies which collaborated with the English Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and reveals the history of “special relations” between U.S. and British intelligence under the UKUSA agreement. Little-known details were also reported, for example, about the Bude station on the west coast of Great Britain which enables GCHQ to “use information from all the transatlantic cables coming from America.” The reequipping of the station, according to the article, was financed by the “historical partner” of the GCHQ, the U.S. National Security Agency, in the amount of 15.5 million pounds.
Thanks to agreements with telecommunications companies, stated Le Monde, British secret services obtained access to transatlantic fiber-optic cables by which telephone and Internet communications are transmitted. To analyze the messages, they use the Tempora system, the British equivalent of America’s Prism.
The materials in Le Monde to a great extent repeated the article published earlier in the same newspaper by renowned Scottish journalist Duncan Campbell, “The United Kingdom is the Master Spy” (3). The article by Campbell, an expert in the field of civil rights violations and electronic espionage, was preceded by an editorial introduction stating that if in the U.S. and Great Britain public opinion and the political class refuse to understand the significance of Edward Snowden’s revelations about the global system of telephone wiretapping, for the rest of the world these revelations have brought about a “decisive moment”.
Duncan Campbell recalled the loud campaigns in Europe against the 2008 American law (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendment Act) which required American IT companies to transmit data about foreigners to intelligence agencies. We might add that similar campaigns, like the recent “Restore the Fourth” campaign, regularly sweep America as well.
Rank and file Americans are in no better situation when it comes to guarantees of their constitutional rights than are Europeans. For example, absolutely nothing hinders partners from Great Britain with “special status” from spying on U.S. citizens. Legislative barriers (like the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution) can be easily overcome when the secret agreements made between the two intelligence services during the cold war era is based on “parity in exchange of sensitive information” (4).
The American intelligence agencies are being actively assisted in this by private companies. “We made them part of the team,” said former National Security Agency director Michael Hayden about the numerous “contractors” which provide the NSA with “security services”. One of these private companies is Booz Allen Hamilton, the international consulting firm at which Edward Snowden worked. In 2002 this company won a 63 million dollar contract for an earlier version of the current NSA data monitoring program. That program, called “Total Information Awareness”, was cancelled after the intervention of Democratic congressmen because of the obvious intrusion of monitoring into the private lives of Americans. However, the connections between this consulting firm and American intelligence remain strong. Current Booz-Allen vice president Mike McConnell was the Director of National Intelligence during the administration of George W. Bush, and before that he was the director of the NSA. Current Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was also once a member of the leadership of Booz Allen Hamilton.
American journalist Michael Hirsh, after surveying several American intelligence veterans, writes: “With Edward Snowden on the run in Russia and reportedly threatening to unveil the entire ‘blueprint’ for National Security Agency surveillance, there’s probably as much terror in Silicon Valley as in Washington about what he might expose.” The journalist’s viewpoint on the issue is fully reflected in the headline of one of his articles: “Silicon Valley Doesn’t Just Help the Surveillance State—It Built It” (5)…
The scandal begun by the revelations of Edward Snowden is apparently still far from over. On August 6, The Guardian correspondent Glenn Greenwald reported that he has possession of another 15,000-20,000 documents which he received from Snowden in Hong Kong and which could tell a lot about “the espionage activities of the US government and allied governments” (6).
And it is important that in the course of these revelations an important issue that they have brought up is not relegated to the background – the submission of the draft of the Convention on International Information Security, initiated at one time by Russia and China, to the UN; this Convention would seriously hamper the use of information technologies to the detriment of fundamental human rights and freedoms.