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Sep 25 2013

US and UK revealed to be spying on foreign businesses too

It is typically US government (and its apologists) practice to carefully define things so that it excludes US actions from any wrongdoing and include only what other countries, preferably its enemies, do. We have seen how that applies in the case of defining what constitutes chemical weapons, torture, war, and war crimes.

In the early days of the NSA revelations, one heard the “Every nation spies on others” defense. But it is a fundamental tenet of US exceptionalism that being just like others is not good enough. The US has to be better, in fact the best, when it comes to moral behavior, however much the evidence is against it. So the argument was put forth that the US spies on the world for security reasons and to combat terrorism (a noble goal that justifies the spying) while (say) the evil Chinese spy on foreign businesses in order top give their own companies an advantage (which makes it cheating and that’s bad). NPR’s Pentagon propagandist Tom Gjelten made precisely that argument in the early days of the Snowden revelations, as usual seeing his role as being a mouthpiece for his government sources.

One clear consequence of Snowden’s disclosures has been the damage they’ve done to U.S. efforts to put pressure on China over its cyber-espionage. In a newspaper interview last week, Snowden said the NSA is hacking into Chinese telecom networks, and into the computers at a prominent Beijing university.

U.S. officials are especially angry about those claims. They have little to do with Snowden’s expressed wish to prompt debate about surveillance programs aimed at American citizens. But such disclosures have great propaganda value for China. Says one U.S. businessman who deals often with Beijing: This will make the Chinese insufferable.

Right on cue, the Foreign Ministry spokesman in Beijing yesterday said the news of U.S. hacking into Chinese computers shows the United States has a double standard when it comes to cyber-security. But U.S. officials insist that any cyber-spying they do is normal intelligence gathering, while what the Chinese do is to steal trade secrets for the benefit of their commercial companies.

Oh, those Chinese! In addition to being inscrutable, which is bad enough, they will also now be insufferable about the fact that the US also spies on others, without appreciating the fine distinction that the US spies for noble reasons while they spy for crass ones.

Now the Brazilian newspaper O Globo reports that the NSA is also spying on foreign businesses.

One of the prime targets of American spies in Brazil is far away from the center of power – out at sea, deep beneath the waves. Brazilian oil. The internal computer network of Petrobras, the Brazilian oil giant partly owned by the state, has been under surveillance by the NSA, the National Security Agency of the United States.

The spying is confirmed by top secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden, and obtained exclusively by Fantastico. Snowden, an ex-intelligence analyst employed by the NSA, made these and thousands of other documents public last June. He has been given asylum by Russia.
These new disclosures contradict statements by the NSA denying espionage for economic purposes.

Coming on top of the revelations that the US has been spying on the internal communications of her (and other Latin American) government, this may have been the last straw that triggered the blistering attack on the US at the UN by the Brazilian president who had also earlier cancelled a state visit to the US in protest.

Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, has launched a blistering attack on US espionage at the UN general assembly, accusing the NSA of violating international law by its indiscriminate collection of personal information of Brazilian citizens and economic espionage targeted on the country’s strategic industries.

Rousseff’s angry speech was a direct challenge to President Barack Obama, who was waiting in the wings to deliver his own address to the UN general assembly, and represented the most serious diplomatic fallout to date from the revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

“Personal data of citizens was intercepted indiscriminately. Corporate information – often of high economic and even strategic value – was at the centre of espionage activity.

Also, Brazilian diplomatic missions, among them the permanent mission to the UN and the office of the president of the republic itself, had their communications intercepted,” Rousseff said, in a global rallying cry against what she portrayed as the overweening power of the US security apparatus.

“Tampering in such a manner in the affairs of other countries is a breach of international law and is an affront of the principles that must guide the relations among them, especially among friendly nations. A sovereign nation can never establish itself to the detriment of another sovereign nation. The right to safety of citizens of one country can never be guaranteed by violating fundamental human rights of citizens of another country.”

Washington’s efforts to smooth over Brazilian outrage over NSA espionage have so far been rebuffed by Rousseff, who has proposed that Brazilian build its own internet infrastructure.

As host to the UN headquarters, the US has been attacked from the general assembly many times in the past, but what made Rousseff’s denunciation all the more painful diplomatically was the fact that it was delivered on behalf of large, increasingly powerful and historically friendly state.

Meanwhile Der Spiegel reveals that the British spy agency GCHQ has hacked into a Belgian telecommunications giant Belgacom.

Documents from the archive of whistleblower Edward Snowden indicate that Britain’s GCHQ intelligence service was behind a cyber attack against Belgacom, a partly state-owned Belgian telecoms company. A “top secret” Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) presentation seen by SPIEGEL indicate that the goal of project, conducted under the codename “Operation Socialist,” was “to enable better exploitation of Belgacom” and to improve understanding of the provider’s infrastructure.

It appears that GCHQ was using snooping technology provided to them by the NSA and hence you can be sure that they were sharing the data with them.

The disclosures are yet another illustration of the extremely aggressive scope of the clandestine spy operations that have been conducted by both the United Kingdom and the United States. Infiltration of computer networks is usually more commonly associated with Russian and Chinese government hackers, but the British and Americans are at it, too, even targeting their own allies’ communications. The surveillance tactics appear to have few limits, and while government officials have played up the necessity of the spying for counter-terrorism, it is evident that the snooping is often highly political in nature.

The US government has been at great pains to try and persuade the American public that they have not been spying on them but only on foreigners. In fact, it may well be that the US is using the UK to spy on Americans and then share the data with them, thus allowing the NSA to claim that they are not spying on Americans. That would be typical of the kind of lying the US government is particularly adept at.

Of course, people in the rest of the world do not see why their privacy should be casually invaded by the US in the first place. Why should the US think that it has the right to do so? A coalition has been formed to demand from European leaders that the practice of mass surveillance be stopped.

Index will announce that 40 free speech groups have also joined the campaign, including Amnesty International, Liberty, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Russian PEN Centre. Free speech organisations from Canada, Bahrain, Malaysia, Poland and Finland have also signed the petition.

It may be shocking to some in the US, but the rest of the world is not a US colony whose people and governments it can deal with as it likes.

3 comments

  1. 1
    ysoldeangelique

    It may be shocking to some in the US, but the rest of the world is not a US colony whose people and governments it can deal with as it likes.

    Only to the Tea Party and National Extremists . . .

  2. 2
    doublereed

    Honestly, espionage is one of those fields where double standards are just friggin’ everywhere. The US is particularly bad when it comes to using the “But it’s okay because we’re the good guys” excuse.

    Everyone acts like they don’t do it, while doing it, and while accusing others of doing it.

  3. 3
    trucreep

    Regarding the spying on Petrobas, I read an interesting bit about how they are very much disliked in the industry due to their government sponsorship. There were complains on how they “cheat” in the industry because they have all the benefits of knowing what their government knows, or “insider information” you could say. I’m not familiar with this sort of thing, but there was some sort of auction coming up regarding the pre-salt (?) oil found off their coast, and this may be a large reason as to why the NSA targeted Petrobas; to gain an advantage for US-based oil companies in this auction.

    Makes me think of how close the government is to these types of companies. Petrobas may be owned by the Brazilian government, but it seems like the US government is owned by its oil companies.

    I think the story of how the NSA gives Israel its information pre-minimization adds credence to that theory.

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