The furor over the latest NSA revelations

The NSA revelations, as promised, keep coming.

The latest is that the US has been spying heavily on its closest allies in the EU. This has, predictably, not gone over well with the Europeans who are miffed at the idea that their own friends are spying on them. The language emerging from them has been exceedingly harsh, suggesting that this may not be the usual faux outrage designed simply to pacify their own citizens. The reaction has been more of a sense of betrayal of trust, like that of someone discovering that their lover has been snooping through all their personal things. John Kerry’s ‘surely everyone does this’ defense is not going down well.

This latest revelation has also exposed the hollowness of the US claims that all this is done in order to protect against terrorism.

“The Americans justify everything with combatting terrorism,” said the Luxembourg foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, who on Sunday described the latest allegations as disgusting. “The EU and its diplomats are not terrorists.”

Harlem Désir, the head of the French Socialist party, told France Info radio that if the latest revelations were true, “it would be an unacceptable scandal”. He said the spying allegations were of such a nature that they could call into question the EU-US negotiations. He added: “The fight against terrorism cannot explain everything.”

Meanwhile, reports are emerging that Edward Snowden, the person who opened the floodgates to all this information, may ask to stay in Russia, and the Russian president has said that he will not hand him over to the US. Like with Ecuador, the past actions of the US have made its claims for extradition of Snowden hollow, even if such a treaty with Russia existed, which it does not.

Since Putin first acknowledged Snowden’s arrival in Moscow, officials have repeatedly noted the absence of a bilateral extradition treaty. Russia has often expressed concern over its citizens held in the US, namely Viktor Bout, a convicted arms trafficker with suspected ties to Kremlin officials.

These countries seem to have the quaint idea that some sort of reciprocity should exist between nations. For so long, the US was the country that political fugitives fled to, so they could simply reject demands from other countries to return them. It is not used to the idea that people now view it as an oppressive state to flee from, and so its past decisions are coming back to haunt it.


  1. jamessweet says

    I have to admit, I feel somewhat differently about Snowden’s leaks regarding state-against-state spying than I do about state-against-citizen snooping. I still don’t know exactly HOW I feel, but it’s definitely different… For two reasons:

    The first is because the anti-transparency arguments are less obviously bullshit now. I simply do not believe that being transparent about the *policies* for widespread data collection significantly impairs the effectiveness of resulting investigations. I suppose in theory a sufficiently paranoid criminal/terrorist would have to expend slightly less effort to hide their communications if they knew the policies… but it’s such a vague and hypothetical and minor cost, I just ain’t buying it. On the other hand, it’s difficult to deny that, whatever benefit the US felt they were gaining by bugging EU offices, that’s pretty much wrecked by disclosing it. It’s the difference between disclosing policy vs. disclosing an instance of that policy being exercised.

    The second reason is because I don’t see a civil liberties angle here. Certainly, the US has been shamefully hypocritical when it comes to state vs. state cyber-espionage. But this isn’t part of a “turnkey dictatorship”.. I don’t see how bugging the EU could be turned to suppress dissent and freedom of speech, for example. Maybe there is something I am missing on that point…?

    Nevertheless, I’m not saying he was wrong to leak it… I’m not saying he was right, either. It’s more of a gray area for me. The leaking of state-on-citizen snooping, that is a no-brainer. That shit needs to be out in the open so we can have a dialog about it. This one, I am more troubled by. The US is being dishonest and arguably breaking int’l law, so on that side of things, I suppose you could argue that it is right to leak… But OTOH, is there ever an instance of justifiable state-on-state spying? I would argue that yes there is. Is this one of them? I don’t know. In this case, the argument that Snowden has unilaterally decided what should be disclosed, I think it does hold some water here. I don’t know, like I say, I am conflicted….

  2. Corvus illustris says

    According to the Spiegel reports, high on the list of things that really infuriate the EU people is the notion that US bugs have been used to eavesdrop on intra-European discussions of trade agreements between the US and the EU. This is not state-on-state spying so much as person (remember, US corporations are persons) on person spying for financial gain, apparently using the expertise of the Ami government’s spooks–and the US taxpayers picking up the bill.

    BTW, with the UN report on the treatment of Bradley Manning available, no UN member needs to honor a demand for extraditing Snowden: the US’ well-known propensity to torture prisoners (or arrange to have them tortured) is now out there to use as a treaty-based reason to demur.

  3. CaitieCat says

    Also, the US has consistently refused to extradite some criminals (and I mean the word advisedly, these are people tried and convicted, but who fled justice), like the pair of Ecuadorean fraudsters who were part of a huge M$660 ripoff, were tried, convicted, and took off before being sent down. They’re living high in Florida, and the US won’t turn them over. Similar problems exist with Russia, and a number of other countries.

    But the US wants other countries to hand over the suspects – suspects, because contrary to evident belief in the US media, the right to be presumed innocent still applies, even if the alleged miscreant is shouting about their clear guilt from the rooftops – so that it can try them mostly in secret, then sentence them probably to pretty-much torturous imprisonment.

    And wonders why no one wants to. Maybe Mr. Obama should check into some spying on what the rest of the world thinks of the US these days, if they have time when they’re done doing totally legal things in total secrecy because TAIRISTS PEOPLE, TAIRISTS! I’m pretty sure they could find a contractor to gather that data, and probably wouldn’t have to pay the analysts >$120k/annum to get it, as I understand telephone survey operatives are not very highly paid.

    It would, however, lack that cool-kid cachet of being utterly illegal.

  4. says

    Seeing how Manning was treated, it is a fact that any country extraditing Snowden to the US has “reason to believe he may be subjected to torture” – and, in fact, treason can be punished by death. In principle, no civilized country (or part of the EU) would extradite Snowden to the US, though in practice that’s not a safe bet. Sorry, US, but you’re a pariah state now.

    Thanks Bush and Obama!

  5. says

    This is not state-on-state spying so much as person (remember, US corporations are persons) on person spying for financial gain, apparently using the expertise of the Ami government’s spooks

    In other words: exactly what Washington has been whining about the eebil Chinese doing.

  6. brucegee1962 says

    I can’t help but wonder if part of the reason our allies are so outraged isn’t just the fact that we were spying, but the fact that we got caught.

    I mean, it’s probably true that “everybody does it.” But it seems to me that the first rule of Counterspying 101 is that “You don’t put all your eggs in one basket, and if you do, you guard the basket.” Making vast databases of highly confidential stuff and then allowing access to low-level flunkies (Manning) and contractors (Snowden) pretty much guarantees that the stuff is going to get uncovered.

    No one has been saying it, but we’re phenomenally lucky that the two leakers so far have been motivated by altruism rather than greed. If they’d gone to North Korea or Iran with all their info, would we even know about it at this point?

    I mean, if our counterespionage had been this bad in World War II, we would have lost. Period.

    Everyone has some dirty laundry. It’s bad enough to find out that your friend has been snooping around in your porn collection. But if your friend then turns around and blabs about it to everyone in town, that kind of makes it ten times worse, doesn’t it?

  7. Corvus illustris says

    FWIW, the German-language Spiegel is reportiing that the head of the Green Party–which has been part of ruling coalitions in the past–is saying that Snowden should be given asylum in Germany. (Why not France? they’ve given asylum to Roman Polański, who has actually been convicted on a nonideological charge.)

    If you can pick your way through Spiegel-Deutsch: the German-language Spiegel site has lots more stuff on the Ami spies than their English version does.

  8. says

    The next card that Greenwald and Snowden are playing is the domestic cell phone intercept technologies and techniques. As I predicted early on (more precisely, I said “I hope…” they play it this way) they released the less explosive stuff first to draw a reaction from the government – to get them to clearly voice their lies. Once the lies are clearly stated, then is the time to throw down the evidence contradicting them.

    This is a classical example of how to reap what you sow. The government has been recklessly stupid and has aggregated too much secret power in one place, then compounded that stupidity by producing self-congratulatory briefing materials describing their “accomplishments.”

    I am disappointed because Nixon’s government was brought down for doing much less; everyone appears to be convinced that they can keep water out of the boat but there ought to be pitchforks and torches and a general run for the lifeboats. I think it’s because the media, having been bought, are remaining bought and are still playing along.

    If I have a daydream scenario, it’s this: the endgame comes when Snowden and Greenwald start posting redacted versions of the data that’s available for a number of prominent journalists. I think we’re seeing two things: the establishment press is still afraid to lose its “access”; it has not yet learned the lesson Greenwald and Taibbi and Hastings have to teach them: that the interesting stories come from off the beaten track, and what you get with your “access” is publicist-written marketing. The second thing is professional jealousy. Let’s be honest about it: Bob Woodward – The Great Bob Woodward – is coming to be seen as a clown who’ll lube up and insert anything, in order to get facetime with The President. And now we all know that his big break was not his brilliant digging – it was an anti-CIA ‘hit’ by a senior executive of the FBI using him to do some interagency score-settling. When the history of this time is written, Woodward and his ilk will be labelled “patsies.” They know it and it’s like wormwood and gall mixed in their champagne and caviar. In Marcus fantasy-land, Greenwald and Snowden publish what the NSA had (at the time Snowden lost access) on Bob Woodward, Michael Bloomberg, and Nancy Pelosi. Because having the proctoscope turned on them is not what the powerful signed up for – even though (if they have any brains) they will have put 2 and 2 together and figured out where the FBI got Petraeus’ emails, and where Spitzner’s credit card bills came from – and they’re probably already realizing that they need to keep their mouths shut because their asses are hanging in the breeze. They will un-hang their asses right quick and then the revenge will begin.

  9. Corvus illustris says

    Everyone has some dirty laundry. It’s bad enough to find out that your friend has been snooping around in your porn collection. But if your friend then turns around and blabs about it to everyone in town, that kind of makes it ten times worse, doesn’t it?

    But that’s a faulty analogy. What’s gone on here is that your friend has wired up your marital bedroom and made high-def sex tapes (but of course not watched them: we’re Puritans!). After all, even you might engage in terroristic sex. However, eventually your friend’s techie buddy, who has assisted him in his depredations, realizes your friend’s moral position is untenable. The buddy has had enough and starts blabbing. How the dirt got on your laundry is nobody else’s business.

  10. Corvus illustris says

    I agree with you totally, and this is the most perfect storm of mixed metaphors I have ever had the pleasure to read. 🙂

  11. says

    If they’d gone to North Korea or Iran with all their info, would we even know about it at this point?

    It would have had absolutely ZERO effect. Iran and North Korea pose no threat to the US, at all. Giving the information to the Russians, Israelis, or Chinese would have equally had ZERO effect because they should already be assumed to know about all this stuff. Any country with a real intelligence operation would be able to easily penetrate US security: as we’ve seen the imbeciles appear to have aggregated all their material into one silo and then placed that silo under management by contractors.

    I am coming to believe that a great deal of the excitement that is being caused is simply bureaucratic fear that the degree to which they’ve fucked up is going to be uncovered.

    Making vast databases of highly confidential stuff and then allowing access to low-level flunkies (Manning) and contractors (Snowden) pretty much guarantees that the stuff is going to get uncovered.

    4 other points on that score:
    1) The systems Manning accessed were at a lower level of classification, but appear to have the same design: a great big data-dump set up by idiots
    2) There are approximately one million people with clearance comparable to Manning’s. You can be sure that none of them are in the pay of the Chinese or Russians. Not a single one. Nope.
    3) There are approximately 400,000 people with clearance comparable to Snowden’s.
    4) In both the Manning and Snowden “situation” it appears that the agencies did not maintain even basic-level system logs or audit trails. This is farcical. In my day job I am the Chief Security Officer of a software company; if some piece of data leaves my network perimeter I can tell you how much, who sent it, how it was sent, and where it was copied from – that’s just basic computer security 101 stuff that the nations’ top spy agency (the one responsible for protecting the country’s data from… everyone…) appears to have forgotten to do. This is n00b-level stuff. It’s shocking.

    I mean, if our counterespionage had been this bad in World War II, we would have lost. Period.

    It was!!! We won because of our industrial capacity and strategic position – there probably wasn’t any piece of intelligence that would have been “make or break” stuff. Remember – the Mahattan Project had been utterly compromised, the Russians were right on the tail of the US the whole way, they were just behind on the engineering.

    The best way to explain the situation is from Tim Weiner, the author of the must-read “Legacy of Ashes” (and “Enemies”) – a brief history of the CIA. He says:
    What the US needed was a first-rate intelligence agency. What it got was a “department of dirty tricks”

  12. says

    The only places I can think where a massive US intelligence failure in WWII could have made a difference are two: if the Japanese had been reading US codes during the battle of Midway. Things then might have gone very differently but it would have only delayed the inevitable for Japan. The other would be if the Germans had been able to solidly prepare for D-Day and had gotten the SS Panzer Lehr positioned as a counter-strike force; the allies could have been wiped out. The result of that would have been a Soviet Europe and a very different Cold War.

  13. smrnda says

    When it comes to excesses of the US, I’m hoping the disgust of the rest of the world can help turn things around. If the US becomes some sort of pariah state, it might force us to improve.

  14. steffp says

    A little correction from the outside (or the 96% of the world’s population NOT living in the US)
    The US Government and media, for the last 70 years, have published each and every half-wit Soviet, Cuban, Iraqi or Iranian defector’s tales as pure truth, and granted them all asylum. Because of the illegitimate prosecution of those defectors at home. If the USSR or the Cuban government had asked for their extradition, the answer was always negative. Not a single case.
    The Snowden disclosures evidence illegal spying on US citizens – clearly unconstitutional -, spying on everybody else’s phones, eMail & data – a Human rights issue – bugging “friendly” governments’ buildings – break of international treaties and Diplomatic protocols-, etc. These are grave violations. The guys who did such things in East Germany, in a by far less effective and technically antiquated way are regarded criminals these days. Not so the NSA and its sister institutions.
    Instead, Mr. Obama states that the US only do what everybody else does, so why bother. All he finds important is that he can get the whistleblower, the traitor, for thorough “advanced” questioning and public execution.
    In fact he admits that the Us these days is a rogue state like the old USSR, Iran and North Korea.
    Which in turn means that any civilized state on earth will grant Snowden political asylum from prosecution by a rogue state. Though, of course, many pray that Snowden won’t test them.
    Waiting for the next portion of Snowden’s data…

  15. Corvus illustris says

    A little correction from the outside ….

    The only possible source of correction, as was abundantly clear in the runup to the Iraq war. People pin their hopes on the internet, but it isn’t universally available, and then there’s the monoglot US culture and reliance on wired = cable TV, which combine to block outside correction as effectively as the radio jamming from the East Zone ever did (back in the day).

  16. sailor1031 says

    It may well be that the europeans are so unsophisticated that it is a surprise to them to learn that the americans have bugged them. However I find it hard to believe that the countries that created the Gehlen organization, MI5, the Deuxieme Bureau etc are this naive. What we are now seeing is, in my opinion, pure theatre as the jockeying for advantageous position starts.

  17. slc1 says

    It appears that the private company that supposedly investigated Snowden, USIS, before he was hired by Booz Allen didn’t do a complete investigation, lied to the Government that they had done and is now under investigation itself.

    What the appropriate Congressional committees should be investigating is the privatization of NSA activities by the Beltway Bandits, including background investigations (this is what the FBI used to do before most of their agents were assigned to anti-terrorist activities). They should also be investigating Booz Allen as to why Snowden was worth $200,000/year. This is in addition to the points raised by Ranum.

    Of course, none of this will be done because these private contractors to whom government functions have been assigned have too much power via campaign contributions among other things (e.g. job offers after retirement from government service) .

    Just like the unionized prison guards in privatized prisons in California who are the most powerful union in the state.

  18. Corvus illustris says

    … background investigations (this is what the FBI used to do before most of their agents were assigned to anti-terrorist activities) …

    ‘Way back when, I was unofficially told that because I had led an unsupervised life in the early 1960s as a grad student in (western) Europe, it would be futile for me ever to apply for a security clearance: why, I might have slipped through the Curtain and received spy training ftom … you get the picture. Apparently things are different under our new, benevolent corporate masters.

  19. steffp says

    Now, that’s a fine figure of speech: “unsophisticated”, as in “playing dumb”.
    Of course every country has spies.
    But, sailor, up to today international relations and conflicts have been narrated as being grounded in diverse sets of values, with the US side playing the high moral grounds and Human Rights card. I agree that this was a hoax from the start, but now it’s official.
    And the second part of that narrative was that the red line is between the forces of freedom & human rights and the violators of human rights. Kind of good and bad guys scenario.
    Now the narrative is a simple competition of diverse amorally acting Machiavellian patriotisms. No more moral reason for spying on the bad guys. No more good and bad, simply us vs. everybody else. The end of the faked cold war solidarity: it’s official, every other state is a target, a foe, an enemy.
    I’m thankful that this is now so abundantly clear.

  20. steffp says

    You mean to say that US secret service employees are security checked by private firms?
    Well, of course, everything else would be Socialism…

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