Laura Poitras has a new story out in Der Spiegel today about how the NSA and GCHQ targeted 122 world leaders for spying, in addition to leading German telecommunications companies and particularly their engineers, using a hitherto secret court order to do so.
A secret NSA document dealing with high-ranking targets has provided further indications that Merkel was a target. The document is a presentation from the NSA’s Center for Content Extraction, whose multiple tasks include the automated analysis of all types of text data. The lists appear to contain 122 country leaders. Twelve names are listed as an example, including Merkel’s
One top-secret GCHQ paper claims the agency sought “development of in-depth knowledge of key satellite IP service providers in Germany.”
The document, which is undated, states that the goal of the effort was developing wider knowledge of Internet traffic flowing through Germany. The 26-page document explicitly names three of the German companies targeted for surveillance: Stellar, Cetel and IABG.
Contacted by SPIEGEL, Stellar CEO Steffen said he had not been aware of any attempts by intelligence services to infiltrate or hack his company. “I am shocked,” he said.
This episode exposes once again the hypocrisy of the west who talk loudly about freedom and other virtues when railing against their enemies and then go strangely silent when it comes to applying those same principles to their friends.
Monitoring companies and their employees along with the theft of customer lists are classic acts of economic espionage. Indeed, such revelations ought be a case for the German federal public prosecutors’ office, which in the past has initiated investigations into comparable cases involving Russia or China.
So far, however, German Federal Public Prosecutor Harald Range has been struggling with the NSA issue. Some experienced investigators have had a problem applying the same criteria used to assess intelligence services like Russia’s to those of the United States and Britain. Federal prosecutors in Karlsruhe have provided a preliminary assessment, but so far no decision has been made about whether the agency will move forward with legal proceedings.
The launch of legal proceedings against GCHQ agents or NSA employees would quickly become a major political issue that would further burden already tense trans-Atlantic relations. An additional problem is the fact that Range is in possession of very few original documents, particularly those pertaining to the NSA’s monitoring of Chancellor Merkel.
These new revelations may create public pressure for the clearly reluctant prosecutors to take action and charge people.
Under review at the moment are allegations that the NSA monitored the chancellor’s mobile phone and also conducted mass surveillance on the communications of millions of Germans. Range recently told the Berlin-based daily Die Tageszeitung the affair was “an extremely complicated issue.”
“I am currently reviewing whether reasonable suspicion even exists for an actionable criminal offense,” he told the newspaper. “Only if I can affirm that can I then address the question of whether a judiciary inquiry would run contrary to the general public interest — a review required for any espionage-related crime” in Germany. A decision is expected soon.
Ryan Gallagher at The Intercept has more on the story.
The ultimate aim of GCHQ was to obtain information that could help the spies infiltrate “teleport” satellites sold by these companies that send and receive data over the Internet. The document notes that GCHQ hoped to identify “access chokepoints” as part of a wider effort alongside partner spy agencies to “look at developing possible access opportunities” for surveillance.
In other words, infiltrating these companies was viewed as a means to an end for the British agents. Their ultimate targets were likely the customers. Cetel’s customers, for instance, include governments that use its communications systems to connect to the Internet in Africa and the Middle East. Stellar provides its communications systems to a diverse range of customers that could potentially be of interest to the spies – including multinational corporations, international organizations, refugee camps, and oil drilling platforms.
Is there anyone anywhere who still thinks that all this spying is about fighting terrorism?