Tuesday Reads: U.S. Spies on Foreign Countries and Other “Blockbuster” NewsPosted: September 3, 2013
In the weeks since Edward Snowden absconded with thousands of top secret National Security Agency (NSA) files and traveled to Hong Kong and then Moscow and handed over the documents to Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras, we’ve learned that the U.S. spies on lots of other countries. Snowden has revealed that NSA has spied on China, Russia, Germany, France, Brazil, Mexico, Israel, Iran, and the UN. Oddly, we haven’t gotten much new information from Snowden about illegal or abusive NSA spying on Americans, which Snowden initially suggested was his reason for stealing the secret documents.
To most nominally intelligent and informed people, the fact that NSA spies on foreign countires is not particularly surprising; since collecting foreign signals intelligence (SIGINT) is the primary purpose of NSA as stated publicly on their website. Here is NSA’s statement of their “core mission”:
The National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS) leads the U.S. Government in cryptology that encompasses both Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and Information Assurance (IA) products and services, and enables Computer Network Operations (CNO) in order to gain a decision advantage for the Nation and our allies under all circumstances.
The Information Assurance mission confronts the formidable challenge of preventing foreign adversaries from gaining access to sensitive or classified national security information. The Signals Intelligence mission collects, processes, and disseminates intelligence information from foreign signals for intelligence and counterintelligence purposes and to support military operations. This Agency also enables Network Warfare operations to defeat terrorists and their organizations at home and abroad, consistent with U.S. laws and the protection of privacy and civil liberties.
Spying on foreign countries is what NSA does. Why that is perceived as somehow illegal and/or shocking by Greenwald, Poitras, Snowden, and their cult followers, I have no clue. But the fact that a spy agency collects foreign signals intelligence really should not be considered breaking news; and the countries that are complaining about it are well known for spying on the US in return–and in some cases (e.g., China, Russia, and Israel) for famously stealing U.S. secrets and technology.
Today the Washington Post has a new “blockbuster” article that reveals that the U.S. is particularly focused on spying on Pakistan. Now I wonder why that would be? Anyone want to speculate? It couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that Pakistan concealed the location of Osama bin Laden for years, could it? Or the fact that Taliban and al Quaeda operatives regularly hide in Pakistan? Just a couple of wild guesses…
Here’s an excerpt from the WaPo article:
A 178-page summary of the U.S. intelligence community’s “black budget” shows that the United States has ramped up its surveillance of Pakistan’s nuclear arms, cites previously undisclosed concerns about biological and chemical sites there, and details efforts to assess the loyalties of counterterrorism sources recruited by the CIA.
Pakistan appears at the top of charts listing critical U.S. intelligence gaps. It is named as a target of newly formed analytic cells. And fears about the security of its nuclear program are so pervasive that a budget section on containing the spread of illicit weapons divides the world into two categories: Pakistan and everybody else.
The disclosures — based on documents provided to The Washington Post by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden — expose broad new levels of U.S. distrust in an already unsteady security partnership with Pakistan, a politically unstable country that faces rising Islamist militancy. They also reveal a more expansive effort to gather intelligence on Pakistan than U.S. officials have disclosed.
The United States has delivered nearly $26 billion in aid to Pakistan over the past 12 years, aimed at stabilizing the country and ensuring its cooperation in counterterrorism efforts. But with Osama bin Laden dead and al-Qaeda degraded, U.S. spy agencies appear to be shifting their attention to dangers that have emerged beyond the patch of Pakistani territory patrolled by CIA drones.
“If the Americans are expanding their surveillance capabilities, it can only mean one thing,” said Husain Haqqani, who until 2011 served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States. “The mistrust now exceeds the trust.”
The stolen files also reveal serious human rights issues in Pakistan and fears about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Raise your hand if you’re shocked by any this. I can certainly see why these revelations would be harmful to U.S. national security and foreign relations, however.
Via The Jerusalem Post, another Snowden leak revealed by the Washington Post showed that members of terrorist organizations have tried to join the CIA.
…individuals with past connections to known terrorist entities such as al-Qaida, Hezbollah and Hamas, have repeatedly attempted to obtain employment within the CIA, The Washington Post reported on Monday.
Among job-seekers that seemed suspicious to the CIA, approximately 20% of that grouping reportedly had “significant terrorist and/or hostile intelligence connections.” The nature of the connections was not described in the document.
“Over the last several years, a small subset of CIA’s total job applicants were flagged due to various problems or issues,” an anonymous CIA official was reported as saying. “During this period, one in five of that small subset were found to have significant connections to hostile intelligence services and or terrorist groups.” [....]
The document also allegedly stated that the CIA re-investigates thousands of employees each year to reduce the possibility that an individual with these connections may compromise sensitive information.
Can anyone explain to me why this should be considered criminal or why the person who revealed it should be called a “whistle-blower?” It seems to me, the only reason for revealing the methods the U.S. uses to collect foreign SIGINT is a desire to harm U.S. Government and damage its foreign policy. Here’s Bob Cesca, who has consistently critiqued libertarians Snowden and Greenwald and their anti-government motives from a liberal, rational point of view: Greenwald Reports NSA Spied on Presidents of Brazil andMexico.
We’re not sure exactly which section of the U.S. Constitution protects the privacy rights of foreign leaders, but Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden appear to believe it’s in there somewhere. The tandem crusaders for the Fourth Amendment have once again extended their reach beyond what was intended to be their mutual goal of igniting a debate in the United States about the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s surveillance operations, and, instead, opted to reveal that, yes, the U.S. spies on foreign leaders. Shocking, I know.
Specifically, on the Globo television show “Fantasico” in Brazil, Greenwald described a July, 2012 document stolen from NSA by Snowden, which describes how NSA had intercepted communications made by the president of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto, as well as Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff. (Incidentally, the Globo article contains 13 corporate trackers or “web bugs.”)
The goal of revealing this information is clear. Greenwald and Snowden have successfully exploited the “sparking a debate” motive as a Trojan Horse for injecting unrelated information into public view as a means of vindictively damaging the operations of U.S. and U.K. intelligence communities, not to mention the reputation of the United States as a whole, while also pushing the unrealistic message that surveillance is generally impermissible. Yes, we already knew that nations spy on other nations, but to publicly disclose specific instances of international spying — while on the soil of one of the nations being surveilled — confirms these suspicions and sorely embarrasses everyone involved.
But guess what? Both Mexico and Brazil have powerful spy agencies that conduct “active surveillance” on the U.S.
In Brazil, it’s called the Agência Brasileira de Inteligência (ABIN or the Brazilian Intelligence Agency). It deals with external and domestic intelligence gathering: collection and analysis of information that’s intercepted via both signals (SIGINT collects email, phone calls and so forth) and human resources.
In Mexico, it’s called S-2. Like ABIN or NSA, S-2 also collects SIGINT on foreign targets, with a special focus on the military operations of foreign governments. Along with its counterpart, the Centro de Información de Seguridad Nacional (Center for Research on National Security or CISIN), S-2 is tasked with counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism operations.
Has anyone overheard Greenwald mention, even in passing, either of these agencies? Likely not, and don’t hold your breath waiting for Greenwald to attack Brazil’s intelligence community, even knowing that it wiretapped its own Senate and Supreme Court several years ago. Along those lines, we don’t know exactly whether these agencies have attempted to spy on any of our presidents or government officials, but wouldn’t Greenwald, as a U.S. citizen and resident of Brazil, want to find out using the same “Glennzilla” tenacity he’s employed while exposing U.S. spying? If his crusade now involves universal privacy, wouldn’t that include violations by the Brazilian government, especially knowing that Greenwald lives in Rio de Janeiro?
Read more at the link.
In other news….
The civil war in Syria continues to be the top international story, and The New York Times has a couple of helpful articles. The first is an explainer that deals with Key Questions on the Conflict in Syria. I won’t excerpt from it–read it at the NYT if you’re interested. Next, an article that explains how American policy on Syria may affect possible negotiations with Iran: Drawing a Line on Syria, U.S. Eyes Iran Talks.
As the Obama administration makes a case for punitive airstrikes on the Syrian government, its strongest card in the view of some supporters of a military response may be the need to send a message to another country: Iran. If the United States does not enforce its self-imposed “red line” on Syria’s use of chemical weapons, this thinking goes, Iran will smell weakness and press ahead more boldly in its quest for nuclear weapons.
But that message may be clashing with a simultaneous effort by American officials to explore dialogue with Iran’s moderate new president, Hassan Rouhani, in the latest expression of Washington’s long struggle to balance toughness with diplomacy in its relations with a longtime adversary.
Two recent diplomatic ventures have raised speculation about a possible back channel between Washington and Tehran. Last week, Jeffrey Feltman, a high State Department official in President Obama’s first term who is now a senior envoy at the United Nations, visited Iran to meet with the new foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and discussed possible reactions to an American airstrike in Syria.
In line with the international beating up on the U.S. that has followed the Snowden-Greenwald-Poitras “revelations” that NSA spies on foreign countries, The Daily Mail has a snarky article with numerous photos about a dinner that John Kerry had with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in 2009.
An astonishing photograph of John Kerry having a cozy and intimate dinner with Bashar al-Assad has emerged at the moment the U.S Secretary of State is making the case to bomb the Syrian dictator’s country and remove him from power.
Kerry, who compared Assad to Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein yesterday, is pictured around a small table with his wife Teresa Heinz and the Assads in 2009.
Assad and Kerry, then a Massachusetts senator, lean in towards each other and appear deep in conversation as their spouses look on.
A waiter is pictured at their side with a tray of green drinks, believed to be lemon and crushed mint.
Now, why would Kerry be having dinner with Syria’s president? The Daily Mail tells us:
The picture was likely taken in February 2009 in the Naranj restaurant in Damascus, when Kerry led a delegation to Syria to discuss finding a way forward for peace in the region.
At the time, Kerry was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and what he was doing is called “diplomacy.” But looking back in the age of Snowden, it seems that instead of having a polite dinner, Kerry should have punched Assad in the nose and screamed at him at the top of his lungs to get with the program–or something…
From the Wall Street Journal: Syrian Electronic Army Hacks Marines Website
A collection of pro-Syrian government hackers apparently defaced a Marine Corps recruitment website Monday.
The Syrian Electronic Army, which has hacked a series of websites, posted a letter on the Marines.com website arguing the Syrian government is “fighting a vile common enemy.”
“The Syrian army should be your ally not your enemy,” the letter read. “Refuse your orders and concentrate on the real reason every soldier joins their military, to defend their homeland. You’re more than welcome to fight alongside our army rather than against it.”
See a screen shot at the link. The site is now back up and running normally.