Thursday, October 24, 2013

Spying on European allies

It's understandable and necessary to have a certain amount of cynicism about leaders like German Chancellor Angela "Frau Fritz" Merkel professing to be shocked, shocked to find out he US is spying on them.

But for what it's worth, my reading of the news is that there are aspects about the spying revelations that some countries are generally surprised and angry about. The spying on EU trade negotiators, for instance, whose only likely purpose is to gain an extra advantage in trade negotiations that will primarily be applied to the advantage of American corporations at the expense of European ones. The massive spying on French citizens, of whom it's unthikable that millions are involved in terrorist plots against American interests or American citizens.

There are formal and informal rules governing mutual spying between allied nations, the latter not being posted on government websites. Whatever those informal rules are between the US and the EU nations and NATO allies, it certainly looks like not only European citizens but numerous European officials think the US has drastically overstepped them with the NSA spying. Roland Nelles writes in Merkels Wut, Obamas Versagen Spiegel Online 24.10.2013

Der Lauscher kann die Politik des Belauschten voraussagen. Er kann sich auf Verhandlungen besser einstellen, weil er alle Absichten und Erwägungen seines Gegenüber bereits kennt. Er kann - zumindest theoretisch - geheimes Wissen sogar nutzen, um dem Abgehörten massiv zu schaden, um ihn oder sie womöglich sogar zu erpressen oder bloßzustellen.

Wer die Kommunikation anderer Staatschefs abhört, verhält sich wenigstens niederträchtig, wenn nicht sogar feindselig. Es gibt Hinweise, dass die Bundeskanzlerin im Visier von US-Geheimdiensten gewesen sein könnte. Der SPIEGEL hat darüber zuerst berichtet. Ist Deutschland ein Feind der USA?

Barack Obama hat bislang den Eindruck erweckt, der Gute im miesen Spiel rund um die Sammelwut der US-Geheimdienste zu sein. Es ginge den USA bei allen Überwachungsmaßnahmen allein um Terrorbekämpfung, lautete das Mantra, mit dem das Ausland besänftigt werden sollte. Alles Bluff: Fast täglich kommen neue Enthüllungen über Abhörangriffe auf "befreundete" Nationen ans Licht: Frankreich, Mexiko, Deutschland. Wie lang ist die Liste noch?

[The eavesdropper can predict the politics of the one being eavesdropped. He can adjust himself between to negotiations because he already knows the intentions and considerations of his opposite number. He can - at least theoretically - even use secret knowledge to cause massive harm to the one being intercepted, in order to blackmail him where possible or ruin him.

Whoever eavesdrops on the communications of another chief of state is conducting himself in a miscreant way, if not downright hostile. There are indications that the Federal Chancellor [Merkel] could have been in the sights of the US spy agencies. Spiegel first reported on it. Is Germany the enemy of the USA?

Barack Obama has up until now awakened the impression that he's the good guy in the filthy game around the collecting mania of the US secret services. All the spying measures had to do only with fighting terrorism, ran the mantra by which foreigners should be put at ease. All bluff: Almost daily new revelations come to light about new spying attacks on "friendly" nations: France, Mexico, Germany. How long will the list wind up being?]
One good outcome for ordinary citizens in the US and the EU from the fallout from the NSA spying scandals might be the torpedoing of the negotiations for the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA), aka, Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a new neoliberal treaty to weaken consumer protections and workers rights and lower the incomes of the majority for the benefit of the wealthiest. (Annett Meiritz, EU vs. USA: Spähverdacht gefährdet Freihandelsabkommen Spiegel Online 24.10.2013)

Claus Christian Malzahn in the conservative Die Welt writes about the possible serious implications of the latest revelations about NSA spying on our nominal ally Germany. (Ein Skandal von ungeheurer politischer Sprengkraft 24.10.13) Presseurop's English-language version of the story has a less dramatic headline. Die Welt's would translate, "A scandal with monstrous political explosive power." Presseurop uses a more sedate, American Eavesdropping: Communication lines under tension:

... it would be good to know why this incredible breach of trust was exposed not by German intelligence services but by journalists. Does the BND [German secret service] consider the eavesdropping on the most powerful politician in Europe a mere trifle? ...

Only a few days ago in Paris the American Ambassador was hauled into the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs because of suspicions that the war on terror is serving to cloak industrial espionage as well.

Just this question was brought up during the election campaign by Chancellory candidate Peer Steinbrück. At the time, some thought it overly dramatic. Today it turns out that Steinbrück’s question was more than justified.
At least the hapless candidacy of Peer Steinbrück did something right!
Malzahn notes:

Western values are not protected by this sort of practice; on the contrary, this practice can lead to the end of the West as political formation. The political consequences of the recent scandal can certainly not be predicted. And how much can we rely on assurances from Washington that this is a misunderstanding? Probably not at all.
Another commentary in Die Welt by Uwe Schmitt, Die Supermacht ist in kleinmütige Paranoia gestürzt 24.10.2013, notes than its espionage, the US under the Obama Administration "hardly seems to differentiate between friend and foe" ("die zwischen Freund und Feind kaum Unterschiede zu machen scheint"). Schmitt writes, "Die paranoide Überwachung von jedem und allem wird peinlich für die Vereinigten Staaten, sie schädigt Ruf und Geschäfte" ("The paranoid surveillance of one and all is becoming embarrassing for the United States; it's damaging its reputation and businesses"). And he notes that the experience of the East German Stasi (secret police) is a reminder that massive spying doesn't necessarily lead to better knowledge.

Which is another way of saying that when spy agencies collect indiscriminate piles of information, it makes it more difficult to sort out relevant information for actual criminal investigations. And he notes that the problems with the Obamacare rollout also raises a question about whether the US government is as super-efficient in its computer operations as the NSA would have us all believe it is.

Schmitt speculates plausibly - though without citing particular polling data - that the post-Bush charm that Europeans found in Obama has been replaced by a perception of him "as a wolf in sheep's clothing: conciliatory, always laughing, intelligent, leading with high morality in his mouth, hard as steel like a Cold Warrior" ("als Wolf im Schafspelz: Konziliant, stets lächelnd, intelligent, die hohe Moral im Munde führend, stahlhart wie ein Kalter Krieger").

James Ball reports for The Guardian in NSA monitored calls of 35 world leaders after US official handed over contacts 11/24/2013:

The National Security Agency monitored the phone conversations of 35 world leaders after being given the numbers by an official in another US government department, according to a classified document provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The confidential memo reveals that the NSA encourages senior officials in its "customer" departments, such the White House, State and the Pentagon, to share their "Rolodexes" so the agency can add the phone numbers of leading foreign politicians to their surveillance systems.

The document notes that one unnamed US official handed over 200 numbers, including those of the 35 world leaders, none of whom is named. These were immediately "tasked" for monitoring by the NSA.
He also notes:

The European Commission, the executive body of the EU, this week backed proposals that could require US tech companies to seek permission before handing over EU citizens' data to US intelligence agencies, while the European parliament voted in favour of suspending a transatlantic bank data sharing agreement after Der Spiegel revealed the agency was monitoring the international bank transfer system Swift.
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