Perhaps one of the most striking and revelations about the latest NSA surveillance news story, this one published Sunday by The Bild am Sonntag newspaper in Germany, was that it was not based on leaked documents from the now famous NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
What the paper reported, based on information provided by a "high-ranking NSA employee in Germany," was that the U.S. spy agency—after being outed for spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel—responded to an order to refrain from spying directly on Merkel's phone by intensifying its monitoring of other high-level officials in her government.
"We have had the order not to miss out on any information now that we are no longer able to monitor the chancellor's communication directly," the source told the newspaper.
But, as journalist Glenn Greenwald pointed out in his Monday column, the fact that the revelations are based on a "high-ranking NSA employee in Germany" means that whoever spoke to the paper "is yet another NSA source to come forward to disclose the agency’s once-secret acts."
And Seth Millstein, writing at the Bustle, explains why the importance of the Bild am Sonntag reporting is two-fold:
First, if this report is true, the NSA is apparently hell-bent on spying on Germany’s top officials. Tapping Merkel’s phone is one thing — a big thing, to be sure — but to tap her aides’ phones after the initial phone-tapping goes public, and after promising not to do so again, is another thing altogether. It’s borderline hostile, and communicates the U.S.’s true global priorities loudly and clearly to Germany. If the report is accurate, those priorities don’t include respecting Germany’s privacy as a supposed U.S. ally.
But the source of this leak is important, too. Bild am Sonntag said that the information came from a high-ranking NSA employee in Germany. Edward Snowden doesn’t work for the NSA anymore (duh), and by all accounts, he’s currently in Russia. This means that there’s another potential leaker within the agency’s ranks — or, at the very least, an NSA employee who feels comfortable coming forward to the press about the agency’s most secretive, controversial activities abroad.
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Whether or not the source can be trusted or if the public will hear from he or she again is not yet clear, but if there is a new NSA whistleblower ready to step forward with even a fraction of what Snowden has, it could further shatter the guarded secrecy of the agency with a global reach.
Additionally, numerous commentators have suggested that one of the reasons why the U.S. government's focus on capturing and punishing Snowden is to dissuade other would-be whistleblowers—in the NSA or other government agencies—from following his example.
What "amazes" TechDirt blogger Mike Masnick about the latest revelations regarding the NSA's ongoing surveillance program of German politicians "is the fact that it's already leaked out."
The seemingly un-authorized disclosure, writes Masnick, comes "despite all the talk of cracking down on future leaks out of the NSA, the NSA already has another leaker releasing information that is clearly politically sensitive."
It's possible, writes Millstein, "that the overall success of Snowden’s dramatic reveal has inspired other NSA employees to spill the beans on aspects of U.S. surveillance with which they’re uncomfortable."
And as Masnick concludes: "So many folks like to point to Snowden as if he's the only leaker the NSA ever had or ever will have. But it's increasingly looking like there are others within the NSA who are equally uncomfortable with what's become of the intelligence community."