NSA Stories from Around the World

Revelations continue to produce outcomes on multiple levels in numerous countries around the world

I'm still working at trying to get the next set of NSA stories published. That, combined with a rapidly approaching book deadline, will make non-NSA-article postings difficult for the next couple of weeks. Until then, here are a few items to note regarding a point I have often tried to make: namely, one of the most overlooked aspects of the NSA reporting in the US has been just how global of a story this has become:

(1) Last week it was revealed that Belgium's largest telecom, Belgacom, was the victim of a massive hacking attack which systematically compromised its system for as long as two years. Media outlets suspected that the NSA was behind it, and the country's Prime Minister condemned the attack as a "violation of a public company's integrity."

But last week, using documents obtained from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, Laura Poitras and other der Spiegel journalists reported in that paper that it was the GCHQ, Britain's intelligence agency, that was behind the attack on its ally. According to that report, the attack was carried out by targeting individual engineers at the telecom with malware that allowed GCHQ agents to "own" their computer and thus exploit their access to the telecommunications system.

It's worth remembering that as the US and UK run around the world protesting the hacking activities of others and warning of the dangers of cyber-attacks, that duo is one of the most aggressive and malicious, if not the most aggressive and malicious, perpetrators of those attacks of anyone on the planet. As Slate's Ryan Gallagher put it in a typically excellent analysis of this report:

"The disclosures are yet another illustration of the extremely aggressive scope of the clandestine spy operations that have been conducted by both the United Kingdom and the United States. Infiltration of computer networks is usually more commonly associated with Russian and Chinese government hackers, but the British and Americans are at it, too, even targeting their own allies' communications. The surveillance tactics appear to have few limits, and while government officials have played up the necessity of the spying for counter-terrorism, it is evident that the snooping is often highly political in nature."

Nobody hacks as prolifically and aggressively as the two countries who most vocally warn of the dangers of hacking.

(2) Along with reporter Shobhan Saxena, I have an article this morning in the Indian daily The Hindu revealing that "in the overall list of countries spied on by NSA programs, India stands at fifth place, with billions of pieces of information plucked from its telephone and internet networks just in 30 days."

(3) The report on which I worked for the Brazilian television program Fantastico, regarding the NSA's targeting of the oil company Petrobras, received attention in Latin America and elsewhere primarily because it gave the lie to the repeated claim of US officials that its electronic surveillance is devoted only to national security and counter-terrorism and not to industrial and commercial espionage. But several of the documents we published detail some rather extreme NSA and GCHQ tactics of deception, including taking on the identity of Google to launch "man in the middle attacks" on unsuspecting internet users.

(4) The New York Times had a quite good editorial yesterday on the domestic dangers posed by the NSA's efforts to break internet encryption. The Editorial details numerous ways that we have learned that the NSA jeopardizes the privacy rights of Americans and the security of the internet, and calls for serious limits on the NSA's hacking powers. Are there really people who can read that and think to themselves: I sure do wish Edward Snowden had let us remain ignorant about all of this?

(5) There has long been a glaring contradiction at the heart of the case for the NSA made by its apologists (the most devoted of whom, as of January 20, 2009, are Democrats). They insist that the NSA's spying activities are legal and constitutional (even though a 2011 FISA court opinion - released only in the wake of the last three months of scandal - found the opposite). But the real contradiction is that there have been almost no rulings on the legality or constitutionality of these spying laws and the activities conducted under them because the Obama DOJ - exactly like the Bush DOJ before it - repeatedly raised claims of standing and secrecy to prevent any such adjudication (the Obama DOJ relied on the five right-wing Supreme Court justices to win that argument earlier this year and prevent any constitutional or legal challenge to their domestic surveillance program).

Yet now, as the Hill reports, those arguments used by the DOJ to prevent judicial rulings are being gutted by all of the revelations in the wake of Snowden-enabled reporting. The Hill article quotes the ACLU's Alex Abdo as follows:

"For years, the government has shielded its surveillance practices from judicial review through excessive secrecy. And now that that secrecy has been lifted to some degree, we now know precisely who is being surveilled in some of the dragnet policies of the NSA, and those people can now challenge those policies. . . . . No matter what you think of the lawfulness of these programs, I think everyone should think their legitimacy or illegitimacy is better debated in public and decided by a court."

Does anyone disagree with that? Is there anyone who thinks things were better pre-Snowden when the DOJ could successfully block legal challenges to the US government's spying activities by invoking secrecy and standing claims?

(6) Haaretz this weekend ran a long article on the work I've done in the NSA case, with a lengthy interview. It was by the excellent Israeli writer Noam Sheizaf, and is one of the better and more informative articles of this sort to have been published.

(7) The Guardian's Readers' Editor Chris Elliott (the British equivalent of the ombudsman) has an interesting article assessing some of the critiques made about our NSA reporting.

(8) A coalition called "Stop Watching Us" has been formed by privacy and civil liberties groups from across the political spectrum, including the ACLU, EFF, Free Press, Freedom Works, Occupy Wall Street, Demand Progress and others. It has the support of a wide swath individuals such as internet pioneer Tim Berners-Lee, Daniel Ellsberg, Gabriella Coleman, Xeni Jardin, the actor Wil Wheaton, Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian, and Anil Dash.

On October 26, the 12th anniversary of the enactment of the Patriot Act, they will hold an anti-surveillance rally in Washington DC. Anyone able is encouraged to attend.


One item I neglected to include: much ado was made when President Obama announced several weeks ago that he would create an "independent" review board to monitor NSA spying for civil liberties abuses. But as Associated Press detailed this weekend, the five members he put on the board are largely Democratic loyalists if not hard-core Obama loyalists:

"Four of the five review panel members previously worked for Democratic administrations: Peter Swire, former Office of Management and Budget privacy director under President Bill Clinton; Michael Morell, Obama's former deputy CIA director; Richard Clarke, former counterterrorism coordinator under Clinton and later for President George W. Bush; and Cass Sunstein, Obama's former regulatory czar. A fifth panel member, Geoffrey Stone of the University of Chicago, leads a university committee looking to build Obama's presidential library in Chicago and was an informal adviser to Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.

"Stone wrote in a July op-ed that the NSA surveillance program that collects the phone records of every American every day is constitutional.

"'We would have liked a more diverse group,' said Michelle Richardson, an ACLU legislative counsel who attended one meeting for civil liberties groups."

Beyond that, it's controlled by Obama's top national security official. As AP put it: "with just weeks remaining before its first deadline to report back to the White House, the review panel has effectively been operating as an arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA and all other U.S. spy efforts. . . . Even the panel's official name suggests it's run by Clapper's office: 'Director of National Intelligence Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies.'" Read the full AP article for what a total farce this all is.

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