Tuesday, 5 November 2013

U.S.-EUROPE: NSA Tensions & Congress' Sympathy

Against a backdrop of fraying ties between the US and many of its allies, sympathy is growing within Congress for European outrage at NSA spying activities.  A bipartisan group of high-ranking US senators and members of the House of Representatives is planning a European tour aimed at smoothing ruffled feathers over the NSA spying scandal.
 
A bipartisan group intends to meet with leaders of several European countries to discuss the recent allegations regarding the scope of US intelligence gathering operations in Europe and the introduction of "processes that assure non-US citizens that all possible steps are being taken to limit the scope of our surveillance programs.

Details of the plan -- when exactly the trip will take place, who will take part and where it will lead -- have yet to be released. The delegation is expected to visit Berlin, Paris, Madrid, and probably Brussels. The bipartisan group is likely to stress that that European governments need to admit to the public that the US surveillance program is by no means unique.
 
Initially, in mid June 2013, it was just the NSA that Snowden's leaks put in the dock, explaining how an operation called Prism allowed it to record activity on Google’s and Facebook’s servers. Then, a few days later, more leaks revealed the existence of Tempora, a joint operation between the NSA and the British security agency GCHQ, to collect vast quantities of digital material being carried across the world on fibre optic and other cables. Most recently, the SPIEGEL revealed that the NSA and GCHQ also work together, intimately, on Tempora with other agencies, in particular the German intelligence service, the BND.
 
More than sixty years every political leader of every major power has ordered their secret services to provide them with intelligence about their foreign counterparts, friend or foe. It follows, logically, that each of today’s leaders must know that they are also someone else’s target. The fury vented by the Germans, but also the French and the Spanish, is either wholly synthetic or wholly ignorant of how intelligence is gathered. Spying on your colleagues may not be savoury if one is squeamish, but it is not ‘illegal’.
 
Angela Merkel’s genuinely hurt reaction to Snowden’s leaks is to be explained not just by her own experience of East Germany (which truly was an odiously repressive mass surveillance state) and the awful history of secret police activity in Germany more generally, but also by the demands of coalition politics in her new government, which will likely include Social Democrats who don’t trust their spies. But it is impossible to believe she did not think her mobile phone (or any of her other digital communications) were not at risk. If she genuinely did not know, it was because she did not want to know, not because her own secret services won’t have warned her, repeatedly.
 
The news that Germany has teamed up with a Latin American state, Brazil, in order to draw up a code of practice to try to force the NSA, GCHQ (and presumably the BND) to stick within agreed spying guidelines, is but a further bizarre twist to an already utterly bizarre over-reaction. While not generally understood in any operational detail before Snowden stole our secrets, the practice has been known to be taking place ever since the secret of Bletchley Park was first revealed in the 1970s.
 
The debate about NSA practices in no longer the responsibility of the Obama administration. It is starting to spill over into Congress and the public area. Therefore it becomes paramount for the public to know the part of responsibilities of both sides: the US and the European countries. In some extend the reaction of the European countries on NSA practices has been over-reacted, considering that they knew all along and shared information with NSA.
 
When the allegations first emerged this summer, members of Congress remained largely silent. Gradually, however, the tide appears to be turning, with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein last week calling for "a total review" of all US intelligence programs.

One day later, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy and Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner proposed what they call a "USA Freedom Act" that would put an end to the NSA's indiscriminate collection of personal information -- albeit primarily the metadata of US citizens -- and provide stronger privacy safeguards with respect to a range of government surveillance programs.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP--US Congress in the House Chamber at the Capitol