Friday, January 1, 2016

Thanks for the Memories (and Other Valuable Information)

Back in 2013, Edward Snowden’s released documents told the world that the American government had been eaves-dropping on German Chancellor’s Merkel’s mobile phone calls since 2002. “When the allegations were made the White House gave no outright denial, but said Mrs. Merkel's phone was not being bugged currently and would not be in future… Mrs. Merkel told the US government angrily that ‘spying between friends just isn't on.’ And the alleged spying shocked public opinion in Germany.”, June 12, 2015.
Then, in mid-autumn of 2015, the German weekly, Der Spiegel, reported that the German intelligence agency, Bundesnachrichtendienst or BND, routinely spied on its allies, from the Vatican, to France and even the American National Security Agency (NSA). They cast a pretty wide net according to Der Spiegel: “[It] has emerged that the BND spied on the United States Department of the Interior and the interior ministries of [European Union] member states including Poland, Austria, Denmark and Croatia… “In Germany, the BND’s own selector lists included numerous foreign embassies and consulates… The e-mail addresses, telephone numbers and fax numbers of the diplomatic representations of the United States, France, Great Britain, Sweden, Portugal, Greece, Spain, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and even the Vatican were all monitored in this way.” We had already, probably, stopped spying on Germany. But there were “others.”
“President Barack Obama announced two years ago he would curtail eavesdropping on friendly heads of state after the world learned the reach of long-secret U.S. surveillance programs… But behind the scenes, the White House decided to keep certain allies under close watch, current former U.S. officials said. Topping the list was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.” Wall Street Journal, December 29th.
The December 29th NY Times summarized the report saying “that NSA surveillance of Benjamin Netanyahu and top Israeli leaders picked up their strategy conversations with members of Congress about how to torpedo the Iran nuclear deal. ‘That raised fears—an ‘Oh-s— moment,’ one senior U.S. official said—that the executive branch would be accused of spying on Congress,’ Adam Entous and Danny Yadron [WSJ authors] report. ‘Stepped-up NSA eavesdropping revealed to the White House how Mr. Netanyahu and his advisers had leaked details of the U.S.-Iran negotiations—learned through Israeli spying operations—to undermine the talks; coordinated talking points with Jewish-American groups against the deal; and asked undecided lawmakers what it would take to win their votes.’ Five nuggets from the piece:
  • Obama ordered the NSA to stop spying on the presidents of France and Germany, but not Turkey.
  • “Obama was convinced for a time that Netanyahu would attack Iran without giving the U.S. a heads up, which prompted the order to step up surveillance.
  • “Wary of a paper trail stemming from a request, the White House let the NSA decide what to share and what to withhold … ‘We didn’t say, ‘Do it,’’ a senior U.S. official said. ‘We didn’t say, ‘Don’t do it.’”- The NSA would also remove the names of lawmakers from intelligence reports.
  • Analysts would pass details of intercepted communications to the top within six hours.

“Netanyahu was focused on building opposition to the Iran deal among Democratic lawmakers and confident he could win enough votes to stop the deal.” I guess whether the Israeli PM is an “ally” (versus Israel itself, which most definitely is no matter which side of the aisle you may embrace) may well depend on whether you favor Republicans or Democrats.
Of course, Israel has not been exactly blameless in its spying activities, as the 1985 arrest of Jewish-American Jonathan Pollard will attest. While working at the Naval Ocean Surveillance Information Center in 1979, he turned on his country.
“At the time of his arrest, Pollard had clearance to access top-secret information as an intelligence specialist, and worked as an analyst who looked into terrorist activities and instability -- mainly in North America and the Caribbean.
“His commitment to Israel had grown since he attended science camp as a teen. After years working in the Navy intelligence community, he felt that his colleagues had anti-Israel attitudes. That, he told investigators, is what influenced him to spy for Israel.
“Pollard interacted with high-ranking Israeli intelligence officials and gave them several suitcases of classified documents on Israel's Arab adversaries and military support they received from the Soviet Union in the course of a year and a half. The CIA report said Pollard's case ‘has few parallels among known U.S. espionage cases’ and that he had ‘put at risk important U.S. intelligence and foreign policy interests.’”, November 20th. He was taken down in Washington, D.C. when the Israeli embassy there refused to grant him asylum.
Until the 1990s, Israel denied that Pollard was their operative. Then, they admitted culpability, even making him an Israeli citizen and began pressuring for his release. After serving 30 years, Pollard was paroled on November 20th. The terms of his parole require him to remain in the US for at least five years, though supporters - including Netanyahu and some members of the US Congress - are seeking permission for him to move to Israel immediately.”, November 20th.
Whew! Anger at their spying on us, feeling justified at our spying on them. In the end, this over-connected world with thousands of secret back-doors and encryption flaws, data breaches and vulnerable systems, suggests that the temptations are just too great. Friends are friends… up to a point. What do you think of this digital mess?
I’m Peter Dekom, and the way of the modern world is both dangerous and complex.

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