Geopolitics and Lessons to Draw from NSA Spying Scandal

Part 2: Revelations of Edward Snowden

Third lesson: Being a US ally is not a guarantee of a country’s information sovereignty being respected. The cyberspace control is not an end in itself. The real objective is carrying out the traditional strategic mission of gaining geopolitical dominance over large spaces. It would be naïve to expect that the US cyber interference overseas could be suspended as a result of some concessions or friendly persuasions.

The evidence adduced by Snowden proves that the United States closely monitors the European Union’s central structures as well as the communications of its closest allies among the EU member states that stay beyond the Anglosphere. Japan, Mexico, South Korea and Turkey are all under tight surveillance being non-European friends of the U.S…

The United States tapped the phone calls of 35 world leaders, mainly those who headed US-allied states. The fact is corroborated by the recent publications by the Guardian based on the evidence produced by Snowden. According to the newspaper reports, the National Security Agency asked White House, State Department and Pentagon officials to share contact information on foreign politicians.

In a NSA document, that saw light in September 2010, Europeans are defined as a location target. The European Union’s embassy in Washington and the New York-based EU United Nations mission were “transparent” for Americans from top to bottom as a result of the operation Perdido. The phones were tapped, computers cracked, hard disks copied and inside office net communications intercepted. The interference was immune to all attempts to enhance protection systems and encompassed the European Union’s central servers in Brussels. The EU central office in the Belgian capital was monitored from the US mission at NATO headquarters.

Perhaps this kind of special attention was especially insulting for Francois Hollande who has always made a point of being close to the U.S.A. – a rare case for a French leader. No go. As it happened, he and French state agencies have regularly been targets for US snooping efforts. This espionage operation was described in the NSA memo as a “silent success in which SIGINT helped to shape U.S. foreign policy”. To vaunt its merits, the intelligence agency even quoted the American Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice about the work carried out on this occasion by the NSA. According to her, the information she received, “helped me to know ….. the truth… revealed their real position on sanctions … gave us an upper hand in the negotiations….”  The eavesdropping was not limited by those who were suspected of involvement in terrorist activities but also spread on prominent bankers and politicians. For instance, from December 10, 2012 to January 8, 2013 some 70, 3 million recordings of French citizens’ telephone data were made by the NSA, text messages (SMS) were captured too. The NSA graph shows the peak of intercepts falls on December 24, 2012 (Christmas eve) and January 7, 2013.

The Snowden disclosures spurred additional inquiries by some states to add to the impressive picture of imposing surveillance by “big brother”. At first German Chancellor Angela Merkel tried hard to help the United States make the blown out scandal die down. In particular, the Chancellor assured that she was no longer under surveillance after starting to use “super reliable and super protected” German smart phone Secusmart, that is used by members of cabinet and other top officials. According to the Spiegel investigation conducted jointly with the BND (the German Federal Intelligence Service) and BSI (the German Federal Office for Information Security), Angela Merkel has been under surveillance for many years.

Now it’s clear the National Security Agency has spied on Germany more intensely than previously believed. Internal NSA statistics indicate that the agency stores data from around half a billion communications connections in Germany each month. This data includes telephone calls, emails, mobile-phone text messages and chat transcripts. The statistics, which Spiegel has also seen, show that data is collected from Germany on normal days for up to 20 million telephone calls and 10 million Internet data exchanges. Last Christmas Eve, it collected data on around 13 million phone calls and about half as many online exchanges. On the busiest days, such as January 7 of this year, the information gathered spiked to nearly 60 million communication connections under surveillance. The experts say the evidence obtained by Snowden shows Europeans are not US equal partners and do not enjoy full sovereignty in the US-led Empire.

Fourth lesson: China, India, Brazil, Mexico and other emerging world leaders are special targets. In this case the surveillance is even more imposing as these nations are viewed as game changers capable of exerting significant influence over world affairs.

The disclosed scale of US interference into their cyberspace has happened to be too large. For instance, upon getting the news on total surveillance President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff cancelled an official visit to the United States. She also demanded explanations from Ottawa, a part of Anglosphere, concerning the fact that Canadian spies targeted Brazil’s Mines and Energy Ministry. A similar row in Mexico is getting hot too now. China and India have announced the implementation of large-scale countermeasures programs.

Fifth lesson: Russia is still a target of priority for US spying activities, no matter it has unilaterally abandoned the policy of global standoff against the United States. Unlike what is stated by US officials publicly, the National Security Agency secret documents define it as a partner of convenience and envisage taking the most extreme measures against it if need be. Due to the reasons stipulated by geographic realities (Russia is a huge space), there is no ground for hopes the attitude will ever be changed.

Russia’s U.S. offices and missions are under total surveillance – this fact is confirmed by the recent row over the snooping on Rossotrudnichestvo. Besides the Guardian obtained from Edward Snowden a map with the National Security Agency’s foreign infrastructure, including the widest reaching system developing intelligence from computer networks called XKeyscoreis. According to it, one of the largest servers is installed in the US Moscow embassy.

The G20 London summit is a vivid example of Anglosphere partners joining efforts against Russia. It was the first time then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met US President Barack Obama. There was too much work to process all the acquired intelligence, so the paper entitled: “Russian Leadership Communications in support of President Dmitry Medvedev at the G20 summit in London – Intercept at Menwith Hill station” was drafted four months after the visit by Medvedev. Back then the NSA intercepted communications from Menwith Hill station, Yorkshire, were used jointly by the US and the UK. The paper was sent only to Canada, Australia and New Zealand, that’s it.

On October 25, The Washington Post reported U.S. officials have notified foreign intelligence services of some states that Snowden took materials that shed light on their secret cooperation with the United States. If these documents are published, the newspaper writes, intelligence operations that along with the United States involve other countries, could be at risk. As the Washington Post reports, the operations are suspended in case of allied states, but not the provisional partners of convenience like Russia. In one case, for instance, the files contained information about a program run from a NATO country against Russia that provides valuable intelligence for the U.S. Air Force and Navy, said one U.S. official, who requested anonymity to discuss an ongoing criminal investigation.

Sixth lesson: The leading international organizations like the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and others are viewed by the United States as rivals in their aspiration to gain control over the world. They are seen as targets for surveillance efforts. Striving for global dominance, Washington snoops on these international entities without looking back at international law or moral norms of diplomacy.

The National Security Agency has conducted total surveillance over everything happening in the United Nations headquarters providing an advantage for US diplomacy. The NSA operatives constantly work in the UN under the cover of diplomats getting reinforcements during the sessions of the UN General Assembly. The same thing applies to the International Atomic Energy Agency and other international bodies. There is one thing that makes the disclosures provided by Snowden even more delicate – the internal instructions say all US staffers of international bodies without exclusions (not the special services operatives only) are to collect and submit upon command all personal data on foreigners without making any distinction.  Michael Vincent Hayden is a former director of the National security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency. In his CBS interview he pointed out:

I’ve been out of government for about five years, so I really don’t know, and even if I did, I wouldn’t confirm or deny it, but I think I can confirm a few things for you here this morning. Number one, the United States does conduct espionage. Number two, our Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans’ privacy, is not an international treaty. And number three, any European who wants to go out and rend their garments with regard to international espionage should look first and find out what their governments are doing.

President Barack Obama went on to say something similar:

In European capitals there are people who are interested, if not what I had for breakfast, at least what my talking points might be, should I end up meeting with their leaders.

These statements are nothing more than ruses. No doubt Americans do their best in the interests of national security, something done by all intelligence services of the world since ancient times. The matter is the United States is too fervent in its efforts having transgressed all imaginable limits. It has given birth to a monster that tries to have each and everything there is on the planet under its control. The quantity is converted into a  new menacing quality. The claims that the control exercised inside America is selective, while being ubiquitous overseas, looks at least like “bashful totalitarianism”.

Seventh lesson: The cyberspace control exercised by the United States envisions not only the collection of information but also massive psycho-political operations of unparalleled scale aimed at acquisition of control over people’s behavior. It all leads to the conclusion: aside from the classic components of national might, any contemporary state that wants to be independent on the international scene needs to have its own enhanced information space infrastructure and adequate means to protect it.

Read Part 1 here.

Dmitry is the Russian political analyst specializing on the Middle East and international security issues. He is the permanent columnist for Strategic Culture Foundation. He can be contacted at: Read other articles by Dmitry, or visit Dmitry's website.