Sunday, June 30, 2013
Did Obama lie to German Chancellor Angela Merkel about NSA spying?
“SPIEGEL has learned that the German Federal Prosecutors' Office is looking into allegations that a US intelligence agency has conducted massive spying against German citizens. A first formal complaint has already been lodged in one city.”—der Spiegel
by Larry Geller
Der Spiegel, reviewing documents originating from whistleblower Edward Snowden, reported today that:
Germany's Federal Prosecutors' Office confirmed to SPIEGEL on Sunday that it is looking into whether systematic data spying against the country conducted by America's National Security Agency violated laws aimed at protecting German citizens.
[Spiegel Online, Growing Alarm: German Prosecutors To Review Allegations of US Spying, 6/30/2013]
We were told by President Obama and members of Congress that the NSA spying was necessary to keep us safe from terrorists. And that our privacy had to be “balanced” to ensure security.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, during a news conference with Obama in Berlin, said the two discussed a U.S. program, called Prism, that monitors the Internet activity of foreigners believed to be located outside the U.S. and plotting terrorist attacks.
“This is not a situation in which we are rifling through the ordinary e-mails of German citizens or American citizens or French citizens or anybody else,” Obama said. “We have struck the appropriate balance” between security and privacy.
[Bloomberg, Obama Says U.S. Surveillance Programs Strike Privacy Balance, 6/19/2013]
It turns out that the US is rifling through the emails of ordinary German citizens.
On an average day, the NSA monitored about 20m German phone connections and 10m internet datasets, rising to 60m phone connections on busy days, the report said.
Jan Philipp Albrecht, a German Green party MEP and a specialist in data protection, told the Guardian the revelations were outrageous. "It's not about political answers now, but rule of law, fundamental constitutional principles and rights of European citizens," he said
[The Guardian, Key US-EU trade pact under threat after more NSA spying allegations, 6/30/2013]
There simply are not that many terrorists in Germany. More from the Guardian:
The latest reports of NSA snooping on Europe – and on Germany in particular – went well beyond previous revelations of electronic spying said to be focused on identifying suspected terrorists, extremists and organised criminals.
The Guardian article explains in detail how European countries cooperate with the US in communications spying, and is worth reading just for that explanation. The details are towards the end of the article.
For example, on US-UK data sharing:
The data-sharing was set out under a 1955 UK-USA agreement that provided a legal framework for intelligence-sharing that has continued.
It stipulates: "In accordance with these arrangements, each party will continue to make available to the other, continuously, and without request, all raw traffic, COMINT (communications intelligence) end-product and technical material acquired or produced, and all pertinent information concerning its activities, priorities and facilities.
See also: Spying 'Out of Control': EU Official Questions Trade Negotiations (Spiegel Online, 6/20/2013)
The US government feels it is appropriate to eavesdrop on the communications of anyone they want to. Certainly, this applies to politically active people in Germany, both in official government positions and in civic organizations. For a brief period at the end of WWII, US intelligence and police agencies were interested in tracking down former Nazi officials and would use whatever methods were available for this mission. After the 'de-Nazification program was dropped and former Nazis became allies in the struggle against Communism, US intelligence was interested in determining which German citizens might be in communication with or supportive of the Soviets, the East German government and unfriendly to the West. Certainly understandable.
The technology available to the US government was fairly primitive by today's standards: physical shadowing of people, interviewing neighbors, co-workers, infiltrating left-wing groups, tapping phone calls, building up physical files and databases. Such surveillance did not stop with the collapse of the Soviet Union. There remains a strong left in Germany, some Marxist, but also a lot of anarchist and Green, definitely unfriendly to American "interests," meaning military activities and corporate operations. But the technology available today allows for dossiers to be built up on every person in the "modern" world. And you can be confident it IS being done. What are the barriers to such surveillance? The local government objects? Or does it simply need to maintain the illusion of objecting, so long as the intelligence is shared (somewhat) and the interests of German corporations and state authorities align (more or less) with those of the US government?
One can see that large German corporations have secrets they want to protect against American-aligned corporations. They are, after all, often competitors. So there is a genuine basis for Merkel to object to too much surveillance. Certainly of the wrong people. But that is why Obama has to lie to her. Lying is a relatively trivial problem. The technical difficulties of mass surveillance are being conquered. I kinda LIKE that there are political objections from some of these semi-autonomous "allies" of the US. I HOPE they can be inconvenient, but since the US has demonstrated its willingness to "go it alone" in the face of international opposition, I am not sure how much resistance Merkel and the other leaders can put up.