German government tightens rules for sensitive public IT contracts

Reuters reports: The German government has tightened tender rules for sensitive public IT contracts in the wake of reports about mass surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry said on Friday.

Last year former NSA contractor Edward Snowden exposed U.S. technology companies’ close cooperation with national intelligence agencies by leaking documents on the NSA’s access to the accounts of tens of thousands of net companies’ users.

German Interior Ministry spokesman Johannes Dimroth said suspect firms would be banned from taking on some public contracts in Germany if they had to hand over confidential data to foreign intelligence or security services. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

GCHQ and NSA targeted private German companies

Der Spiegel reports: Documents show that Britain’s GCHQ intelligence service infiltrated German Internet firms and America’s NSA obtained a court order to spy on Germany and collected information about the chancellor in a special database. Is it time for the country to open a formal espionage investigation?

The headquarters of Stellar, a company based in the town of Hürth near Cologne, are visible from a distance. Seventy-five white antennas dominate the landscape. The biggest are 16 meters (52 feet) tall and kept in place by steel anchors. It is an impressive sight and serves as a popular backdrop for scenes in TV shows, including the German action series “Cobra 11.”

Stellar operates a satellite ground station in Hürth, a so-called “teleport.” Its services are used by companies and institutions; Stellar’s customers include Internet providers, telecommunications companies and even a few governments. “The world is our market,” is the high-tech company’s slogan.

Using their ground stations and leased capacities from satellites, firms like Stellar — or competitors like Cetel in the nearby village of Ruppichteroth or IABG, which is headquartered in Ottobrunn near Munich — can provide Internet and telephone services in even the most remote areas. They provide communications links to places like oil drilling platforms, diamond mines, refugee camps and foreign outposts of multinational corporations and international organizations.

Super high-speed Internet connections are required at the ground stations in Germany in order to ensure the highest levels of service possible. Most are connected to major European Internet backbones that offer particularly high bandwidth.

The service they offer isn’t just attractive to customers who want to improve their connectivity. It is also of interest to Britain’s GCHQ intelligence service, which has targeted the German companies. Top secret documents from the archive of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden viewed by SPIEGEL show that the British spies surveilled employees of several German companies, and have also infiltrated their networks. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Why Israelis are content to live in a bubble of denial

o13-iconJonathan Cook writes: The 24-hour visit by German chancellor Angela Merkel to Israel this week came as relations between the two countries hit rock bottom. According to a report in Der Spiegel magazine last week, Ms Merkel and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netan­yahu have been drawn into shouting matches when discussing by phone the faltering peace process.

Despite their smiles to the cameras during the visit, tension behind the scenes has been heightened by a diplomatic bust-up earlier this month when Martin Schulz, the president of the European parliament and himself German, gave a speech to the Israeli parliament.

In unprecedented scenes, a group of Israeli legislators heckled Mr Schulz, calling him a “liar”, and then staged a walkout, led by the economics minister Naftali Bennett. Rather than apologising, Mr Netanyahu intervened to lambast Mr Schulz for being misinformed.

Mr Schulz, who, like Ms Merkel, is considered a close friend of Israel, used his speech vehemently to oppose growing calls in Europe for a boycott of Israel. So how did he trigger such opprobrium?

Mr Schulz’s main offence was posing a question: was it true, as he had heard in meetings in the West Bank, that Israelis have access to four times more water than Palestinians? He further upset legislators by gently suggesting that Israel’s blockade of Gaza was preventing economic growth there.

Neither statement should have been in the least controversial. Figures from independent bodies such as the World Bank show Israel, which dominates the local water supplies, allocates per capita about 4.4 times more water to its population than to Palestinians.

Equally, it would be hard to imagine that years of denying goods and materials to Gaza, and blocking exports, have not ravaged its economy. The unemployment rate, for example, has increased 6 per cent, to 38.5 per cent, following Israel’s recent decision to prevent the transfer of construction materials to Gaza’s private sector.

But Israelis rarely hear such facts from their politicians or the media. And few are willing to listen when a rare voice like Mr Schulz’s intervenes. Israelis have grown content to live in a large bubble of denial. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

U.S. spied on negotiators at 2009 climate summit

NewsHuffington Post reports: The National Security Agency monitored the communications of other governments ahead of and during the 2009 United Nations climate negotiations in Copenhagen, Denmark, according to the latest document from whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The document, with portions marked “top secret,” indicates that the NSA was monitoring the communications of other countries ahead of the conference, and intended to continue doing so throughout the meeting. Posted on an internal NSA website on Dec. 7, 2009, the first day of the Copenhagen summit, it states that “analysts here at NSA, as well as our Second Party partners, will continue to provide policymakers with unique, timely, and valuable insights into key countries’ preparations and goals for the conference, as well as the deliberations within countries on climate change policies and negotiation strategies.” [Continue reading...]

Meanwhile, Reuters reports: Berlin and Washington are still “far apart” in their views on the U.S. National Security Agency’s (NSA) mass surveillance of Germany but they remain close allies, Chancellor Angela Merkel told parliament on Wednesday.

facebooktwittermail

GCHQ and NSA targeted charities, Germans, Israeli PM and EU chief

The Guardian reports: British and American intelligence agencies had a comprehensive list of surveillance targets that included the EU’s competition commissioner, German government buildings in Berlin and overseas, and the heads of institutions that provide humanitarian and financial help to Africa, top-secret documents reveal.

The papers show GCHQ, in collaboration with America’s National Security Agency (NSA), was targeting organisations such as the United Nations development programme, the UN’s children’s charity Unicef and Médecins du Monde, a French organisation that provides doctors and medical volunteers to conflict zones. The head of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) also appears in the documents, along with text messages he sent to colleagues.

The latest disclosures will add to Washington’s embarrassment after the heavy criticism of the NSA when it emerged that it had been tapping the mobile phone of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.

One GCHQ document, drafted in January 2009, makes clear that the agencies were targeting an email address listed as belonging to another important American ally – the “Israeli prime minister”. Ehud Olmert was in office at the time.

Three further Israeli targets appeared on GCHQ documents, including another email address understood to have been used to send messages between the then Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, and his chief of staff, Yoni Koren.

Prominent names that appear in the GCHQ documents include Joaquín Almunia, a Spaniard who is vice-president of the European commission with responsibility for competition policy.

Britain’s targeting of Germany may also prove awkward for the prime minister, David Cameron: in October, he endorsed an EU statement condemning NSA spying on world leaders, including Merkel.

They have both been in Brussels, attending an EU summit that concludes on Friday.

The names and details are the latest revelations to come from documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden. They provoked a furious reaction from the European commission, Almunia and others on the target lists.

• The commission said the disclosures “are unacceptable and deserve our strongest condemnation. This is not the type of behaviour that we expect from strategic partners, let alone from our own member states.” Almunia said he was “very upset” to discover his name was on GCHQ documents.

• Leigh Daynes, UK executive director of Médecins du Monde, said he was “bewildered by these extraordinary allegations of secret surveillance. Our doctors, nurses and midwives are not a threat to national security. There is absolutely no reason for our operations to be secretly monitored.”

• Another target, Nicolas Imboden, the head of an NGO that provides help to African countries, said the spying on him was “clearly economic espionage and politically motivated”.

• Human Rights Watch, Privacy International and Big Brother Watch condemned the targeting.

• Labour said the committee that oversees GCHQ should be given extra powers.

The disclosures reflect the breadth of targets sought by the agencies, which goes far beyond the desire to intercept the communications of potential terrorists and criminals, or diplomats and officials from hostile countries. [Continue reading...]

Pro forma denials from GCHQ and the NSA that they are engaged in economic espionage are to be expected. But agencies that don’t provide clear explanations about what they are doing, can hardly be expected to have such denials accepted without question.

The targeting of NGOs will probably heighten suspicions that these organizations are being used to provide cover for intelligence agencies and that in turn will undermine relief and development work in countries where populations are in need but their governments feel easily threatened.

The New York Times reports: The reports show that spies monitored the email traffic of several Israeli officials, including one target identified as “Israeli prime minister,” followed by an email address. The prime minister at the time of the interception, in January 2009, was Ehud Olmert. The following month, spies intercepted the email traffic of the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, according to another report. Two Israeli embassies also appear on the target lists.

Mr. Olmert said in a telephone interview Friday that the email address was used for correspondence with his office, which he said staff members often handled. He added that it was unlikely that any secrets could have been compromised.

“This was an unimpressive target,” Mr. Olmert said. He noted, for example, that his most sensitive discussions with President George W. Bush took place in private. “I would be surprised if there was any attempt by American intelligence in Israel to listen to the prime minister’s lines,” he said.

Mr. Barak, who declined to comment, has said publicly that he used to take it for granted that he was under surveillance.

Despite the close ties between the United States and Israel, the record of mutual spying is long: Israeli spies, including Jonathan Jay Pollard, who was sentenced in 1987 to life in prison for passing intelligence information to Israel, have often operated in the United States, and the United States has often turned the capabilities of the N.S.A. against Israel.

The interception of Mr. Olmert’s office email occurred while he was dealing with fallout from Israel’s military response to rocket attacks from Gaza, but also at a particularly tense time in relations with the United States. The two countries were simultaneously at odds on Israeli preparations to attack Iran’s nuclear program and cooperating on a wave of cyberattacks on Iran’s major nuclear enrichment facility.

A year before the interception of Mr. Olmert’s office email, the documents listed another target, the Institute of Physics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, an internationally recognized center for research in atomic and nuclear physics. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

In Germany, legacy of Stasi puts different perspective on NSA spying

The Washington Post reports: The secret police, or Stasi, roped in an estimated 190,000 part-time, secret informants and employed an additional 90,000 officers full time – in total, more than one in every 50 adult East Germans as of 1990. East Germans who dared to criticize their government — even to a spouse, a best friend or a pastor — could wind up disappearing into its penal system for years.

In east Berlin sits the former Hohenschoenhausen prison, which was reserved for East Germany’s most politically sensitive cases.

Hubertus Knabe — a West German who smuggled banned books into the East, and later discovered that he had been betrayed by a priest who had encouraged him to do so — now has a plate-glass view of the most perilous destination for victims of Stasi surveillance. He is the director of the prison museum, which is hidden away in a Berlin neighborhood whose rows of imposing apartment blocks still house many former Stasi officers.

Knabe said the consequences of the Stasi’s excesses were far more devastating than anything ever associated with the NSA. “They forget what it’s like to live in a dictatorship versus a democracy,” he said of people who say that the NSA has behaved like the Stasi.

Former inmates now lead tours of the dank, tiny cells in which they were incarcerated, and they say they sometimes run into their old tormenters on the street or at the grocery store.

Many Germans — from both sides of the German border, since East German spying reached deep into its sibling country — have thick Stasi files that they can now request to see. More painfully, they can also learn which of their friends or associates did the collecting of information in those files.

Thousands of people who were collaborators have been chased from public life. Even now, new accusations of Stasi associations can dog politicians and celebrities around Germany.

“We hear that the Stasi was some kind of dilettante agency compared to the NSA,” since the NSA is probably collecting more data overall than the East Germans did, Knabe said. “But East Germans know that the Stasi was a lot worse.”

Knabe said the East German system created a level of fear that few of his fellow citizens truly have about the American spy efforts. Nevertheless, he said, there were other similarities. He has filed a criminal complaint about the NSA spying in a German court.

“The western system punished someone when they had committed a crime. The eastern system punished people when they were only thinking about committing a crime,” he said. If the NSA’s material starts being used not just for counterterrorism efforts but for other kinds of preemptive crime-fighting, he said, “that would be a completely different type of state.”

According to an ARD-Infratest dimap poll released Friday, just 35 percent of Germans find the U.S. government trustworthy, second only to Russia as a target of mistrust. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Give Snowden asylum in Germany

Malte Spitz and Hans-Christian Ströbele write: Almost every day, new information is released about how American and British intelligence agencies have monitored governments, embassies and the communications of whole societies. These revelations have provided us with a deep and terrifying insight into the uncontrolled power of intelligence agencies.

They show that data collection is no longer about targeted acquisition of information to avert threats, and it’s certainly not about the dangers of “international Islamist terrorism.” After all, which terrorist is going to call or text Chancellor Angela Merkel?

All of our current knowledge about this surveillance is thanks to one man, Edward J. Snowden. Without him, Ms. Merkel would still be a target for monitoring, and surveillance of German diplomats, businessmen and ordinary citizens would be continuing, undetected.

Without Mr. Snowden, there wouldn’t have been months of discussions in the German Bundestag, the European Parliament and the American Congress about better protection of citizens’ private and commercial communications. Mr. Snowden is paying a high price for having opened the eyes of the world. He can no longer lead a normal life.

He acted in an emergency situation to stop and prevent terrible things. According to both German and American law, the government can grant immunity when criminal laws are violated in order to defend the paramount right to freedom. Publicly announcing a crime should not be a crime. The United States has long had laws to protect whistle-blowers from punishment — and we Germans aspire to have such laws.

According to recent surveys by ARD, a German TV station, 60 percent of Germans see Mr. Snowden as a hero and only 14 percent as a criminal. They know his courageous revelations were intended to protect freedom and the values that we share with America. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Britain’s ‘secret listening post in the heart of Berlin’

The Independent reports: Concerns were raised tonight that Britain operates a top-secret listening post from its Berlin embassy to eavesdrop on the seat of German power.

Documents leaked by the US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden show that GCHQ is, together with the US and other key partners, operating a network of electronic spy posts from diplomatic buildings around the world, which intercept data in host nations.

An American intercept “nest” on top of its embassy in Berlin – less than 150 metres from Britain’s own diplomatic mission – is believed to have been shut down last week as the US scrambled to limit the damage from revelations that it listened to mobile phone calls made by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

But the NSA documents, in conjunction with aerial photographs and information about past spying activities in Germany, suggest that Britain is operating its own covert listening station within a stone’s throw of the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, and Ms Merkel’s offices in the Chancellery, using hi-tech equipment housed on the embassy roof.

The potentially toxic allegation that Britain has a listening station in the capital of a close European Union ally will test relations between London and Berlin only days after the row between Germany and the US about its own clandestine activities. Jan Albrecht, an MEP for Germany’s Green Party and a leading campaigner on privacy and data protection, told The Independent: “If GCHQ runs a listening post on the top of the UK’s Berlin embassy, it is clearly targeting politicians and journalists. Do these people pose a threat?

“The EU has asked David Cameron’s Government to explain the activities of GCHQ in Europe but it has declined to do so, saying it does not comment on activities in the interest of national security. This is hardly in the spirit of European co-operation. We are not enemies.” [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

No to asylum, but Germans want to hear what Snowden has to say

Deutsche Welle reports: Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has again ruled out granting asylum to NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden. This comes amid growing calls for a way to be found for Snowden to meet with German parliamentarians.

The chancellor’s spokesman on Monday took great pains to stress the need to avoid a break with Washington over allegations of the mass surveillance of German citizens by the US National Security Agency (NSA), and possibly even the tapping of Merkel’s mobile phone.

“The trans-Atlantic alliance remains for us Germans of exceptional importance,” Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin. He added that Germany had benefitted more than virtually any other nation from its friendly relations with the United States and that this was a major factor to be weighed up in any and all decisions the government made.

Seibert also ruled out the idea of Berlin granting former NSA subcontractor Edward Snowden asylum in Germany, so that he could testify before a parliamentary committee looking into the US spying allegations. Snowden’s situation, he said, did not meet the criteria for such a move.

Hermann Gröhe, the general secretary of Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), made a similar statement, noting that the United States, which wants to put Snowden on trial on espionage charges, has a valid extradition agreement with Germany.

Meanwhile, a senior member of the Social Democrats (SPD), with whom the CDU aims to form the next government, has called for German officials to question Snowden in Moscow. Speaking on ARD public television on Sunday evening, Thomas Oppermann also didn’t rule out the possibility of talking to Snowden in Germany. Whatever happened, he said, there needed to be a humanitarian solution to Snowden’s status, while at the same time keeping German-US relations in tact.

facebooktwittermail

Growing calls for Germany to offer Snowden asylum

Der Spiegel reports: There are growing calls in Germany not only to question Edward Snowden in connection with the ongoing NSA scandal, but also to offer him safe passage and asylum. Yet the heads of the two major political camps fear the wrath of the United States.

Hans-Christian Ströbele, a lawyer and parliamentarian for Germany’s Green Party, turned 74 this year. He has devoted more than 50 of those years to the political struggle for justice and for what is good in the world – or at least that’s how he sees it. “Have you ever been on the wrong side of things?” Ströbele was asked in a recent television interview.

“Politically speaking?” he asked the interviewer, glancing at the ceiling. For two seconds, it seemed as if he had to consider the question, but he quickly regained his composure and emphatically replied: “No.”

Now Ströbele is waging another political battle, probably the most noteworthy one of his life. Last Thursday, he went to Moscow and spent three hours speaking with Edward Snowden, the man whose revelations about the spying activities of the United States have both captivated the world for months and deeply changed its perceptions.

Ströbele, a lawmaker from the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg election district in Berlin, was the first politician in the world to meet with Snowden in his Moscow exile. Snowden’s mission is now Ströbele’s mission. He wants to bring the American whistleblower to Germany to testify before an investigative committee of the German parliament, the Bundestag, and in doing so provide him with a secured right of residence in Germany.

Ströbele knows that granting Snowden the right to stay in Germany would create problems for German-American relations. The Americans have already submitted an extradition request, just in case Snowden ever sets foot on German soil. But Ströbele doesn’t care. He sets his own priorities and, once again, he believes himself to be on the right side of history, notwithstanding Germany’s trans-Atlantic partnership with the United States. “If the political will exists, as well as the courage, including the courage to stand up to presidents, then it’s possible,” Ströbele said after returning from Moscow.

Germany now faces a test of courage, one that affects the German parliament, the heads of the two major parties, the conservatives and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), who are currently hammering out the details of a grand coalition government in negotiations set to conclude by Christmas. Most of all, it affects Chancellor Angela Merkel.

So should the Bundestag hear Snowden’s testimony before an investigative committee? The answer seems straightforward. Why shouldn’t German lawmakers hear what he has to say, the man on whose revelations the entire NSA scandal is based and who has already told Ströbele that he is willing to come to Germany?

The second, more fundamental question is harder to answer: whether Snowden should be granted the right to live in Germany or a comparable country, and therefore protection from the Americans. This is precisely the condition Snowden has set for his willingness to testify. He knows that his asylum in Russia is limited to one year, which means that it expires in nine months. He is testing the waters to see where he could live safely in the future. Germany appears to be his top choice. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Snowden asks U.S. to stop treating him like a traitor

The New York Times reports: Edward J. Snowden, the fugitive American security contractor granted temporary asylum by Russia, has appealed to Washington to stop treating him like a traitor for revealing that the United States has been eavesdropping on its allies, a German politician who met with Mr. Snowden said on Friday.

Mr. Snowden made his appeal in a letter that was carried to Berlin by Hans-Christian Ströbele, a veteran member of the Green Party in the German Parliament. Mr. Ströbele said he and two journalists for German news outlets met with Mr. Snowden and a person described as his assistant — probably his British aide, Sarah Harrison — at an undisclosed location in or near Moscow on Thursday for almost three hours.

Mr. Ströbele had gone to Moscow to explore whether Mr. Snowden could or would testify before a planned parliamentary inquiry into the eavesdropping. Any arrangements for Mr. Snowden to testify would require significant legal maneuvering, as it seemed unlikely that he would travel to Germany for fear of extradition to the United States.

In his letter, Mr. Snowden, 30, also appealed for clemency. He said his disclosures about American intelligence activity at home and abroad, which he called “systematic violations of law by my government that created a moral duty to act,” have had positive effects.

Yet “my government continues to treat dissent as defection, and seeks to criminalize political speech with felony charges that provide no defense,” Mr. Snowden wrote. “However, speaking the truth is not a crime. I am confident that with the support of the international community, the government of the United States will abandon this harmful behavior.” [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Obama administration seems ‘almost helpless’ in face of NSA scandal

Der Spiegel reports: German diplomats have traveled to Washington to express anger over surveillance of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone — but they have yet to make headway. The Obama administration seems “almost helpless” in the face of continued leaks, says one diplomat.

Both groups sit together in a White House conference room for about 90 minutes. On one side are a half a dozen members of the European Parliament. Facing them is an equally-sized American delegation, including Karen Donfried, senior director for European affairs in the National Security Council (NSC) and a fluent German speaker.

The agenda is full of issues that have become day-to-day business in trans-Atlantic relations: the scandal surrounding US monitoring of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone, NSA espionage and accusations of spying. They’re all uncomfortable topics that diplomats of allied nations usually prefer to keep quiet about. But shortly before the meeting’s end, the Americans appear to look inward. How should we proceed, they ask contemplatively.

“They seemed almost helpless, as if they’d become obsessed,” says Jan Philipp Albrecht, a Green Party MEP and one of the participants in the meeting. “The US government representatives honestly looked like they didn’t know what to do. And they left no room for doubt that more spying revelations are to be expected.” The odd exchange is an accurate reflection of the mood in Washington. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Intelligence officials confirm Obama misled Merkel

Obama pretending he can't see Merkel's text message.

Obama pretending he can't see Merkel texting.

The Los Angeles Times reports: The White House and State Department signed off on surveillance targeting phone conversations of friendly foreign leaders, current and former U.S. intelligence officials said Monday, pushing back against assertions that President Obama and his aides were unaware of the high-level eavesdropping.

Professional staff members at the National Security Agency and other U.S. intelligence agencies are angry, these officials say, believing the president has cast them adrift as he tries to distance himself from the disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that have strained ties with close allies.

The resistance emerged as the White House said it would curtail foreign intelligence collection in some cases and two senior U.S. senators called for investigations of the practice.

Precisely how the surveillance is conducted is unclear. But if a foreign leader is targeted for eavesdropping, the relevant U.S. ambassador and the National Security Council staffer at the White House who deals with the country are given regular reports, said two former senior intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in discussing classified information.

Obama may not have been specifically briefed on NSA operations targeting a foreign leader’s cellphone or email communications, one of the officials said. “But certainly the National Security Council and senior people across the intelligence community knew exactly what was going on, and to suggest otherwise is ridiculous.”

If U.S. spying on key foreign leaders was news to the White House, current and former officials said, then White House officials have not been reading their briefing books.

Some U.S. intelligence officials said they were being blamed by the White House for conducting surveillance that was authorized under the law and utilized at the White House.

“People are furious,” said a senior intelligence official who would not be identified discussing classified information. “This is officially the White House cutting off the intelligence community.”

Any decision to spy on friendly foreign leaders is made with input from the State Department, which considers the political risk, the official said. Any useful intelligence is then given to the president’s counter-terrorism advisor, Lisa Monaco, among other White House officials.

When Angela Merkel phoned Barack Obama to tell him she didn’t appreciate being spied on by the NSA, it’s not as though Obama got blind-sided by the call. “You have a call on line one Mr President. It’s a woman with a German accent. She sounds pissed off.

On the contrary, it’s reasonable to assume that Obama, in consultation with his staff, had time to craft a response, and if that response was not exactly crafted then it should at least have sounded halfway plausible.

Senior White House adviser: Just tell her you knew nothing about it but you promise it’ll never happen again.

Obama: But that’s going to sound like the lame excuse a 12-year-old would give in response to a reprimand from a school teacher.

Adviser: You got any better ideas?

The Most Powerful Man in the World: ….

What should he have said? How about:

I am aware of the reports you are referring to. I understand your concerns. I have ordered a comprehensive review of our surveillance policies and I am fully committed to taking whatever steps are necessary to restore trust between the United States and Germany. To that end, I’d like to invite you to send a team of your intelligence officials to meet their counterparts in Washington and in that context we will be able to address more specific issues and hopefully arrive at a common understanding.

You remain dear to my heart, Angela.

Well, maybe not the last bit.

facebooktwittermail

Alexander did not ‘discuss’ Merkel surveillance with Obama, but was he briefed?

I think the main thing I want to emphasize is I don’t have an interest and the people at the NSA don’t have an interest in doing anything other than making sure that where we can prevent a terrorist attack, where we can get information ahead of time, that we’re able to carry out that critical task. We do not have an interest in doing anything other than that. — President Obama, August 9, 2013.

A report in the German newspaper Bild cites NSA sources claiming that in 2010, Gen. Keith Alexander briefed President Obama on the targeting of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone.

The NSA has responded with a statement saying:

[General] Alexander did not discuss with President Obama in 2010 an alleged foreign intelligence operation involving German Chancellor Merkel, nor has he ever discussed alleged operations involving Chancellor Merkel.

That sounds very much like a non-denial denial.

Given that as it was widely reported in the English-language press that Obama had been “briefed” on the surveillance, an unambiguous denial from the NSA would have simply said that Obama had not been briefed on this matter. He had not been briefed by Alexander or anyone else in the intelligence community.

A briefing involves nothing more than the exchange of information. Whether that exchange provokes discussion is another matter. Every U.S. president will be briefed on matters every single day during which he is a passive recipient of information.

That Obama presents the appearance of being a disengaged president, is well documented.

If Alexander presented Obama with a list of heads of state currently under U.S. surveillance — a list including Merkel’s name and/or position — and Obama scanned the list, noting who was being spied on and for how long, but this information provoked neither comments nor questions from the president, then he could certainly have been briefed while having no discussion.

Officials choose their words very carefully precisely because they are afraid of accused of lying. That they might at the same time be engaged in an effort to be deceptive is another matter, since in response to the suggestion that a statement might be misleading, they can always plead ignorance or regret or blame the press. Sorry if that wasn’t clear. Sorry if there’s a misunderstanding. You misinterpreted my statement.

The charade of a press briefing won’t, however, alleviate the credibility issue that Obama now has with Merkel. In her eyes the U.S. president must now appear to be either a liar, incompetent, or both.

facebooktwittermail

What did the president know and when did he know it?

I haven’t evolved in my assessment of the actual [surveillance] programs. I consistently have said that when I came into office I evaluated them. — President Obama, August 2013.

The Wall Street Journal reports: The National Security Agency ended a program used to spy on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a number of other world leaders after an internal Obama administration review started this summer revealed to the White House the existence of the operation, U.S. officials said.

Officials said the internal review turned up NSA monitoring of some 35 world leaders, in the U.S. government’s first public acknowledgment that it tapped the phones of world leaders. European leaders have joined international outrage over revelations of U.S. surveillance of Ms. Merkel’s phone and of NSA’s monitoring of telephone call data in France.

The White House cut off some monitoring programs after learning of them, including the one tracking Ms. Merkel and some other world leaders, a senior U.S. official said. Other programs have been slated for termination but haven’t been phased out completely yet, officials said.

The account suggests President Barack Obama went nearly five years without knowing his own spies were bugging the phones of world leaders. Officials said the NSA has so many eavesdropping operations under way that it wouldn’t have been practical to brief him on all of them.

They added that the president was briefed on and approved of broader intelligence-collection “priorities,” but that those below him make decisions about specific intelligence targets.

The senior U.S. official said that the current practice has been for these types of surveillance decisions to be made at the agency level. “These decisions are made at NSA,” the official said. “The president doesn’t sign off on this stuff.” That protocol now is under review, the official added.

facebooktwittermail

Could Merkel have been spied on without Obama’s approval?

Der Spiegel reports: Among the politically decisive questions is whether the spying was authorized from the top: from the US president. If the data is accurate, the operation was authorized under former President George W. Bush and his NSA chief, Michael Hayden. But it would have had to be repeatedly approved, including after Obama took office and up to the present time. Is it conceivable that the NSA made the German chancellor a surveillance target without the president’s knowledge?

The White House and the US intelligence agencies periodically put together a list of priorities. Listed by country and theme, the result is a matrix of global surveillance: What are the intelligence targets in various countries? How important is this reconnaissance? The list is called the “National Intelligence Priorities Framework” and is “presidentially approved.”

One category in this list is “Leadership Intentions,” the goals and objectives of a country’s political leadership. The intentions of China’s leadership are of high interest to the US government. They are marked with a “1″ on a scale of 1 to 5. Mexico and Brazil each receive a “3″ in this category.

Germany appears on this list as well. The US intelligence agencies are mainly interested in the country’s economic stability and foreign policy objectives (both “3″), as well as in its advanced weapons systems and a few other sub-items, all of which are marked “4.” The “Leadership Intention” field is empty. So based on the list, it wouldn’t appear that Merkel should be monitored.

Former NSA employee Thomas Drake does not see this as a contradiction. “After the attacks of September 11, 2001, Germany became intelligence target number one in Europe,” he says. The US government did not trust Germany, because some of the Sept. 11 suicide pilots had lived in Hamburg. Evidence suggests that the NSA recorded Merkel once and then became intoxicated with success, says Drake. “It has always been the NSA’s motto to conduct as much surveillance as possible,” he adds.

facebooktwittermail