23 Jan Spying our Allies
Had Edward Snowden not made the revelations that he did in 2013 and had Wikileaks not come out, NSA (National Security Agency)-the intelligence agency responsible for global monitoring, collection of data and information for foreign and counterintelligence purposes- would have encapsulated the globe under its web of surveillance. This is not to imply that NSA has mellowed down in its approach when it comes to collecting most sensitive of the information, but the leaks allowed other countries, especially US’ allies to become charier of this uninviting US intrusion.
NSA boasts a stellar resume when it comes to passive surveillance of the computer networks of international organizations and their top officials. Even the closest of the US’ allies make up the numbers in the list. Take for instance the 2010 Israeli PM Ehud Olmert whose email traffic was rigorously kept under check by the NSA agents. The buck for getting monitored was soon passed onto the Israeli defense minister of 2009 Ehud Barak, interestingly at the same time when the US and Israel were having a conflict of interest in deterring Iran’s nuclear enrichment program via a planned cyber-attack. The cyber-attack was carried by developing an increasingly complex virus called Stuxnet which set back Iran’s nuclear program by years in 2010.
But considering US’ standoff with Iran over the current nuclear deal, snooping upon Iran’s nuclear ambitions shouldn’t come as a surprise. However, taping Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell-phone should be worth a brow-raiser. As revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the American embassy in Berlin, from where the chancellery is visible, was used as the prime location for espionage as well as taping the Chancellor’s phone. Such antics by the NSA drew a sharp reproach from the chancellor herself, as she was resorted to making a call to then President Barack Obama, intimating him that such spying between friends was unacceptable.
NSA, on the other hand, has always been resolute in justifying its monitoring of foreign state officials as well as breaching their computer networks to import important information. It has found its staunch supporters from departments of House subcommittees on Counterterrorism and Intelligence. Peter King, the chairman of the subcommittee, was quoted defending NSA’s targeting of Germany for espionage, primarily because of the Hamburg plot which led to 9/11. Even the then outgoing NSA chief, Keith Alexander showed a modicum of contrition when asked whether NSA would at least put a stop to monitoring its closest of allies stating that nobody would ever want them to give up on protecting this country against terrorists, adversary states and cyber-attacks.
It’s not only US allies who have been living under the shadow of NSA’s intricate and well-connected computer networks. European Commission’s vice president, Joaquin Almunia was also one of the top-brass names appearing on the documents obtained from Edward Snowden. Mr. Almunia who oversaw the anti-trust issues in Europe had fined many American companies like Microsoft and Intel for disrupting fair competition in the European market. He was also involved in a three-year standoff with Google over the prioritization of its own search results. Organizations like United Nation’s Development Program, UNICEF’s charity wing and even OPEC (Oil and Petroleum Exporting Countries) have had their computer networks infiltrated by NSA in entirety. Secret papers unveiling Saudi Arab’s hidden upsurge of oil production over the years and organization’s decision to file an anti-trust suit in the US were the key pieces of information obtained after hacking OPEC’s system.
Notwithstanding the one-step approach that allows the US intelligence agencies to neutralize any future terror operations or the tracking of any unusual economic activities in the interest of national security, snooping on allies can lead to the isolation of a country on a global scale. So, do you think it is worth it? Should the US continue surveillance of its closest allies?