Tuesday, March 18, 2014
The names of presidents and prime ministers may change, but the spying game remains the same between the United States and its allies.
In addition to learning whom the National Security Agency (NSA) has been watching, the revelations provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden have revealed a dark fact about the world of Western surveillance agencies: their joint operations with the NSA rarely are impacted by those running democratically elected governments.
That’s because the leaders of nations cooperating with U.S. spy programs are often in the dark about surveillance activities within their borders.
The NSA says this is so in a classified document released by Snowden that discusses the Americans’ relationships with counterparts in Europe and elsewhere.
At any given time, often only the military officials in charge of spying operations really know what’s going on, according to The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald. “Few, if any, elected leaders have any knowledge of the surveillance,” he writes.
Greenwald cites a portion of the NSA document (“What Are We After with Our Third Party Relationships?—And What Do They Want from Us, Generally Speaking?”) that says elected officials play virtually no role in a vast inter-nation intelligence gathering machine.
“For a variety of reasons, our intelligence relationships are rarely disrupted by foreign political perturbations, international or domestic,” the NSA document states. “First, we are helping our partners address critical intelligence shortfalls, just as they are assisting us. Second, in many of our foreign partners’ capitals, few senior officials outside of their defense-intelligence apparatuses are witting to any SIGINT [Signals Intelligence] connection to the U.S./NSA.”
The document goes on to say that there are “exceptions, both on the positive and negative sides.” One example cited involved the “election of a pro-American president” that resulted in “one European partner” becoming “more open to providing information on their own capabilities and techniques, in hope of raising our intelligence collaboration to a higher level.”
But for the most part the intelligence “relationships” don’t change much because, in Greenwald’s words, “the mere existence of these activities is kept from the political class.”