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28 October 2013


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Brian O'Connor

If you want a real snapshot about the NSA scandal over the past few months but also much more, watch this : http://youtu.be/lH5y-_nYEds
(this video was extracted from montaneus.com). Very interesting results on this topic: How the NSA has secretly made the internet less secure, how the NSA spies on every US citizens, what's its impact on global financial transactions, what were its relations with foreign countries.



Then you disagree with Cole re Obama possibly in the dark.
No matter, the US should really divorce (liberate) Europe. No bases. No Nato. If we want an empire, we should have gone southward and kept the Monroe Doctrine intact.


European leaders may be hypocrites - at least to some degree. I have written about them in today's Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-brenner/nsa-does-the-grand-tour_b_4169807.html

That still leaves a few troubling questions:

1. Do their citizens have the right to be free of American surveillance?

2. How would we feel if American citizens in the US were the object of massive surveillance by any of the agencies mentioned?

3. Just what is the value gained? So far, we have no evidence of any serious plots being thwarted. Alexander et al came up with the number of 56. Now it is down to "one or two" - still with no evidence presented. As for non-terrorist intelligence of value that allegedly has been gathered, we have nothing at all. Merkel's views in 2002, when in opposition, about the Iraq invasion? We didn't even give a damn what Chancellor Schroeder's views were - and they were public.

Sorry to be beating a dead horse - but let's acknowledge that it is dead and draw the implications.


Every advanced country eavesdrops on all other countries, as much as they covertly can. They should. Indeed they have to, in our dynamic and dangerous world. It is a huge disadvantage if they don’t, even if it is on allies. Information is power; the lack of it makes a country vulnerable.

The President had to know. Perhaps he was given plausible deniability whereby he knew we snooped on all world leaders, but was never given the specific names of the individuals. (Yeah, right.)



The more I read here about the US SIGINT row with Europe, the more I think, the US doesn't realize what kind of coalition of forces they are up against.

I think in the essence that row is a US-German row. Differences with the UK, France, Spain, NL and so on I would deem minor. In those EU countries such a "privacy protection" coalition of forces is not present in the same way as it is in Germany. In Germany, I would compare the public outrage over NSA SIGINT gathering to be something similar as it was in Afghanistan, when US forces burned holy Quran books in trash. As 'b' noted here recently, the German high court recently declared data privacy a constitutional right in Germany, which may only be broken for very good reason, such as suspicion of terror or other heavy criminality.

You linked the BND article of Wikipedia. I may quote a sentence of that: "The annual budget of the BND for 2009 was €460,000,000." Recently, the BND got 20 Million Euro more each year for five years. And of course, the German public knows that the internal intelligence agencies BfV get a similar budget. A large chunk of the German public is really outraged about such a high budget for intelligence, especially when that figure is put into relation to the fact that the German economy is only as small as 3,5 trillion US-Dollar. However, the German government did it anyway, and given the balanced German budget, it has no problem of financing the 20 millions extra per year.

Each year "Freedom not fear" demonstrations are held in Germany. The mostly leftwing coalition of organizers reaches from the largest unions over all opposition parties currently in parliament and both, major protestant and catholic, church organisations up to professional organisations of lawyers and dentists. See here a selection of that coalition in Wikipedia:


Now, it was reported that the US spied on Merkels mobile phone. The data protection colaition laughs loud about that, especially as it knows that rightwing Merkel did, to say the least, very few things for data protection in Germany. But enraged is now the elsewhere pro-US nationalist wing. The German BND chief Schindler just said, US politicians were deliberately spared from being a target for for German SIGINT in the US. I wouldn't trust him even if he only would tell me 2+2=4, but the rightwingers give a lot on what he says, and the mood there is, if the US spies on Merkel, either that has to stop or Germany should spy on Obama, too.

So, from here, what's currently brewing together in Germany seems to be like a perfect storm, from left to right, the whole political landscape is united, that what US SIGINT in Germany did is indefensible.


All those leaders who are whining about the surveillance must have known about it. IMO, the only reason they are reacting to it is simply because the surveillance is now publicized and these leaders have to say something.

The Twisted Genius

I'm not as convinced as Colonel Lang that Barack Obama, David Cameron, Hollande and Merkel were aware of the full scope of their services' SIGINT activities to include specific targets. I would think something like Merkel's cellphone would, at least, need approval of the White House. If it was a HUMINT operation, it certainly would. I'm not familiar with the coordination/approval process for SIGINT. HUMINT operational proposals of any real import require a painstaking risk vs. gain assessment. Clan HUMINT scares people. SIGINT doesn't have the same effect, as evidenced in Alexander's "collect it all" attitude. You would never hear of a recruit them all attitude. I have a feeling risk vs. gain will be a bigger concern in SIGINT operations in the future.

An interesting discussion along these lines is in the LA Times claiming the NSA and other U.S. intelligence agency staff members are angry at President Obama for denying knowledge of the spying. The White House says it didn't know about it until this Summer when it stopped the operations against 5 out of 33 world leaders.



amspirational: Juan cole's assertion is laughable at best. That NSA would collect information directly about Merkel's positions on important negotiations, etc., and then NOT pass it to the president? defeats the point of collecting it. So why is juan cole flogging a denial trial balloon by the admin? that has already been reported to be non-factual.

I presume from all this, many will invest in better encryption, some of which will not have back doors, and the internet will balkanize, killing a lot of US corporate dominance in the field. And I assume after all the fuss dies down vacuuming will continue because it is technologically possible and provides advantages.

A big concern of mine, though, is whether commercially relevant info is passed on to select US companies. If so, it would greatly accelerate US crony capitalism, "the Italian disease" where it is not the quality of your product/service that determines success but who you know that determines success. This is a dangerous road and could hurt one of the main US competitive strengths.

Ursa Maior

Of course they all knew about it. The only difference is in my opinion, that it took that long for the EU leaders to grasp that they fell out of the hat. The USA sees (and has always seen IMO) a strong and unified EU as a competitor, not as a close ally. It was clear from Dubya's actions and it got clearer under BHO. The EU leaders have realized it only recently and began taking countersteps.

As a sidenote, the more the US leadership drive the country towards a real empire the faster the gap between perception and reality will be at least for the US voters. The stronger the American Empire the less attractive.


I have only a few complaints about COMINT, and that would be in that order:

I lament that Germany's SIGINT capability is not better. For instance we should have bought LAPAS decades ago. And I lament that our Com and IT security is apparently not good enough as to defeat NSA tapping into our chancellors phone.

Then there is the point b rightly point to earlier - Germans do have a historic baggage with spying. We do not like to be sniffed on. It makes no difference to me for instance whether it is the Gestapo or the Stasi keeping a file on me or the NSA. I don't like it either way. I expect my government to respect that, and to protect me from others who don't.

IMO seydlitz89 made a good point on that, when he wrote of the corrosive aspect that the US attitude towards Sigint has on alliance relationships.

I think that is quite acurate. Excess is basically a backlash in the making. As I see it, the intensity of US SIGINT directed against the world is such as to suggest that is not a concern.

As for the US, and their espionage, they may just overdo it. I think to some extent the US do it because they can. There is no consideration as to what is being targetet, the only restraint is the technical capacity (and that goes for the US domestically also).

Because working relationships of intelligence services and countries are transactional, a degree of trustworthiness is still desirable. That can be offset to a point by capability and the degree that partners are dependent, but only to a point.

One may decry European hypochrisy all day, but what goes around comes around. If the US spy as relentlessly as they do on any communication they can get into, there is a price to it if it comes out. Either the US don't care considering that, or they think it's worth it. I believe it is the latter.

It is quite simply inevitable that the European governments express their outrage, outrage, because it is about reasserting their sovereignty to their domestic audiences (which is why the British government, given their complicity in NSA spying, finds itself in such an inconvenient situation). But this will pass.

The reaction would be pretty much the same, or worse, in the US if it became known that German intelligence had succeeded in tapping, say, Obama's mobile. There is the odd chance, considering how nutty congress is generally and in particular of late, that a few confused congressmem introduced legislation to declare war on Germany (Iran for that matter) over such an incident, and that it passes.


@Prof Brenner,

You write: "How would we feel if American citizens in the US were the object of massive surveillance by any of the agencies mentioned?"

Indeed, US citizens ARE already the object of massive surveillance through the auspices of the ECHELON group noted above. That is what is already galling. European citizens are (supposedly) provided lawful "privacy" and so were US citizens before 2001. Just like torture, the USA "outsourced" collection against targetted citizens to its allied partners in ECHELON; similarly, its doubtful we would not return the favor when allied partners seek to circumvent their own laws (in secret, of course). Snowden's revelations put the lie of privacy protections front and center. And this is why there is such fury at his actions.

Merkel was collected against by the US? So what? That US citizens are collected against by the US without the legal cause? THAT gets my goat.

I agree with the Colonel. Europe is putting far more open water between our nations; they have made a decision to withdraw from under the hegemon's umbrella. This should make our own defense department & its budget far smaller - to the benefit of our citizens first and not Europeans. They want their own way, good luck with that. And pick up your own tab for defending the frontier.




"I lament that our Com and IT security is apparently not good enough as to defeat NSA tapping into our chancellors phone." It appears that Merkel was conducting the business of your government on an ordinary cell phone. This is a radio. All that was needed to listen to it was to tune the receiver to the right frequency. It was not encrypted. she appears to be technologically challenged in basic knowledge concerning activities that German SIGINT conducts in direct subordination to her office. Given the way she was conducting herself I would estimate that a great many non-German governments were listening to her. pl

David Habakkuk


Is there enough evidence to be clear as to whether Merkel was or was not aware that her cellphone was tapped?

In a report in the FT, Quentin Peel comments that cynics would say that her statement that ‘spying between friends is something that is just not done,’ is ‘naïve’, but goes on to argue that ‘the depth of the chancellor’s anger, and the feeling of personal betrayal, was clear for all to see.’

(See http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/859d8260-3f0d-11e3-b665-00144feabdc0.html?siteedition=uk&siteedition=uk#axzz2j02nzp5P )

It may very well be that the truth lies on the surface, that Merkel was naïve, and that her discovery that she was tapped is awakening all kinds of bad memories of the Stasi. However, this would require not only that she was naïve but that none of her entourage, or of the people to whom she sent messages over the cellphone, pointed out to her the very obvious risks.

Accordingly, although the scenario still seems to me unlikely, I do not think one can entirely discount an alternative possibility: that the messages she sent via the cellphone were ones she was happy to have people – and in particular the Americans – hear.

There are two obvious sets of circumstances in which someone might deliberately send messages through insecure channels. One would be if they wanted to allay unjustified suspicions of their good faith, the other if they wanted to create an unjustified confidence in that good faith.


Col: Since the cold war has ended--decades ago--why do we still have NATO? The hypocrisy is just a symptom of irrationality in the alliance structure. If our government were to do a strategic review of our alliances and relationships, how many alliances could withstand the scrutiny.


You mean St. Barrack Obama, Nobel Peace Prize winner and constitutional lawyer (JD from the proletarian Harvard Law School) was unaware of the actions of the NSA after almost a decade of time as 'commander in chief'? I'm not shocked at him; but at the ongoing naiveté of his supporters in the Democratic party, who have yet to vote out of office a single member of Congress who have been complicit in his (Obama's) conduct. At least the tea party got off their collective asses and did something.

William R. Custmming

The surveillance is correlated to corruption. What few Americans seem to understand is the deep corruption of American culture and its elites. Many businesses can only survive by surveillance. The same for many governments and government officialdom.

Both Hitler and Stalin taught the USA and others many bad lessons in modern governance. By patting ourselves on the back and claiming "we" are the good guys we ignored doing the hard work of protecting our democracy [republic] and Constitution.
There is almost nothing controlling the intentional misuse of information by anyone or any organization. And this is the policy in the USA and elsewhere!



My only cavil at your tirade against the decline of our culture is that I do not think our SIGINT products are given to private companies to make them more competitive. pl


David Habakkuk

I am not TTG but will comment anyway. Having been deeply involved in the regulation and management of SIGINT products at the level of the army general staff, I find it absurd to think that Merkel would not have been aware of the ease of intercept of her conversations. I am very doubtful that she would have used her cell phone to "broadcast" planted information to NSA/GCHQ. To have a politician do that would be a great risk that the BND, who surely listened to her phone, would have desperately tried to stop. The technology required to intercept cell phones is very old. The BND understood and understands very well what is involved. pl

William R. Custmming

As to PL's conclusion that the EU and USA are drifting apart how could it not be so? And is it a good or bad thing?

IMO it is the former but given the large devastation to Western Civilization caused by governments and organizations
west of the URALS how could it not be so?

Check out C. Vance Woodward's THE POWER ELITES published around 1955.



I have written repeatedly that all these old Cold War alliances have outlived their usefulness. pl

William R. Custmming

PL! Ask yourself who gets the patent rights for the IC contracting community?

Babak Makkinejad

She is supposed to have had a degree in Physics...

Babak Makkinejad

I agree with you.


That then is just naive-stupid.

David Habakkuk

Colonel Lang,

I was not really thinking of planted information. Rather that, as 'bandolero' ha suggested, it is in the logic of Germany's current strategic position that both in terms of internal political management and the management of external relations it may make sense to say rather different things to different people.

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