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NSA spying - another side of the story-- Data Privatized For Corporate Use

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Radomes at Menwith Hill, Yorkshire. Photo taken November 2005 by Wikipedia Commons (Matt Crypto)

The latest revelations of US spying on Europeans are far from novel, but I think nonetheless significant. They may well may prove to be the straw that broke the camel's back, in terms of trans-Atlantic trust. Well-informed Europeans (such as the German MEPs) recall very well that the issue came up in the 1990s, after certain triumphs of US communications intelligence came to light, notably the successful derailing of several trade deals for European companies like Airbus in favour of US contractors.
  A delegation of MEPs was sent to Washington - but they returned empty-handed. The matter was simply 'too secret' to even talk about, they were told.

I first wrote about the extensive network of US spy stations in 1999 in a book called 'No Holiday'. At the time, I lived near one, in fact, called Menwith Hill, in Yorkshire.

So I was very interested to see the editor of the London Guardian , Alan Rusbridger and his US deputy, Janine Gibson talking with PBS in America about the " Guardian 's revelations', as the paper put it on the website.

The thing that perplexed me though, is that neither of them seemed to know, or if they did were suppressing for some reason (and they admitted to clearing every line of their story with the US authorities before publication), two facts of vital public interest. The first is that this story of mass interception of civilian communications is a very old one, and the second is that the policy has nothing to do with protecting the public, but everything to do with economics red in tooth and claw.

As to the historical aspects, indeed there have been several public inquiries into the mass interception of civilian communications in the US and a large (multi-year) investigation by the Scientific and Technological Options Assessment arm of the European Parliament published in 1999.

But we can see the same story surfacing twenty five years before that: on 8 August 1975, NSA Director Lt General Lew Allen admitted to the Pike Committee of the US House of Representatives that :

"NSA systematically intercepts international communications, both voice and cable".

 He also admitted that "messages to and from American citizens have been picked up in the course of gathering foreign intelligence". US legislators considered that such operations might have been unconstitutional. During 1976, a Department of Justice team investigated possible criminal offences by NSA. Part of their report was released in 1980. It described how intelligence on US citizens:
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"was obtained incidentally in the course of NSA's interception of aural and non-aural (e.g., telex) international communications and the receipt of GCHQ-acquired telex and ILC (International Leased Carrier) cable traffic (SHAMROCK)".

The "Fink Report," the one and only Congressional investigation into FSF83 (the NSA communications station at Menwith HIll) in 1975, notes that the "NSA monitors the traffic of specific countries including Great Britain, our closest ally. There was a whole bank of machines [and] a whole team of men whose only job was to read and process intercepted British communications." Actually, the report was supposed to be secret too, but parts were released accidentally in 1978 as part of another inquiry.

As we have just seen, (with their formal letters to the US government requesting details on the extent of the interceptions) the German 's take the issue very seriously, and Directive 97/66/EC, adopted on 15 December 1997, concerning the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the telecommunications sector., states specifically (Article 5) that:

'Member States shall ensure via national regulations the confidentiality of communications. In particular, they shall prohibit listening, tapping, storage or other kinds of interception or surveillance of communications, without the consent of the users concerned, except when legally authorised.'

So 'unsecret' is it that there is the WASSENAAR Arrangement which establishes an international system for controlling the export of technologies that would make interception of communications difficult. It regulates the export of encryption products on the grounds that they constitute dual-use goods, i.e. goods which have both civil and military applications. Only technologies providing a very limited degree of security are authorised for uncontrolled export. Lawful cryptography offers no real protection against global interceptions of communications.
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Unfortunately, if predictably, the media has so far in its coverage put the emphasis on the wrong issues - and allowed the debate to be on the ground chosen by the surveillance agencies - that is of "security' and "protection' of the public.

The real story is very different. The STOA report explains convincingly why the American interest is so great. The claim made by the authors (by Duncan Campbell and others) is that mass communications interception and processing is a system which enables the countries using it to obtain significant economic information and, hence, to secure a leading position on the commercial markets. The study quotes examples where American companies have secured contracts as a result of communications having been intercepted.

* In January 1994 an arms supply contract worth 30 million francs with Saudi Arabia ended up with McDonnell-Douglas, the rival of the Airbus consortium, because the former was privy to the financial terms offered by Airbus thanks to the electronic interception system.

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Martin Cohen is a well-established author specializing in popular books in philosophy, social science and politics. His most recent projects include the UK edition of Philosophy for Dummies (Wiley June 2010); How to Live: Wise and not-so-wise (more...)

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There have often been rumours of this kind of espi... by Martin Cohen on Wednesday, Jul 3, 2013 at 7:22:53 AM
By suggesting that the NSA data trap is "Just busi... by Paul Repstock on Thursday, Jul 4, 2013 at 12:37:43 PM
A million people dead, and a country destroyed....... by Paul Repstock on Thursday, Jul 4, 2013 at 1:30:00 PM
(I think I'll be spending time at your website.) E... by Philip Zack on Wednesday, Jul 3, 2013 at 8:31:00 AM
So, essentially , the United States hegemony that ... by Ray Johns on Wednesday, Jul 3, 2013 at 8:50:51 AM
Well, yes, that's the big picture isn't it? But I ... by Martin Cohen on Wednesday, Jul 3, 2013 at 9:55:39 AM
As Ray John aptly put it, and so many media outlet... by Victoria Bingham on Wednesday, Jul 3, 2013 at 9:00:47 AM
How about insider dealing on the Stock Markets? Of... by Martin Cohen on Wednesday, Jul 3, 2013 at 10:04:25 AM
Thanks for the comments. The things I'd suggest to... by Martin Cohen on Wednesday, Jul 3, 2013 at 9:27:11 AM
Historian Jeffrey Steinberg could be referring to... by Ethan Hollow on Wednesday, Jul 3, 2013 at 10:04:54 AM
what about PRISM? that is not being covered by the... by b. sadie bailey on Wednesday, Jul 3, 2013 at 10:12:05 AM
We simple folk who amass large lists of Contacts (... by Simon Leigh on Wednesday, Jul 3, 2013 at 10:25:51 AM
Martin Cohen's piece is worth everything I have re... by Dixie Dellinger on Wednesday, Jul 3, 2013 at 11:25:03 AM
Absolutely. The Guardian seems to not see any of... by Martin Cohen on Wednesday, Jul 3, 2013 at 12:15:55 PM
Hi Mr. Cohen--Just a couple days ago I ran into a ... by Elizabeth Hanson on Wednesday, Jul 3, 2013 at 6:48:59 PM
Thanks, Elizabeth, and that's a really interesting... by Martin Cohen on Wednesday, Jul 3, 2013 at 7:41:38 PM
Elizabeth (and Laurie just), thinking more about t... by Martin Cohen on Thursday, Jul 4, 2013 at 8:28:36 AM
those texas FBI agents did not look into the plot ... by laurie steele on Thursday, Jul 4, 2013 at 12:02:52 AM
seems like the big telecoms kept their mouths shut... by laurie steele on Wednesday, Jul 3, 2013 at 11:15:16 PM
Power is a weapon! Weapons will be used to justif... by Paul Repstock on Thursday, Jul 4, 2013 at 1:25:21 PM
"May we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal... by Deborah Dills on Thursday, Jul 4, 2013 at 1:43:56 PM
He just has a problem with the truth. Search CBC ... by Paul Repstock on Thursday, Jul 4, 2013 at 2:28:11 PM
"Obama's Justice Department has charged a total of... by Martin Cohen on Thursday, Jul 4, 2013 at 6:22:03 PM
This is an astute exploration. A panoramic yet int... by Wetwo Williams on Friday, Jul 5, 2013 at 4:33:15 AM