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British intelligence hacked Belgacom then sabotaged investigation (brusselstimes.com)
332 points by kostaddin 3 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 127 comments

The real mystery is this:

> However the Belgian government and security services were kept in the dark, something which the federal prosecutor’s report described as “exceptional between EU states, and something that could lead to a diplomatic incident.”

If this operation was ONLY meant to target a subsidiary working mostly inside the middle-east with legitimate terrorist ties, I'd imagine they would have included the Belgians.

One could speculate that GCHQ decided to go it alone, just to see "what else we can get" in terms of potentially spying within Belgian/on Belgian's citizens.

It isn't even the first time GCHQ has been caught spying on other European countries[0]. But I guess the City of London needs to get their financial "tips" somehow...

[0] http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/gchq-and-nsa-tar...

> It isn't even the first time GCHQ has been caught spying on other European countries

The polite open secret of espionage is that spying on your allies isn't just normal, it's part and parcel of basic modern statecraft. Being able to anticipate the moves of your allies, understand their thought processes, and watch them for compromises are all incredibly useful things, and the first two very important for working closely with an ally. This is, quite frankly, normal stuff.

What generally doesn't happen is public discussion of it. The public tends to think of espionage as something that would only ever be directed against enemies or threats. That's at odds with the information that enables diplomacy to function well. Every world leader knows their allies are spying on them, and tries to do the same in return. The only weird thing is being publicly exposed, at which point every leader postures against the thing they all rely on.

There's really no need to suspect a commercial conspiracy when normal diplomacy is sufficient to explain this kind of thing. But I guess this is boring by comparison to imagining that a historical financial center only functions through ill-gotten commercial intelligence.

I was with you until:

> But I guess this is boring by comparison to imagining that a historical financial center only functions through ill-gotten commercial intelligence.

Nobody said anything about "only functioning because..."

The entire basis for your position seems to be that an intelligence apparatus can only do exactly one thing at a time. It can either be for diplomatic reasons OR commercial spying, not both...

In reality governments extract as much value out of the intelligence networks and collected information as they can. If the collected information is going to help a domestic business interest against a foreign one (e.g. contract negotiations, mergers, sales, etc) you can bet your butt that tips will be supplied.

You really think that the US government doesn't routinely "tip" off Boeing and several European countries Airbus?

Countries look out for their own self interests beyond anything else. Expecting that they'll only do so some of the time rather than all of the time, seems like an opinion based more around how you'd wish a country to act morally, rather than the reality on the ground.

> The entire basis for your position seems to be that an intelligence apparatus can only do exactly one thing at a time. It can either be for diplomatic reasons OR commercial spying, not both...

I understand fully! Any competent intelligence agency is of course capable of serving more than one purpose at once. I do not in any way, shape, form, or manner believe that an intelligence apparatus is inherently capable of pursuing only a single task. Please accept my apologies for this egregious failure on my part to communicate clearly.

You're absolutely, completely right. All of this is completely normal. With that in mind, perhaps potshots at professionals doing things considered normal could be better justified?

>You really think that the US government doesn't routinely "tip" off Boeing and several European countries Airbus?

>Countries look out for their own self interests beyond anything else.

And of course, governments only help local companies like this, if they in turn help their government.

The US doesn't tip off American companies with data gathered by its intelligence agencies.

This was a decision made back during the Clinton years.

You're welcome to share your evidence to the contrary.

You're welcome to point out where I said "the US doesn't spy on foreign companies".

The point is that these are clear examples of the NSA engaging in economic espionage, including tipping off US corporations with intelligence. Many countries do it. China is a worse and likely a much more frequent offender than the US, but the US still does it.

It may be worth considering that the examples may not be as clear as their presenter might believe them to be. There may be a difference between spying on a given target and spying on a given target for a particular reason.

In general, there are two claims being made here. Claim one is that the US has spied on a series of corporations. Claim two is that this has been done for the purposes of economic gain. The truth of claim one makes it possible for claim two to be true, but a cautious reader might note that what is possible and what is certainly true can at times be different.

Not to wax cynical, but Ms. Rousseff's claim that there's no possible other reason to spy on Petrobras is not credible. Not because she was clearly lying (I cannot begin to evaluate that), but because there's no reasonable world in which she understood all possible aspects of the decision-making process that produced that spying.

Given the type of corruption that Petrobras has been involved in, spies could have been pursuing a financial trail. This is not a certainty, of course, but it is sufficiently plausible that it's impossible to be certain that the NSA could only have been active there for purposes of industrial espionage.

Sure, that's certainly plausible. There are many reasons why an intelligence agency might want to spy on a large nation's state-owned energy conglomerate. The US government has indeed denied that the Petrobras spying was for economic gain [1]:

>"The department does not engage in economic espionage in any domain, including cyber," the agency said in an emailed response to a Washington Post story on the subject last month.

>In a statement issued on Sunday night after the latest revelations aired in Brazil, the US director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said: "It is not a secret that the intelligence community collects information about economic and financial matters, and terrorist financing.

>"We collect this information for many important reasons: for one, it could provide the United States and our allies early warning of international financial crises which could negatively impact the global economy. It also could provide insight into other countries' economic policy or behavior which could affect global markets."

>But he again denied this amounted to industrial espionage. "What we do not do, as we have said many times, is use our foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of – or give intelligence we collect to – US companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line."

Maybe they're right. But how can we possibly know they're actually telling the truth? Especially when the intelligence agencies' job is essentially to lie?

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/09/nsa-spying-bra...

Snowden said they routinely conduct economic espionage[0] and the CIA tried it too[1]. If you had read the links above (particularly [3]) you'd know this already.

[0] https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20150629/16134031494/nsa-d...

[1] https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140524/07014427355/forme...

I’m pretty sure until recently they didn’t even share information that would help protect companies from state level actors.

>The polite open secret of espionage is that spying on your allies isn't just normal, it's part and parcel of basic modern statecraft. Being able to anticipate the moves of your allies, understand their thought processes, and watch them for compromises are all incredibly useful things, and the first two very important for working closely with an ally. This is, quite frankly, normal stuff.

If this information is beneficial to both sides, it should be freely exchanged. Relying on everybody spying in each other allows poor information to cause massive mistakes, creates a power imbalance should one agency outperform another, and requires a massive investment in a sector that is also capable of economic espionage and the creation of a surveillance state.

If this is a necessary element of state diplomacy, how can interactions between countries like the US and Mexico ever be fair? And how is the public benefitting from this large investment in state controlled espionage?

> If this information is beneficial to both sides, it should be freely exchanged.

A lot of it is. You still want independent confirmation of these things. It reduces incentive to lie (by increasing the probability of being caught), and can mitigate some types of miscommunication. E.g. maybe your ally can't admit something that they know to be true, because it happens to be unpopular domestically.

I'm not sure that this is sufficient justification, but the benefit does exist.

> If this is a necessary element of state diplomacy, how can interactions between countries like the US and Mexico ever be fair?

How can they ever be fair if it isn't? Fairness is just not a property that interactions generally have. Every actor has advantages, and those advantages are rarely equal for all parties.

>maybe your ally can't admit something that they know to be true, because it happens to be unpopular domestically.

It's not like diplomacy is done in public, there are ample opportunities to convey your true intentions.

>How can they ever be fair if it isn't?

Sure, you're right that "true" fairness is likely unobtainable. This system adds an unnecessary additional component that serves only to further the aims of the powerful. Calling it a normal, necessary part of diplomacy makes it seem like it's in everyone's best interest.

The other open secret is that intelligence services in most countries have no where near the number of people they need to listen to all the taps they have, let alone comprehend it all. And because the people they're surveilling almost certainly know that they're being surveilled all the information has to be treated as potentially suspect because it could be manipulated.

Plus, the people being spied upon have their own misconceptions, agendas, and potentially warped ideologies that confound everything. Wrap this all in a bureaucratic malaise with much-too-small-to-compete salary caps and intelligence is way less effectually than people think.

This is largely the truth and the scary part about it all. Incompetence abounds more than we would ever want to know, but often it's not just incompetence.

I often think of William Binney's thinthread program, designed to protect Americans privacy while still performing the core node taps at a handful of millions cost. It was scrapped for a program that cost billions, didn't protect Americans privacy, and lost the real intel in the increased haystack size...

That's not incompetence. That's kickback cruft to good old boys literally weakening national security for more money. There is a reason certain counties in Virginia have the largest growth of millionaires in America since 9/11.

> The polite open secret of espionage is that spying on your allies isn't just normal, it's part and parcel of basic modern statecraft.

And the corollary to the fact that spying on all of your enemies and all of your friends is considered a basic necessity for modern states: when political actors start press releasing accusations of spying, the aim is generally the manipulation of public opinion, not actual concern.

> There's really no need to suspect a commercial conspiracy when normal diplomacy is sufficient to explain this kind of thing.

I don't know that the two are particularly distinguishable.

Yeah, I wonder why the state of Texas is not spying on Washington DC

Why do you think they aren't? Sure, Texas doesn't have anything like the NSA. Still, you can bet that Texan senators and reps discover things that they aren't officially supposed to know, and some of that information reaches their colleagues back home.

I don't think it's legal to use NSA/CIA to spy on political adversaries and sabotage them politically and economically.

How do you know it doesn't? At some point "spying" becomes just "research".

Even grocery stores do "covert espionage" against their competitors, to e.g. match prices.

You are comparing states with groceries...let's compare the Afganistan war with an afterschool fight or terrorists with pranksters and see where it leads us.

Spying activities are hostile actions. They are used to gain unfair economic advantage, overtrow governments, win elections(for their fav candidate) and other nasty stuff.

If the british government needs more data to find terrorists they could use their political power to improve the data sharing at the EU level.

You are correct, pretty much all spying at GCHQ is aimed at friendly competition in the business arena (and politics) and has nothing to do with 'hunt the bin Laden', 'kiddy porn' and all those things that they say they do. Even during the Cold War the bulk of operations were directed at allies and customers for the arms trade, not the Soviet Union.

There is some dangerous thinking going on with this assumption that 'we must let our spies bug everything and everyone, including our allies' that should not be glossed over.

There is the 'copying homework problem' that we all know from school. If you spend all of your efforts copying the efforts of others (whether it is a school assignment or a business proposal) then this really can be to your own detriment. It is far better to do your own work and then to compare with others to see if you have missed something. Starting with the work of others and changing a few details doesn't get you top grades or the contract. It is a risky strategy.

Another problem with over-reliance on spying is that this is actually being done by a defence contractor who may not have your best interests at heart. A large part of the GCHQ infrastructure is put in place by American companies and they are upstream. Imagine you are trying to sell bombs to Saudi Arabia, representing the interests of British companies and doing your best to secure jobs for people in your constituency.

If the defence contractor doing the spying services also have bomb factories in the USA then there is a conflict of interest going on, they have visibility on what deal is being proposed and can make sure their competing offer gouges the Saudis but does not appear to be based on insider information.

Spying also has a chilling effect and targets of spying efforts can go quiet if they know that too many walls have ears. If you were a European company would you prefer to deal with your European neighbours, getting bids from France, Germany or Spain (for example) or would you want to have known snitch-countries bidding too? The Five Eyes run the risk of just being left out of the running as untrustworthy, particularly in countries outside the Anglo-Saxon world.

> If you were a European company would you prefer to deal with your European neighbours, getting bids from France, Germany or Spain (for example) or would you want to have known snitch-countries bidding too?

Unless we are to pretend that only the Five Eyes do spying, I would assume that France, Germany, and Spain all have competent intelligence systems and thus the result is probably more or less a wash.

It may also be worth considering that there could be a difference to be distinguished between noting that a given practice is common and endorsing it. The former is an observation, the latter a judgment call. It may even be possible to offer the former without weighing in on the latter, though some will tend to interpret this as a statement of enthusiastic endorsement.

Perhaps I failed to season what I thought to be clearly phrased as observations with sufficient qualifiers? If so, please accept my humble apologies for misleading you by being unclear.

Although Russia has plenty of satellites in orbit, do other nations have fleets of Hubble grade satellites pointing downwards as per UK/USA? Nope.

Okay, telecoms now go by cable, but do countries in mainland Europe have cables reaching out across the world leading back as happens in the UK? Nope. When it was just phone lines all cable for communication across the British empire led back to England, if you wanted to place a call from country A in Africa to country B in Africa it would not take a direct route, it would go to England first with a nice BT switchboard operator connecting the call. This infrastructure was built upon over time to have the fibre optic magic we have today. Much has changed but this inheritance from history is not to be overlooked. If a European company on the continent is trying to get a trade deal with a country that was formally coloured pink then that call is likely to be routed through Five Eyes comms, not some dedicated fibre. Clearly France have plenty of cables going across the border to Germany, but not to Australia.

Every king since the beginning of time has had his spies, there is no country on the planet that does not have some capability. However, The Five Eyes operation is on an entirely different scale to what nations outside of UK/USA have. Essentially the other three eyes are only there due to geography, they are lesser partners without the need or resources to participate at the level that the other two do.

The UK is also a junior partner, the reason GCHQ is so big is that there are laws in the US that are there to prevent the three letter agencies spying on the domestic population. GCHQ does that for them and has been built with the help of US contractors. It is one and the same operation with conflicts of interest on occasion - Airbus for instance.

I know it sounds wrong but I sometimes wish there was more spying going on from countries outside of Five Eyes. It would at least be possible to keep US/UK politicians a bit more honest if other countries has a bit more of an appreciation regarding what is going on. The reality though is that other countries just do not have the resources, people, skills, technology to do that. They buy the stories Washington and London tells them with no inside information to give them a more informed view.

Why do you think that "pretty much all spying at GCHQ" is related to business/politics? Do you actually have a reliable source for that?

As you can appreciate it can be hard to get reliable sources when the Official Secrets Act is involved. But I do have something for you in the public domain.

Quick question though - did the STASI spy on NATO countries? Yes. Was their primary mission domestic control and keeping tabs on the domestic population? Yes. Is it reasonable to think that the UK/USA spy agencies were any different? Did they spend time monitoring the Soviets? Yes. Did they spy on Arthur Scargill and the miners? Yes. What about Greenpeace? Yes. Fundamentally the miner's strike was an existential threat to the ruling elite whereas the Soviets weren't ever going to invade. Hence the mission creep.

Furthermore, if you do have mates from school days that do work there and, after plying them with lots of alcohol in an effort to find out more, you soon realise that they are all working in isolation, not knowing much about the big picture. There are only 'tells' such as their reason for doing the work. Yet amongst the tells a picture emerges, for instance overall capabilities or that your friends aren't actually working on the things in the mission statement. For a while the war on 'kiddy porn' was an acceptable reason for working there alongside fighting organised crime and The War Against Terror.

But when you examine these noble efforts you soon realise that a little bit of a fig leaf is being presented. GCHQ are not the ones unearthing the Panama Papers, the 'kiddy porn' mission ended up becoming regular police work rather than what the UK needed GCHQ for and then The War Against Terror certainly was not anything that the public were led to believe, despite the public diplomacy that existed at the time regarding 'intercepted intelligence chatter'. Now is not the time for in-depth discussion on this latter aspect, however, you can check how 'intelligence' was gathered during the war, for instance the 'Dodgy Dossier' that Tony Blair prepared for Iraq, that was based on some paper found in the public domain by Number 10 and 'sexed up a bit'.

So, on to what is available in the public domain. A good place to start is with Duncan Campbell, the investigative journalist that brought knowledge of ECHELON to the world. This is now a long time ago and very much from the Cold War. The report made for the European Parliament is a very good place to start, here is a little overview of that:


If you then dig a little bit deeper and read the testimony of whistleblowers that spoke to Duncan Campbell you will find that there is much to support my assertion. There is one story that almost made daylight concerning Menwith Hill, a listening station that was supposed to be pointing east. There weren't Russian voices coming in over the ether, however, there was the voice of Strom Thurmond, a big believer in the war machine and a congressman definitely in the pockets of the arms companies. Despite this GCHQ were doing the listening for their counterparts on him, who was as trustworthy as you could have wished for and definitely not a Soviet asset.

In war you do not have complete information and reliable sources of what is going on in other people's kitchens. However, if you study what is in the public domain and do a little bit of asking around then you can get a glimpse of what is going on. History is important too, with the UK there is the former empire and the 'Special Relationship', both shaping what the doughnut is really about.

And decades into Chomsky's campaigns to tear down the mythologies of the nobility of modern governments, people in the tech community continue to get all confused and offended when self-identified socialists use euphemisms like "sociopath" for powerful capitalists. We should have been carrying his books around school as teens instead of The God Delusion.

"He admitted that he was opposed to democracy, that he thought offshore tax havens were good, that he believed workers shouldn’t have any rights beyond their contracts, and that he had no idea how capitalism could possibly avert the climate change crisis. The right often tries to avoid discussing these implications of its philosophy. Dr. Mitchell was quite blunt in saying that democracy is bad and tax avoidance is good. I am grateful to him because, while I find these positions morally objectionable in the extreme, it is helpful when I can point to someone’s actual words rather than having to accuse them of burying their true feelings beneath euphemisms." - Reflections on Debating the Right, Nathan J. Robinson

> If this operation was ONLY meant to target a subsidiary working mostly inside the middle-east with legitimate terrorist ties, I'd imagine they would have included the Belgians.

I am from Belgium and quite frankly I'd understand why GCHQ would want to bypass our own security services. Understaffed, underpaid and under skilled.

Now that's just the pragmatic in me, the citizen in me is really concerned about that case (and why the UK is allowed to go on pulling such stunts considering that kind of things has been going on since WW2).

It's also true that this is pretty common practice for intelligence work.

Whether you call it "an institutional culture of secrecy" or "sensibly limiting attack surface", there are numerous stories of intelligence projects circumventing allies, other agencies, or even other branches of their same agency. Involving outsiders tends to be viewed as a tradeoff between courtesy plus access and lost secrecy plus bureaucracy.

Now, it's also true that intelligence agencies have a habit of grabbing whatever they can once they open a channel. But at least for the initial decision, I agree that the GCHQ would be pretty likely to bypass any other agency they didn't think could substantially help their work or punish the discourtesy. Which would be mostly limited to the NSA and maybe the rest of Five Eyes.

Plus since the Paris attacks, it is fair to assume that all european intelligence services care about what's happening in Belgium.

No. Belgium is the prime target in Europe for decades.

It featured a NATO putsch, a CIA-backed fascist network that made it into government (a singularity in Central Europe), NATO, EU, Swift. Plus the Dutroux coverup, exposing the criminality of the government networks. Islamist terrorist networks should be the least of their worries.

   a singularity in Central Europe
Lucky they aren't in Central Europe, then - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Europe#/media/File:Cen... - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Europe#States

To be honest, I'd like to cast some doubt on the NATO putsch and the fascist network too, but I have no idea what' you're even talking about. Bende Van Nijvel and Vlaams blok/belang maybe? The Dutroux cover-up is the only thing that might be upgraded to crackpot theory.

There are serious problems with non-integrated muslims here, and they are a serious worry. But terrorism is the smallest part of that, even if delivers the nicest stories for the media.

From that wiki page, we have:

> According to Meyers Enzyklopädisches Lexikon, Central Europe is a part of Europe composed of Austria, Belgium, [...] as well as northeastern France.


> Nevertheless, [Benelux countries] are occasionally mentioned in the Central European context due to cultural, historical and linguistic ties.

It's needlessly pedantic to pick on this part of the OPs comment when there are bigger issues evident: it just detracts from your main point.

Baron de Bonvoisin and Paul Vanden Boeynants of course.

There's also the fact that SWIFT is based in Belgium. If you want to track international financial flows, that's pretty important.

There is also a lot of EU bureaucracy. Bruxelles lives almost exclusively on that, these days.

So have the Belgian security services denied giving permission to the UK to hack Belgacom yet?

I'm from the UK, GCHQ are criminally underfunded and pay 20-30% below market rate for similar skills in the private sector. Might be common across a lot of intel agencies

I'm from the UK too.


GCHQ are not there to protect the interestes of British citizens, they are there to enforce the status quo of the ruling class and engage in economic espionage.

So many of there operations are counter to democratic principles, I'd prefer them underfunded and ineffective than funded and potent.

I think that's a bit much. Most people who work there probably do believe in the "mission", and believe that they are protecting the interests of not just British citizens but a broader set of "goodies" against the "baddies". It's a long, long time since the average employee could have seen themselves in terms of a "ruling class".

The real problem is, when all you (think you) see every day are "baddies", it's too easy to forget that the vast, vast majority of the world are not "baddies", and that what might, possibly, in the right light be suspicious behaviour for a "baddy" isn't even slightly suspicious most of the time. From there flows a slightly paranoid mindset of "we must stop ALL the evil in the world at any cost".

This is compounded by the fact that they appear to have rather less accountability than the typical civil servant. Some elements (but by no means all) do like it that way and actively campaign to limit any increase in oversight because (as they see it) "making our job harder makes the world less safe".

You often see the same thing in law enforcement and it's very hard to protect against that culture over the long term. We don't have enough people in politics or government who are willing to say "this will make your job harder but it's not worth doing unless you do it ethically".

I'm surprised this is the first of this sentiment I'm seeing in the thread; I totally agree. I feel the same way about some other services; the police, for instance, which enforce unjust laws.

It's definitely the case even in the US, which is generally the poster child for "successful digital surveillance".

Between low salaries and high selectivity, it's tough to find staff. The FBI has talked about how their marijuana use rules are a major impediment to hiring programmers, and some wings of US Cyber Command have apparently been trying and largely failing to train up talent internally because they can't recruit enough. (And that's after "fully staffed" was redefined downwards several times.) Turnover is apparently also sky-high, especially for civilian contractors.

Even the NSA is mostly in that situation, though. Or on the non-intelligence side of things, the US Digital Service is the same. They've both managed to pull in a lot of top-tier talent regardless, thanks to some mix of civic duty, prestige, and the promise of work you can't do elsewhere.

Which raises the question: what actually determines staff counts and quality? If salaries are crap everywhere, why have some countries gotten so much more talent than others?

Language and history of the field matter quite a bit.

Salaries are most certainly not crap everywhere, btw. I bet Russian, Iranian, or Turkish cyber-forces are well-paid for their regions, and in Israel there are matters of practical survival that somewhat trump the allure of money.

There's some rumblings about this improving, but as with a lot of things in the UK the current government is walking a tightrope in terms of funding (they've got to keep a lot of special interest groups on-side in order to pass any legislation). They'd rather go for high-profile, popular funding opportunities than putting more of the budget aside for shady shenanigans like GCHQ.

GCHQ is criminally overfunded. It’s only task is to convincingly communicate to the tax payer that they are under immediate threat of attack, ever time they get the megaphone passed to them. Payed to be paranoid, and extremely well and with shit loads of perks along the way.

US intel agencies are way worse than 20-30% below market, given how high comp is in tech. It’s a huge problem for them.

Sounds more like it.

I’m not really in tech, and took about a 20% pay decrease (on-paper) for public sector pay.

But they pay 12% on top of my salary to a real pension plan, I get 1-2 extra holidays that most others don’t get. I get paid to be on-call. Better disability insurance. Education fund. Benefits package includes RMT massage therapy without a prescription. Better parental leave coverage.

When you add it up, the “lower-pay” in public sector ignores total compensation, but probably is true in tech.

I’ll take a good paycheque over a games room and free snacks.

Public sector employees don't get social security benefits because their employer doesn't pay payroll taxes. So be sure to factor that in.

It's not on Belgian citizens, Belgacom is the Telecom supplier of the EU parlement in Brussels.

Let's see how getting out of the EU is what they really want on the long term. They haven't been really a member of the EU anyway ( a lot of exceptions were allowed for them and it was still not enough)

Source: I'm from Belgium

> But I guess the City of London needs to get their financial "tips" somehow...

[Citation needed]

MI6 officer Richard Tomlinson[1], wrote a tell-all autobiography in which he described an HR relationship between the city banks and MI6 whereby officers were 'retired' into city jobs with few questions about the gaps in their CVs. In return the bankers were given some intelligence tidbits as quid pro quo.

I should point out his departure from MI6 was acrimonious, so he's not an entirely neutral source, but interesting nonetheless.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Tomlinson

Wall Street, not the City of London, and probably insiders leaking info instead of spooks at work, but I’ll just leave this here:


If it's private companies and not governments in a different city in a different country on the other side of the world it's not terribly relevant.

“One study says the close relationship between the government and banking insiders during the financial crisis affected trades.”

All the nasty/embarrassing stories for UK will be resurfaced to weight in Brexit negotiations. Russia already warned the international community that UK didn't cooperate well about all the accusations of nerve agents (not that Russia cooperates massively either).

Personal opinion : UK gov thinks they are the only people on Earth, they think they can ignore their neighbors, they overestimate themselves and I hope a bad Brexit will give them a good lesson. If UK were a passive country and actually self-sufficient, we wouldn't care much. But they actively try to influence international relations, and they want to do it without EU, which is obviously egoist and short-sighted, since they don't get to chose their geographical neighbors.

> Russia already warned the international community that UK didn't cooperate well about all the accusations of nerve agents

Why would UK cooperate at all with the principal suspect in this case? How can this be controversial or inform us in any way on how UK cooperate with allied nations?

Well, if the competing theory (that UK is behind the nerve agents) is true, they also have good reasons not to cooperate.

Is it really a competing theory? This seems like discussing the competing theory for who shot down MH17 over Ukraine.

The Russian method of dealing the dissenting voices has been pretty consistent for over 100 years now. That doesn’t mean it’s always Russia, but every part of the story fits.

The only people to whom that is a "competing theory" have an exceptionally high probability of being viewers of whatever the local equivalent to Fox News is.

Obviously it was Democrats who secretly deployed Novichok as part of a false flag operation.

You forgot there are people outside US? Outside its media bubble

Every place has its own media bubble. And, in many cases, those bubbles share the same conspiracy theories, especially when outside hostile actors deliberately stoke them. I assume that's why OP wrote "whatever the local equivalent to Fox News is".

You get out of media bubble by reading news from very different sources. Otherwise you're inside it no matter what you read.

I am outside the US. That is why I said "local equivalent to" Fox News (in the UK, the Daily Mail would suffice as a local equivalent).

There's also a competing theory that Elvis did it.

razster 3 months ago [flagged]

Remember, this is an open forum for all. Government agents are on here as well. Be mindful that you may just be replying to one of them.

Having lived in the UK for 18 years and recently left because of Brexit I seriously hope that crazy government pulls it together and negotiates a deal with the EU.

A hard Brexit will help no one. Not the UK, not the EU, not international trade partners of the UK, and not any of the tourists from anywhere. And of all of these the UK will for obvious reasons be hardest hit. They have an opportunity to retain relevance (a deal, or pull out of Brexit all together), but they're teetering on the brink of total irellevance (nuclear abilitiy notwithstanding).

I hope people will eventually figure out that a Brexit (deal or no deal) will help no one.

I have different take on brexit.

It is more on being against fat guys getting fatter in EU and bureaucracy. Where people from national governments are bought by EU guys with high paid jobs in EU parlament. It is not going to be good for a lot of people but it is about principles and those guys in EU parlament doing stupid things that go against local interests.

There should be some balance, I take with my hands as much as I can from unified market because I live ad work in different country than I was born. But I am totally against corrupt politicians doing weird deals. If it will cost me job and life in country I am in so be it, I will go back to my country. But arrangement I have now does not need EU, it could be just countries getting together without additional layer of management without astronomic money going to some politicians.

The principle of the European Union is based on democracy, and you can vote for an European party that would better defend your view at the European level. In my opinion, a country leaving the EU is equivalent of saying that democracy doesn't work and this message is dangerous. For information, less than 50% of Europeans voted at the last European elections in 2014 [1], it only depends on people to build a democratic Europe.

If you disagree with your own country's laws or current government, you are not allowed to say "alright, my house is not from this country anymore, and I wont pay any taxes". In practice, you will still use all the infrastructure everybody else contributed with their taxes, plus the healthcare, and you will still want to trade with other people.

Country's problems won't magically disappear after leaving the European community, the European Union is made to find collaborative solutions between countries, taking into account each countries' interests and capacities.

Now, you can legitimately disagree with recent EU laws about online ads for example, but as another European myself, I welcome this regulation. So we are 2 Europeans with different opinions, and the best way to solve this is democracy, if we still want to trade together in 25ish different countries.

I agree with you about politician salaries and bureaucracy, but I only see it improving in the future, when information will be better communicated and people more interested in Europeans scale issues.

Anyway, we achieve balance by participating and talking, not by closing the doors in front of difficulties.

[1] turnouts for EU 2014 election, by countries : http://www.europarl.europa.eu/elections2014-results/en/turno...

Edit : If you disagree with your current country government, maybe you will have more success at the European level, which in turn will balance your country government. Also, European politician salaries are transparent and follow a strict procedure : http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/faq/13/salaries-and-pe... so maybe still expensive, but it could be possibly less corrupt than some of the individual countries themselves.

It’s less complex than that. The purpose of the EU is to deliberately entangle the interests of Europeans to remove the incentive to go to war again. Everything else is gravy.

I do not disagree with my own country laws or government I migrated because I was getting better pay in other country.

On brexit for me it is more of a statement that politicians are corrupt and you have to make that statement. It is important and sometimes you have to loose some money or comfort to make important statement.

Salaries and pensions being transparent is nothing special. It goes about connections, you are with us then you will get that transparent salary. You are against then we will make sure you are not going to have it. If you are in inner special circle you will get participation in special fund for inner circle people which is not transparent. This way that kind of transparency doe not matter.

Democracy not working, simple to prove, how many politicians that are in it for 10 or 20 years you know. I see plenty, it is not democracy where someone from street can build up party. There is caste system in place and you can choose only from people who are involved in the system. They protect each other as long as they can because if one loses other will held them back.

I understand there always will be 'ruling caste' but problem is they should be not insanely stupid, greedy, and having lives of normal folks as nothing. I have nothing against people being more rich than me, but there are some boundaries.

> There is caste system in place and you can choose only from people who are involved in the system.

I used to think similarly. In reality, not all politicians are the same, and they don't all come from the same social classes (I guess it depends of your country tho). It's a matter of documenting yourself on some of the parties, and find the one you identify the most to.

Politician is an actual job, they provide value by representing a party or ideas for a group of people, and it requires specific set of skills. That's why not everyone can become a politician. They don't have all the same background, some of them could be actually closer to your opinion than you think. You have to find the party that comes close to what you believe is right. For your information, there are some parties which believe a democratic Europe can be built by giving more power to localities, but they are still pro-europeans.

The European Union has its own Judiciary, so they can in theory punish any politicians who would illegally exploit the system, or accepts brides, etc. The system can be improved by itself if it maintains high standards, that's the strength of the democracy with separated powers, but people have to go vote to maintain its fairness.

there are two schools of though on how and whether it will help, and I am not in your school.

"Schools of thought" seems generous. Most of the opinion on the subject (aside from reasonable criticism of cack-handed implementation) is shallow and visceral.

That said, most of the evidence that at least has the dressing of empiricism favours Remain. There are two things that reliably help an economy, immigration and lower barriers to trade; Brexit damages them both, in favour of up-sides based largely on ideas relating to jam, so economists have fairly uniformly come down against it.

Many on the leave side would (and did) say that while the EU/EEA has succeeded in lowering some barriers to trade between EEA states, it has at the same time (1) raised new barriers to internal trade within some EEA states and (2) maintained or raised new barriers to trade between EEA states and states outside the EEA.

This is particularly stark when new member states have acceded and as a result new tariff barriers put in place, as was the case when the UK joined the then EEC (this caused significant damage to the UK's relationship with New Zealand, for example).

But it's also true in the way that the EU/EEA views product regulations and standards, which (many would contend) have a protectionist effect. One example commonly cited in this regard is REACH.

Many leave campaigners expressed a desire to deregulate in these areas in order to lower barriers to trade in ways that were not possible within the EU/EEA, as well as to lower tariffs unilaterally post-Brexit. I don't think it's fair therefore to say that Brexit damages "lower barriers to trade" - it really depends on what kind of Brexit there is whether that's true or not.

Again, there are shades of opinion on this. There are many leavers who are all for lowered barriers to trade and recognise the stranglehold the European Economic Area has on standards. I'd be quite happy in the EEA, for instance. Your argument is a little reductive and black/white.

Standards are required for lowered barriers to trade - lack of standards are what cause people to raise barriers in the first place.

For example, take labour standards. Without common agreement on labour standards, it's relatively easy for one country to undercut another by permitting mistreatment of their labour force. The response will either be to lower labour standards as well (meaning the result is no net gain in terms of market share, but a whole lot of labour in a worse position), or put in place tariffs or other trading restrictions to protect the local labour force.

Thus common agreement on some level of labour standards is what permits lowered barriers to trade. It prevents beggar-thy-neighbour situations that make the majority of people worse off.

It's similar for environmental standards, food standards, product quality, intellectual property including trademarks and PDOs and PGIs that simulate them for traditional producers.

The EU single market wouldn't be possible without lots of consensus on standards. Remove the enforced harmonization of standards, and the market doesn't work.

(The EU's growth in centralized power via the single market resembles in many ways the growth in US federal power due to the Commerce Clause. It definitely has dangers when market regulation runs ahead of democratic consent. I personally think there is a European polis which understands our position in the world, but I also don't think that polis is a majority. Issues that drive a wedge between the polis and the rest - most especially antipathy towards immigration - is the biggest strategic weakness the EU has, geopolitically.)

I agree with all of that.

Barriers to trade like "no chlorine-washed chicken", mmmm

Chlorinated chicken and the reasons some markets don't permit it is rather misunderstood - it's a potential safety issue for the workers who produce it, not the people who eat it.

I actually meant barriers with our European neighbours. Being a member of EEA would bar that eventuality, I think.

I think that applies to almost all governments. :p

The UK is just blessed with possibly our most incompetent and arrogant government(s) in a century. A bad Brexit will hurt the people not the tax haven hedge fund running politicians who are no doubt heavily short on Sterling.

Brexit aside, some well-informed people are advocating a large Sterling devaluation in order to boost competitiveness [1]:

"We should directly address our lack of competitiveness by the most obvious and effective means available: by bringing about a substantial devaluation of the currency."

[1] https://fabians.org.uk/publication/productive-purpose/

Hahaha hilarious. That silly UK government. You would never see any other English speaking countries act like that, no siree.

This is whataboutism and doesn't add much to the conversation.

Would you have preferred I phrased it "That attitude is not unique to the UK, given that the US and Australia, among others, have been known to act much the same way"? Same information either way.

I’d prefer we don’t attempt to deflect valid criticism with snarky or otherwise variations “other people do it too”...

By "sabotage" they meant "did not cooperate". Title is more click-baity then accurate.

> However the Belgian government and security services were kept in the dark, something which the federal prosecutor’s report described as “exceptional between EU states, and something that could lead to a diplomatic incident.”

Seems a lot missing from this story. Do they usually engage their partners? If so, why not this time? We’re they afraid of being tipped off? Who were the targets, terrorists or perhaps other government officials in the Middle East?

Seem to recall belgium is on a list of countries security cleared brits are not supposed to go to. Presumably the relationship between UK and Belgian inteligence is really bad for some reason.

Unreliably, there is a post with a list here, but it is famously true. https://www.arrse.co.uk/community/threads/countries-that-req...

And...it's gone

Here is the full story


Great article from 2014 ... Apparently todays news is a follow up on it.

"The suspicious files had been enabling a highly sophisticated hacker to circumvent automatic Microsoft software updates..."

I knew it. Those auto updates are a curse.

‘But when the Belgian investigators approached their British counterparts with a request for help in identifying who was behind the three companies, GCHQ declined to cooperate, claiming that cooperation would “bring the sovereignty, security and public order [of the UK] into jeopardy”.’

OMG we’re doomed

> the investigation revealed that spy software had been installed remotely on Belgacom computers from three IP addresses in the UK thought to be registered to front companies.

Installed spyware from government offices without bothering to proxy through any other systems?

When "the sovereignty, security and public order" is defined by people whose entire lives are based on the ability to keep secrets, use knowledge gained illegally, secretly, and ensure that nobody else has the ability to usurp their position .. yes, we are indeed doomed.

Its long since past the point where the 5-eyes nations should suffer repercussions for their heinous imperialist actions. One can only hope that Brexit will bring the UK into sufficiently subservient stance that these crimes will no longer be accepted by the EU.

Your belief that the other EU countries don't engage in similar activities against their allies within and outside the EU is naive at best.

Germany and France in particular have large intelligence organizations which are known to have been used against allies as well as enemies.

Whining that "all the other kids are doing it" is only relevant when there is actually evidence on the table that it is at the same level of magnitude as when 'your team' does it.

So far, there is nothing like the heinous 5-eyes super-surveillance state, anywhere else in the world. The 5-eyes have granted themselves mastery over the rest of the world - and this fact only serves as further justification that other states should be doing it now.

This is the slippery slope: why is it okay for the UK to do it, but not Germany, Italy and France? The answer: its not okay for anyone to do it. Stop justifying it.

I didn't express any sentiment that it was ok for the UK to do it or in anyway justify it. I just pointed out the naivety of thinking the other EU states don't do it.

China at it again... No, wait.

Seems like they've also hacked brusselstimes.com, the page won't open...

Edward Snowdon :')

In normal world this should be equal to declaring a war, right?

Hardly. This is more of a "stiffly worded letter" or, at the very worst, expulsion of diplomats situation. A certain amount of intra-EU spying goes on all the time and is difficult to stop.

The real risk is that the UK needs Belgium's approval for any Brexit deal ...

> The information is contained in a confidential report produced by the federal prosecutor for Belgium’s National Security Council, a copy of which was leaked to De Standaard.

"Leaked". That provides an excellent pretext for arguing that e.g. British telecoms and IT providers should be excluded from the EU market as they're potentially fronts for British intelligence (a variation on the argument that people make about China all the time)

Makes sense to me. Britain is closer to the US than the EU and is probably going to make more money from arbitrage on any tax rates they get that are better than the IS, India, etc than from any legitimate services they can provide..

Na. Allies have always spied on each other. You just rarely hear about it because the Russian/Chinese/NK/etc spies go on the news/get prosecuted, and the allie's spies get quietly asked to leave and the home country gets a nasty-gram.

For example many embassies routinely batch collect all cell phone conversations within range[0], which is quite useful since they're often located in another country's capital city.

There's a reason why high level government officials have what are essentially VPN-ed cellphones now.

[0] http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/cover-story-how-...

>Allies have always spied on each other.

It's thanks to that kind of complacent commentary that we're shrugging off intelligence agencies hacking into the computers of senators investigating said agencies. What a time to be alive.

You either get called "complacent" or "naive."

This stuff is going to happen regardless of how upset people get, nation states have too much to gain by having more information and very little to lose when they're caught by an allie.

And it isn't like this is new to the information revolution either. Countries were spying on each other using the postal service and telegrams, or even eyeballs and fast horses.

As an aside your example isn't relevant, the CIA spied on their own government in that example, that is what makes it especially egregious and dangerous, since it impacts the state's own sovereignty. The actual topic at hand was nation-states spying on one another, apples and oranges.

> You either get called "complacent" or "naive."

Your original comment is certainly not naive, with the current state of affairs being undeniably ripe for spying operations.

> This stuff is going to happen regardless of how upset people get

Statists will only go as far as their people allow them to.

> The actual topic at hand was nation-states spying on one another, apples and oranges.

Believing there is any effective distinction, on the other hand, is not merely complacent but incredibly naive indeed.

> Statists will only go as far as their people allow them to.

We're talking about inter-governmental spying, a state's own political system has nothing to do with the topic. So your point about Statists isn't relevant here.

> Believing there is any effective distinction, on the other hand, is not merely complacent but incredibly naive indeed.

You think it is "naive" to believe there's a distinction between two states spying on each other and a state's own security services spying on their own oversight organisation? What?

> a state's own political system has nothing to do with the topic

that sounds very contradictory. unless you are implicitly admitting that intelligence agencies are above government oversight. in which case you might have a point.

naive to believe this theoretical distinction holds in practice. how many more whistleblowers' careers need to be destroyed for you to realize this? the highly sophisticated machinery developed for "international spying" in light of all evidence appears to be a convenient justification for domestic spying, sometimes outsourced to your own allies to keep it legal [1].

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/20/us-uk-secret-d...

The US should continue to spy on its allies, and as long as this is the case they're perfectly justified in spying on the US. Replace US with any other country and same applies. There's nothing particularly wrong with this arrangement.

Do you see a point at which spying stops being ok, or any lines that shouldn’t be crossed? The agencies involved in spying don’t have a good track record and often have fairly limited oversight.

Thank goodness it is not likely to trigger war. Flanders' fields have seen enough blood.

EDIT: did not know about the english poem "In flanders fields".


Flanders is part of Belgium.

In English there's a tradition of talking about this area as Flanders, going back to at least Marlborough, if not the Hundred Years War

I'm confused by what you mean when saying 'Tradition'? Flanders would be the correct naming for the northern part of Belgium (Vlaanderen).

Anyway, as far as the original comment, something much worse would need to happen for it to trigger a war between these two countries. Western Europe has seen enough way the past centuries indeed ;)

True. But in this event, the potential would very likely impact all of Belgium, so there is no reason to differentiate flanders from the rest of the country. On top of that, both part of the country has suffered similarly throughout history of wars and bombs, so again there is no need for differentiation here.

There are very good reasons to differentiate the north and south part of the country on a lot of subjects since they are so different. This is not one of those reasons. Defense is a federal issue and there is no reasons to make it regional.

I can't believe people are missing the reference to one of the most famous war poems, especially just before Armistice Day. http://www.greatwar.co.uk/poems/john-mccrae-in-flanders-fiel...

Yes, thank you.

I'm really not trying to imply anything at all here. I'm just referencing this region's history of being a crossroads of empire and the common idiom


There would be a lot of wars right now if it was "normal world" ad you define it.

I think the intent here matters and it doesn't seem like it was intended to harm the Belgian government or their people. That probabbly matters a lot.

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