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NSA monitored calls of 35 world leaders (theguardian.com)
501 points by qubitsam on Oct 24, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 223 comments

A note to say that the Stop Watching Us coalition rally is now just two days away. If you're on the east coast, it's not too late to attend. If you're interested, you can find out more here:


Privacy is one of the hardest things to get folks riled up about. It erodes slowly, and for "good" reasons, like defending the country against terrorism. But privacy is critical to a meaningful democracy. Strangely, many of the members of Congress fail to understand how important it is, and that compromising our privacy for security is a huge mistake. Particularly since those compromises are not necessary.

The fact that the NSA is monitoring the calls of world leaders is also worrying. But it's more of a foreign policy issue, damaging international relations and making it more difficult for countries to trust the US. I think it's foolish, and needs to stop, but it doesn't threaten our freedom directly.

Thanks for posting this - it's the most important political topic of this generation. If I was anywhere close I'd attend.

I started chatting with a guy at a local bar over lunch the other day. The topic turned to surveillance and Snowden. Turned out my conversational partner was an off-duty cop. He thought Snowden was a traitor, and that the surveillance was totally justified because, "It makes protecting the innocent easier." And I asked him: "well, wouldn't being able to enter any home or car without a warrant or even probable cause make protecting the innocent? Basically, wouldn't repealing the 4th amendment make it easier?"

He paused for a moment, looked me straight in the eye, and said, "Yes."

That's when I knew we are all in real danger. People grow up and join law enforcement, and it changes them, and they don't even see it.

His answer doesn't surprise me terribly. It likely would be easier to stop criminals and protect innocent people from them if there were no 4th. To me, the more important question is "Do the potential benefits of repealing the 4th justify doing so in spite of the abuse that would result?"

When the answer to that question is "Yes", then we are truly in danger.

Nothing in that story does anything to suggest that joining law enforcement changed that person, or changes people in general.

You seem to just be assuming that before he joined law enforcement, he had an attitude more similar to yours.

(And then there's the problem of generalization from this anecdote on top of that.)

I'd say that's the Police having lowered the barrier-to-entry to the lowest possible point: high school drop-outs with no education and/or thinking skills whatsoever. Sad and dangerous.

Psh, it's not the police that are the flashpoint IMO it is the marines. Their entry requirements are so lax it is beyond scary.

Interesting. I'm currently stationed at MCRD San Diego (Navy, though), so I get to see some of how their recruitment and boot process works. Lax in what ways (assuming you're talking about the U.S., not the Royal Marines)?

I'm sorry I can't find the article I read (about 2 years ago and it may well have been from a HN link if anyone recognises it?).

In said article it explains how since the Iraq invasion the entry requirements for the U.S. Marines have slipped on almost every front. Mental health, criminal convictions, education and even physical fitness requirements have all been reduced significantly and the striking thing about the article was that it made the comparison between the Marines and the SS - most especially the Dirlewanger Brigade. It was a strained, but apt, comparison that stated the last time a military unit had so drastically augmented it's entry requirements was in putting together that infamous squad for the purposes of punishment and outright terror. Shock and awe indeed.

Now that is a hell of a comparison to make and a direct appeal to Godwin, but as other people are pointing out the gradual decline of the U.S. into a totalitarian police surveillance state and it's military deployments overseas can't help but make this commentator think of the U.S. as being the last bastion of fascism(c).

Good luck to you, Aaron. My brother is in the Military here in the U.K. so I've had to man up and put my ideologies to the test. I don't agree with what the Military Industrial Complex are doing, but I'm acutely aware how one should judge these things on the correct scale. Each individuals actions must be judged very differently from those of the unit, and in that way I think I justify being proud of my brother whilst simultaneously condemning the system as a whole.

Rainier Maria Rilke may have helped me a bit there.

If you can't make it to the rally, consider chipping in a few bucks for a t-shirt to help us cover the overtime pay we're going to owe the stage and sound crew when the rally runs long: http://igg.me/at/stopwatchingus

This is the top comment on the Reddit thread:

"They went after high ranking military officers. They went after members of congress. The Senate and the House - especially on the intelligence committees, and on the armed services committees and judicial. But they went after other ones too. They went after lawyers and law firms. Heaps of lawyers and law firms. They went after judges. One of the judges is now sitting on the supreme court that I had his wiretap information in my hand. Two are former FISA court judges. They went after state department officials. They went after people in the executive service that were part of the White House - their own people! They went after anti-war groups. They went after US companies that do international business around the world. They went after US banking firms and financial firms that do international business. They went after NGOs like the red cross and people like that that go overseas and do humanitarian work. They went after a few anti-war civil rights groups...

Now here's the big one. I haven't given you any names. This was in summer 2004. One of the papers that I held in my hand was to wiretap a bunch of numbers associated with a 40-something year old wanna-be Senator from Illinois. You wouldn't happen to know where that guy lives right now, would you? It's a big White House in Washington DC. That's who they went after. And that's the President of the United States now. And I could give you names of a bunch of different people they went after that I saw! The names and the phone numbers of congress. Not only the names but it looked like staff people too, and their staff. And not only their Washington office but back home in their congressional offices that they have in their home state offices and stuff like that. This thing is incredible what NSA has done. They've basically turned themselves - in my opinion - into a rogue agency that has J Edgar Hoover capabilities on a monstrous scale on steroids."

--former nsa officer Russ Tice...

June 20th interview on Boiling Frogs... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPyxeqcCjkc (full 1hr+ radio interview)

or watch 11 minute RT interview http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6m1XbWOfVk

The surveillance service began their history by monitoring enemy armies, knowing what the troop movements were and locating potential weaknesses. Their purpose was to help the military in defending the nation.

They later grow to encompass international commerce, as that too related to national defense. Knowing where, how, and who are able to transport material in and out of countries is paramount in successful wars between nations. Of course, having access to private information in the international market, they were also able to start supporting their own nations companies and improve the nations ability to commercial out compete foreign companies.

Afterward, the next step was to encompass everyone in ubiquitous surveillance. Having a working social graph of their own citizen, as well as anyone else can very much relate to national defense, now called nation security. Knowing who might in 10 years become the next President of the United States is important, as otherwise the wrong candidate might get elected. Surveillance of news papers is also of paramount importance, as otherwise state officials won't have time to react to the fast pace of inquiries that otherwise might happen. Documents destined to be shredded could be laying around for just anyone to read.[¹]

The next step they took was a bit more bloody. Secret indefinitely incarceration, torture, and kill lists (The renamed Deathsquad of old). Using military force in targeting journalists, and publications.

I wish I know what the next stage is. The insight from the old big leaders of west Germany, USSR and China has not made any new innovations on this front. At most, they were better at scaling the last step up and increasing the size of the kill lists, torture chambers, and the nastiness of the military force against journalists. I wonder if the national security agency feel a need to go one up on this, and innovate further. The virtual strip search by massive radiation machines are a nice touch, but they surely can do more.

[¹]: http://snowdenandthefuture.info/

The next step is bloodless, and the Stasi had it right.

> By the 1970s, the Stasi had decided that methods of overt persecution which had been employed up to that time, such as arrest and torture, were too crude and obvious. It was realised that psychological harassment was far less likely to be recognised for what it was, so its victims, and their supporters, were less likely to be provoked into active resistance, given that they would often not be aware of the source of their problems, or even its exact nature. Zersetzung was designed to side-track and "switch off" perceived enemies so that they would lose the will to continue any "inappropriate" activities.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stasi#Zersetzung

Data mining is extremely useful and a significant technological leap, but data manipulation on a massive scale is definitely something to marvel at.

Facebook is already impersonating your friends and family by showing fraudulent "likes" (but hiding them from their owners so as to prevent discovery), now imagine that the people you respond to on reddit and HN aren't actually people but instead they're trojan horses -- bots meant to influence society by manipulating it. MSM will no longer be the only domain that our elite overlords encroach upon.

> Facebook is already impersonating your friends and family by showing fraudulent "likes"

Do you have a source for that?

They are using old likes of users for pages, to any new story that the page creates and pays for.


I'm curious to know what can be done to subvert this form of control both online and in the real world. Zersetzung sounds incredibly frightening and you're 100% correct that that's the direction we're going.

Or people paid to post scripted material, human bots - which I believe there has been evidence leaked at some point that this happens - can't remember where or when or other details unfortunately.

I suspect this is already happening. There was a guide/tutorial posted a while ago on how to hijack a forum/thread and redirect the flow of conversation. I can't find the link but it was very detailed and wouldn't surprise me if someone was profiting from selling such a service as pr/thought/damage control.

It's a major battleground already. The Russians are either far ahead or very unsubtle in this - it's particularly obvious with any story about Russia.

Virtual behavior modification and prediction. Inducing an entire culture to gradually change how it behaves, and its beliefs, through a mixture of opportunism on real events, simulated events, and trial balloons.

Some of that isn't new, but the ability to use vast computing resources to map behavior prediction of 300 million people to an accurate degree, is.

They no longer need your friends, family and neighbors to rat you out as a traitor (terrorist sympathizer?). They already know everything you have said, everywhere you have been, and everything you've done.

ARGUS is very new. And it's a required cornerstone of behavior control. They'll have a hard time dictating who you are, if they don't know where you are at all times.

The ideal fascist state is one of total compliance. A step forward for them would be to accomplish that with even less bloodshed, by essentially brain washing an entire culture toward a new way of thinking (war is peace, slavery is freedom). Not just empty slogans, posters, and fear, but actual belief across an entire culture.

When you look at the near complete lack of protest against the rise of the fascist state in America, you can see they're already well on their way to having accomplished that.

At first glance, this all seems to be rather tinfoil-hattish and implausible. Mind you, after what we have learned in the past few months, who knows?

Here is an interesting cue for how social network information can be used to control the spread of unwanted ideologies & behaviours through a population: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZNrOzgNWf4&feature=share

If anything like this was going on (and I am making no accusations; this is all speculation), then I suspect that it would work using mechanisms similar to those described in the above video.

No implausible high-technology mind control would be required, just the simple & conventional tools of the marketing/advertising/targeted-persuasion industry, directed towards a relatively small group of people, identified through the very surveillance mechanisms that have so recently been revealed to the world.

It is a pretty cool concept really, and (if we trust the people pulling the trigger), infinitely preferable to violent conflict. Better to counter the spread of hostile, dangerous and violent ideologies before there is loss of life, damage to property, economic disruption etc...

The key thing here is trust. Weirdly enough, I am normally* inclined to trust (the majority of) NSA & GCHQ staffers. My main concerns normally revolve around the proliferation of such technologies to groups and individuals with less noble aims.

* (Sometimes I get a bit depressed and cynical. At times like these I tend to reflect on the worst aspects of human nature, and the level of trust that I am capable of mustering drops in a corresponding manner).

The fascist state is not rising in America. Fascism is ideology not way of governing a country. Since USSR was oppressive too is like saying the communist state is raising in America.

What USA is having is the possibility of devolving into totalitarian state, but what ideology will rule it is yet to be seen IF that happens.

The moment when a drone kills US citizen on US soil without judicial oversight you will know that that danger is real. But you are still far far away from that.

The moment when a drone kills US citizen on US soil without judicial oversight you will know that that danger is real. But you are still far far away from that.

What, six months? Three years? What can be done, will. It's possible it's already happened but isn't yet deemed appropriate for public knowledge. When it is, either for the intimidation factor or because it's become so widespread it can't be hidden, the copfan broadcast media will celebrate it rather than question it.

Whining is a pathetically accepted pastime in Europe. It assures they will never do anything about their position in the world, which should be equal or more with the US, and condemns them to live in a world where they are helpless.

We only settled into our long period of whining after stomping round the world and setting fire to bits of it whenever people complained. I sort of prefer us in our current mode.

Fair enough. Hopefully the US will eventually pull back and take better care of ourselves regardless of the consequences for Europe.

It would probably get a bit safer.

Weakness provokes aggressors.

So does state aggression.

I wonder who is playing the role of Hari Seldon.

Disproportionate retaliation against insurgency has been popular at around that last stage of yours. It's not that innovative, though, and doesn't qualify as a step.

I remember this post being made here on HN around when the revelations first started coming out and we were still trying to collect ourselves and adjust to the new realities of omnipresent surveillance. It was on the front page and had a ton of upvotes. I really hope that Snowden has evidence of this. Whether he does or not is just about make-it-or-break-it for whether we'll see any real reform.

I can imagine a scenario in which even rock solid evidence of that sort wouldn't lead to real reform.

"Hello Senator thanks so much for meeting with us today. We understand you're considering co-sponsoring that new 'privacy' bill. We just wanted to take a few minutes of your time to emphasize some points that we feel have some bearing on the bill in question.

"I have here in front of me a few hard copies of some of your communications. I must say, they make for some interesting reading..."

Sounds like more reason to step up and pass the bill.

For all that the US government has done some really nasty stuff, I don't believe they are really evil people. They are doing what they think is best for their country, based on their ideas of what is best. No one is rubbing their hands together and cackling over the evil laws that they past.

Given this, congress has passed some pretty nasty stuff. But they were doing it for all the best reasons. They are honorable people, who likely wouldn't fold to blackmail, if they thought that they were being blackmailed into doing something bad for the US. I respect them that much, at least.

They are honorable people, who likely wouldn't fold to blackmail, if they thought that they were being blackmailed into doing something bad for the US. I respect them that much, at least.

I'm curious to know your age. I used to feel as you do, but as people get older they tend to get more cynical. In particular, the idea that Americans are intrinsically honorable died an abrupt death in my mind after studying some of our history. Blackmail is one of the most basic tools in politics, and it's just that: a tool. Framing an effective tool as evil is beside the point, because an effective tool is always going to end up being used. And indeed we see that it's been used astonishingly often since WWII (and certainly before that as well). The most obvious example is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Edgar_Hoover but there are many more.

For what it's worth, the founding fathers probably wouldn't want you to assume our government are honorable people who wouldn't fold to blackmail. They would encourage you to assume the worst, and then be pleasantly surprised if your expectations were proven wrong. Thus far, the evidence has been pretty grim.

Snowden seems to share your ideals and belief system (e.g. belief in honor for honor's sake and "people will do what's right, not merely what's lucrative") yet he was so offended by what he ultimately discovered at the NSA that he fled the country and left his life behind in order to expose it. In other words, he did what he thought was best for his country based on his ideas of what is best, and his ideals seem to be pretty close to yours.

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

Why don't you dig around and look at all the pieces of information, abuses, problems not corrected, situations allowed to spiral out of control, the waste of trillions of dollars, the cover ups, the intimidation, the assassinations, the governments overthrown, the hundreds of thousands of dead in other countries..., then come have a discussion about evil and the folks the control our government.

Makes sense as to why Obama flip-flopped on reigning in the NSA. Blackmail.

Hope not. Possible, though.

100% of every possibility regarding NSA surveillance has gone from "That's possible, but surely they wouldn't" to "Wow, they did, and did it bigger than anyone imagined."

Why wouldn't that include suppression of political initiatives that could interfere with the NSA's mission?

It's conceivable, but it would be a considerable step-up from what has been leaked so far.

I am more willing to accept the possibility if it's shown to be true that they've been conducting surveillance on US politicians and officials. Not that spying on foreign politicians is good or moral, but the reasons are different at least.

Why would you consider it "a considerable step up?"

We already know that surveillance in the US is pervasive. And that includes politicians, judges, and everyone else in government.

It's just a small step to using that information for safeguarding NSA's mission.

Well, you're suggesting they are actively engaging in blackmail and political manipulation to retain their position. Even if they do have the information to blackmail in many cases, it does not mean they actually are.

Perhaps I'm just naive, but I like to think at their core they're not so immoral as to degrade themselves to that sort of behavior.

Just as I am certain they do not think of anything we are certain that they do a crime, neither would they think of using available information to influence political support a crime, either.

The big question is, who controls this security state? The information is being collected, but who's the audience?

And what is their agenda?

Information is power and power is money. They can use it to protect themselves and control high-ranking officials to ensure, for instance, that they will always be well-founded to be able to continue unfettered in their mission to acquire even more information and power.

The scary thing is that they would not have any leverage on people who have no skeletons in the cupboard. A morally "clean" president may shut them down. In a twisted way it would be in their interest to see bad people in power.

Not at all. Lies are proliferated as truth as a matter of official policy -- misinformation campaigns. The truth doesn't matter when you can drown it out.

I doubt they worry about that much. Everybody has something they'd rather the world not know about.

In my experience with government and the legal field; it might not be as strict as 'silver or lead', but its 'dollars or the door.'

The primary agenda of any bureaucracy is to perpetuate that bureaucracy. The targets mentioned fit very well with that goal.

Rule number 1: It's ALWAYS about the money.

The agenda is the protection of excessive money/wealth.

Which tells you where to look for "who's behind it": Rich people, very rich people. Also: The military-industrial complex.

And I honestly don't know how one can take down such a power structure that's in such an advanced stage.

I think it's like terminal cancer: it will only die when the host dies.

> And I honestly don't know how one can take down such a power structure that's in such an advanced stage.

Revolution would work. Except, most Americans are living rather comfortable lives, despite all the surveillance uproar. As you keenly noted - it's always about the money (including the American Revolution). So as long as common folk gets their bone from the elite - they will happily wag their tails.

The military industrial complex is the biggest pile of assignable loot in world history.

$5+ trillion over the last decade alone. Far more if you count everything connected to it.

They knew the wars couldn't go on perpetually forever, and they'll be damned if they're going to give up all that money. One way to dictate that is through control of the political process.

"They knew the wars couldn't go on perpetually forever" is very optimistic. Europe hadn't had a large scale war for decades before WW1.

The first thing people in power do, is make sure they stay in power. They can't have anyone changing anything that would cause waves and disruptions.

Information has become the most valueable thing. Whoever controls it, they surely do have much more power than any elected leader.

Being elected means being public. In the information security state, that's a huge weakness.

When pervasive monitoring is the normal, the powerful are those not being monitored.

The FBI did this for decades - Hoover's level of corruption is truly scary. He had dirt on every incoming US President and most representatives for years, and would offer to help his chosen candidate during the election cycle.

But it ended with his death and there was a backlash from power. That's what doesn't make me worry about the NSA actually spying on US political figures.

As for them spying on foreigners - so what? It's been common knowledge for years that Western countries spy on each other, Echelon demonstrated that electronic means were being used to. The British ran a mole inside the German finance ministry for years - unsurprising when you consider the damage Black Wednesday did to the British economy.

But it ended with his death and there was a backlash from power. That's what doesn't make me worry about the NSA actually spying on US political figures.

On the contrary, FBI Deputy Director W. Mark Felt brought down Nixon through the Washington Post, in his role as Deep Throat of Watergate fame.

This all happened after Hoover died in 72.

There will always be career men/women who have seen a lot of laundry, who might be bitter when passed up for promotion in favor of a political crony, and find that helping along justice makes for sweet revenge.

That is why extremely malicious conspiracies involving more than a dozen or so people are not believable. As the circle of those in the know increases, the likelihood that someone will think they did not get dealt fairly goes up rapidly, and those with gripes will find they are holding the moral equivalent of nuclear weapons against those who wronged them.

>That is why extremely malicious conspiracies involving more than a dozen or so people are not believable. As the circle of those in the know increases, the likelihood that someone will think they did not get dealt fairly goes up rapidly, and those with gripes will find they are holding the moral equivalent of nuclear weapons against those who wronged them.


That is one of many reasons why I find all the 9/11 conspiracies completely infeasible. Especially since those would require the cooperation of not only a few dozen, but probably a few hundred people.

I have never been able to follow the logical step between "this is pretty obviously a bad thing" and "but it's okay and everybody should shut up about it because it was 'common knowledge' -- i.e. what we might have previously called conspiracy theories -- among some unspecified set of people who may or may not have been dismissed as tinfoil hat wearers".

Does this mean an unknown person or group that has control of the NSA intelligence is effectively running the United States?

No, it means that the NSA can, and has, collected data on just about anyone. What they do with it, my guess is not much unless there is an actual national security threat, is still up for question.

When in doubt, assume the worse so that you might only be pleasantly surprised. Assume there is a J. Edgar Hoover 2.0.

That would not be assuming the worst; A J. Edgar Hoover 2.0 would still be a person.

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

— C.S. Lewis

What you think is a security threat and what they think is a security threat are not the same thing. That is the essence of the problem.

Am I being too cynical to think that if the person/group with this intelligence wants to move the United States in a certain direction, they can easily threaten, blackmail, or leak embarrassing/illegal information about those politicians/high-ranking military officers/CEOs of large corporations standing in their way.

I am not saying every powerful person can be blackmailed, threatened, or have career-ruining secrets, but even if you have the power to control the actions of 1% of those people, that's a pretty significant power.

    Jay Carney issued a statement that said the US 
    "is not monitoring and will not monitor" the 
    German chancellor's communications.
This is probably the best tell the US government has for sniffing out the bullshit. If they don't explicitly deny the event occurring in the past, it happened.

Reminds me of a Spaceballs scene:

    Colonel Sandurz: Now. You're looking at now, sir. 
    Everything that happens now, is happening now.

    Dark Helmet: What happened to then?

    Colonel Sandurz: We passed then.

    Dark Helmet: When?

    Colonel Sandurz: Just now. We're at now now.
I imagine this is probably about how the "Cover Your Ass" conversation goes before official comments are made to the press.

Their spoken words have very little value. They're willing to directly lie about all aspects of this and have demonstrated that repeatedly.

They initially - and to varying degrees still - claim they did not and do not spy on Americans.

I don't think you have to worry about tells. Given what we already know they did, assume they've done much worse. It's a very safe bet. Assume they're monitoring every single thing they can get their hands on when it comes to international leaders.

When I heard the "is not monitoring and will not monitor" I thougth "We didn't, and we will not do it again"

This is a classic non-denial denial:


In these cases, I think what is important is what is not being said. For example, they aren't saying: we did not monitor the Chancellor's phone calls in the past. We didn't and won't record other senior EU officials, etc. The problem is that journalists do not pry enough, because if they are too curious, they will eventually lose privileged access to these government sources.

As Bismarck (although I came across it on 'Yes, Minister') apparently said

"Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied."

This is the understood and expected function of the NSA, isn't it? Collecting signals intelligence from foreign sources? Does anyone honestly believe the Germans aren't regularly trying to figure out ways to listen to American officials' communications?

I find the NSA's domestic spying to be appalling... but this is the sort of thing everyone knew the NSA was responsible for since its inception.

You know, I've been a big defender of the role for signals intelligence, including NSA's hand in such.

But there is a lot to be said for discretion, especially when you're talking about the top echelon of our NATO allies! Even my defenses of NSA have been predicated on the actual need for intelligence collection. This has the corollary that collection without any use should not be sanctioned.

So absent some evidence of our allies conspiring against us in things like WTO negotiations, I don't see a justification for such phone tapping. Even though it's probably legal, was it really the best use of NSA resources? What actionable intel could they have hoped to gain? We're not talking about Medvedev or Putin's phones after all.

Certainly we have known that the NSA has the capability to tap into many international communications circuits, but we've also "known" that such taps are predicated on the national security interests of the United States. So now the question: Was pushing far beyond the envelope worth it? Was causing a boatload of whistleblowers (not just Snowden) to form still beneficial to the U.S. in the end?

I would judge that it was not, at this point. What I'm interested in knowing is when these taps of allied leadership's telephones actually stopped? Specifically, was it only after Snowden's leaks? Did Obama put a stop to it? Sometime in between? All we know at this point is that the U.S. isn't doing it now, and pinky swears not to do so in the future.

As far as the Germans doing it to us... maybe. But the NSA is also responsible for ensuring that they can't break our comms even if we do assume they're trying. But maybe I'm naive but I honestly think they are probably focused more on Russia, Islamists and other threats to Germany, than on what Obama is saying to Boehner.

All we know at this point is that the U.S. isn't doing it now...

Actually, we don't know that - we only know they said they're not. Given that Clapper flat out lied about surveillance at the start of all this that isn't worth much.

Sure, but by that definition we don't "know" anything we didn't directly observe ourselves (and even that is at least suspect), and I can't do much by going philosopher-style on what we really know or not.

And that's the rub for them, right? They've totally lost all credibility when they say "Trust us, we're reasonable" or "Actually, we're not doing that". We can only make decisions or form opinions when we have a reasonable basis on which to do so, and why would anyone believe them now?

your comment is calibrating, because it shows that there is a limit to how much privacy invasion the average american will stand for. Thank you for being so forthcoming.

I don't care about Merkel's privacy. But I do care about the fact that she cares about her privacy, and that Germans care about the privacy of their elected Chancellor. Both of those feed into the relationship between Germany and the USA, and that relationship is important enough that the NSA should not put it at risk (or be allowed to be able to put it at risk).

Being a German I only care for Mrs. Merkels privacy because that was the first (and only) moment, when she got upset.

Having her 80 million citizens spied upon by the NSA was no reason to issue a statement. Or to do her job and protect the German people from harm, as it is stated clearly in our constitution as the job of our leaders.

On the contrary. Before anything was really on the table, they declared the topic closed.

So the moment she herself is being spied upon is the moment she (at last) wakes up? Well, really? That does seem quite a little bit egoistic to me, doesn't it.

Isn't every citizen of this country worth the same? Has the same rights to be protected from arbitrary spying?

Well the Germans reelected her with great majority. And the NSA spying is really no big deal for most of my fellow citizens. They just don't care. So the answer to my question above is probably "No".

They just have this "I have nothing to hide, so who cares" mentality, that is so dangerous, so dumb and sheep-like.

Same thing occurred to me. It is so telling, and yet so sad that our leaders care so much for their own privacy, yet so little for that of others, even those that they supposedly represent & protect.

What can we do? We are being abused, yet we are powerless to stop it.

I don't think you will find the path away from pervasive surveillance in the G10 nations. They all have their own well-equipped secret police.

At some point though, some head of state will calculate that the only way to win is to not play the game, and make policy that defends against all surveillance, because the value of their own surveillance is low enough to do without.

diminoten from sibling comment, you are hellbanned, not sure why, I suggest emailing to admins.

Thanks for mentioning it too, as it's an insightful comment IMO.

These are close, close allies though. We aren't talking about North Korea. We are talking about countries who have deep diplomatic and military ties.

The reason why you wouldn't do something like this, is because there was a damn good chance that it would leak out, mortally wounding your relationship with these people.

Secondly, the utility of this particular SIGINT program is highly questionable. What is the ROI on something like this? Germany is not plotting against the United States. What scenario would they use info for?

> Germany is not plotting against the United States. What scenario would they use info for?

Being certain that Germany is not plotting against the United States, I'd guess.

That's not how alliances and trust work. In this context, suspicion is a form of accusation - and it is wholly inappropriate and wrongful for the US to accuse Germany or France of plotting against it's national security interests.

Otoh, what this establishes is that in fact, the US is quite willing to consider actions that may damage the national security interests of its allies.

In short, this sort of spying is a significant disruptor of any sort of lasting trust between nations. If everyone behaves like the US, there are no "allies", only temporarily convenient partners who may be betrayed at any point.

> Otoh, what this establishes is that in fact, the US is quite willing to consider actions that may damage the national security interests of its allies.

That's long since been established. Hell, the Pentagon has plans for an invasion of Canada.

The US doesn't need to spy on the German chancellor to be certain of this. There is no conceivable plot that Germany could be involved in that could damage the US, and both countries know this. Same with the UK, Israel, France, etc.

The EU doesn't import US beef because of banned chemicals used to raise US cows. Imagine if the EU implemented more stringent requirements on, say, GM foods. Or other livestock. Banned the pesticides used in California Oranges, etc.

Trade agreements, tariffs, standards and sanctions - there are many ways for European countries to damage the US economically.

What scenario would they use [this] info for?

Economic espionage, sabotaging foreign trade talks which aren't judged to be in the interests of the US, gaining the upper hand in negotiations. The potential utility of this sort of SIGINT is high, if you are willing to engage in amoral behaviour on a massive scale, treating allies as enemies.

So the question it raises is, why were they collecting this information? You can be sure they would not collect it for no reason.

Israel is a pretty close ally.

But we are not at war with everyone, and those countries involved (like Germany, France and Italy) are our partners, economical and military partners. I can accept doing SIGINT on non-friendly countries and organizations but is it correct to spy on your own people and partner countries?

Germany and France do it to us. They're likely just not as talented at it. One way nation states stay allies is knowing, at least to some level, that the public statements match the private.


If you haven't head about them doing it, then that surely means that they must be even more talented at it.

Or they've been mostly unsuccessful, or they don't have a leaker like Snowden yet.

Maybe they don't outsource their sysadmin roles to the private sector.

Still, as a US citizen you should be upset because the NSA went way too far and got caught.

Non-US citizen (inc. me) are just upset because they've been spied on. That's quite reasonable.

>but is it correct to spy on your own people and partner countries?

It's rude, but I think to a degree it is acceptable, and probably expected. Friendly countries spy on each other all the time. For one thing, friendly countries might not remain friendly forever.

A great way to expedite that transition is to disrespect them, treating them like your enemy when they're still your ally.

You know what has millions of people and is entirely unlike an individual human being? A country.

The convenient narratives spun to explain international politics seem entirely lost on people and are being treated as literal relations of how countries behave rather then shorthand.

"China" doesn't act like a person. It doesn't have emotions, moods or opinions like a person does. When we talk about "China thinks this" or "China feels that" we are not describing the moods of a human being, we're not even describing necessarily the aggregate mood of it's government except in so far as we're using a shorthand because we want to talk about trends in policy making or the types of people being appointed as advisers/policy-makers on whichever issue we are actually talking about specifically.

Countries and the people who make them up also form alliances, hate betrayal, and hold grudges. If your country thinks it is acceptable to betray allies, you will soon have no allies. If you say one thing and do another and the gap is wide enough, eventually no other country will believe a word you say, even when you tell the truth.

Alliances between countries are not formed in a rational way just on a specific issue normally, but based on previous actions and previous issues, and old loyalties. To betray those loyalties just means no-one will feel any loyalty to you - that may work in the short-term if you are big enough but long-term it's a terrible strategy.

So in that sense countries are like people, though I agree in many senses they are not.

Alliances are not formed on a specific issue, which is also why they're not broken on intangible issues. This is theatre by Merkel because it plays well with her public. I don't imagine US diplomats are losing any sleep over this.

Well yes, which is why you try not to get caught.

That's true, but the easiest way not to get caught is to not do it at all.

Presumably spying on friends may be needed someday, but it brings the kind of diplomatic flamefest that should keep such spying restricted to Very Important Things and not just "we'll tap them because their numbers fell in our lap".

To a degree, maybe. But the uproar over these NSA revelations, which has already led to proposed changes to EU law that will have substantial impacts on US businesses, demonstrates that they've gone well past what is considered acceptable.

You know what? Every nation state has my blessing to do a blanket collection of digital communications the moment they don't call me a terrorist for encrypting my email, call the whole thing unwarranted or don't hand over my password.

I think a useful question to ask is whether or not being "partners" means each country is universally willing to put the best interests of the other country first, even when that conflicts with their own best interests. If the answer is no, then intelligence gathering would seem to have at least some role even among allies.

It would be perfectly reasonable for politicians and diplomats in allied countries the world over to express mock outrage at this so they can keep their voters / citizens appeased that they have asserted their sovereignty, while continuing the relationship with the united states. I'm not sure these leaders are as upset as the headlines make out, but I haven't read any transcripts of the discussions.

This of it this way:

Do you routinely monitor the calls, emails and communications of your closest friends and relatives?

At some point, those people are going to cut you out of their lives for being so disrespectful and immoral.

> Do you routinely monitor the calls, emails and communications of your closest friends and relatives?

No, but I don't do joint military exercises or globally coordinated bank bailouts with them, either. I don't think NATO easily analogized by my Thanksgiving table.

Yes, sort of I do. I check the FB-Pages. ;-) Sorry, but something like this seems to me to be the reason, nobody really cares about NSA spying on him (at least here in Germany).

We all do it. We all give in to our voyeuristic urges. We all "spy" upon our neighbors, spouses, friends and so on. We do not get the scope. We do not know, what it means, if states do this. We do not think about different hierarchical power levels and so on.

We just do Facebook and feel, that it is more or less the same, what the NSA does. At least, that is what was being said, when I asked around.

The big difference is Facebook pages are public, or at least semi-public.

If you go through the e-mail account or texts of a spouse or close friend, you're engaging in a massive breach of trust, and better expect to have them break up with your or refuse to deal with you going forward.

Likewise, the US will now have to face the expectation that US diplomats can not be trusted with any kind of information, including phone numbers that may previously have been considered "safe" to give to allies.

Especially since the document made clear that the NSA did not know all the numbers, hinting that cycling numbers and keeping numbers from US diplomats may still be a viable strategy to reduce the odds of having your calls monitored.

If I was in a position of power now, the first thing I'd do is demand that all senior government officials change numbers, and allocate a wide range of different numbers per person, and allocate one set for the exclusive use for giving to US diplomats and communication that I want the US to pick up, and cycle other numbers frequently and compartmentalise their usage more, since it is clear that the US can not be trusted.

> nobody really cares about NSA spying on him (at least here in Germany).

Please only speak for yourself. To few people care about it, but "nobody" is just plain wrong.

OK; really too few. I am with you there. But less then (felt) 0,1% cared, until "Der Spiegel" broke the news, that our Mutti (OK, Chancelor Merkel)'s phone was spied upon.

So it feels like nobody cares here, when the truth is, that nearly nobody cares.

But herd-immunity will never be reached with this level of care by the German people.

>> Does anyone honestly believe the Germans aren't regularly trying to figure out ways to listen to American officials' communications?

Your statement seems to equate "it's usual to spy" with "it's alright to spy". Spying on close allies only pays off if you are not caught. It's risky to do it and I expect each Nation State weights that in when deciding to do it or not. If the Germans do try to spy on US and they get caught, there will be fallout on relations.

The US got caught spying on several allies. They took the risk. There will be repercussions on diplomatic relations. There will be repercussions on public image and trust.

Apparently from the leaked memo, the intelligence gained didn't really pay off this time around, and since they got caught, all they did was break the trust.

Was it a good trade off?

  This is the understood and expected function of the NSA
The task of the USG should be to level the actions of its intelligence agencies. If it's ok for the USG to fuck with their allies, then it's the way it is. But don't expect every of its allies to agree with that. There's a difference to spy on everything which moves in Iran/North Korea or France/Germany/you call it. This is making waves in Europe ... I am not sure if that is worth to piss off your close allies.

This might not be getting the big news in the US, but it certainly does in Europe. And if there is only a slight chance that this might affect the opinion people in Europe have about the US(G), everybody in the US should be worried.

Intelligence from allies should come from cooperation, not espionage.

Why is relying exclusively on information that's been filtered through a foreign government, possibly with its own agenda, a sensible way to gather intelligence?

When they are an ally.

Its how the US expects it's allies to behave towards it. Or do foreigners now have every right to assume the US never, ever plays straight and equally massive surveillance budgets should now be turned towards the US by its own allies?

Honest broker or not?

See, its seems to me this is the core of the arrogance accusation the US gets. The US holds its had high as a champion of democracy, truth, justice and the American way. Oh yeah? Really?

We are expected to buy that and treat American as such. Now we know different. American is hostile. All the smiles, hand shakes and slogans, but underneath, not the same story.

Im afraid America is killing its self, cut by cut. The rest of the world is learning what the American dream really means.

Its actually very, very sad.

Allies do this all the time.

France spys on the US: http://www.france24.com/en/20131024-nsa-france-spying-squarc...

Israel spies on the us: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Pollard

Germany undoubtedly keeps tabs on us, too.

Well I didn't know. Thought if you were allies you'd have a bit of respect for each other but guess I've been to naive.

To quote, er, myself: "What does the NSA even do if not this?"


Spy on people they believe are enemies, rather than allies or innocent bystanders?

Well now you've identified one of the great unsolved problems in asymmetric warfare. How do you know that someone is an enemy without spying on them first?

The most obvious approach would be to wait until someone's given you at least the tiniest hint that they could possibly be planning on attacking you before treating them as a potential enemy.

What kind of legitimate threat would the US government even be watching out for with the German Chancellor? Are they so paranoid that they think the Fourth Reich is just over the horizon, or did Merkel's statement that "Islam is part of us" tip them off that she might be running a terrorist sleeper cell?

> What kind of legitimate threat would the US government even be watching out for with the German Chancellor?

Cancelling some important weapons contracts? ECHELON was used for industrial espionage.

Hence my use of the word "legitimate".

I'd like to think that even those who think that it's fine for the state to spy on everyone on the miniscule chance that they might be a terrorist, and even those who think that it's OK to spy on everyone just in case they are planning to commit a crime, would agree that the state shouldn't be spy on people for the purposes of commercial advantage.

And what better way to encourage another country to trust you enough to buy military equipment from you than by spying on their government?

Yeah, even if you're totally appalled by the PRISM NSA scandal, it's hard to get upset when the NSA spies on foreign leaders - which is it's job.

It's really strange when you think about it that even (especially?) friendly countries spy on each other, but there it is. And the funny thing is that if the Germans, or anyone, get upset about it we can just point to their foreign intelligence service and be like, "well, what are those guys doing?" and then they walk sheepishly away.

The US public expects the NSA to devote its resources to protecting it from foreign threats, like terrorists, not its allies.

Humans have a long history of fallings-out between allies, at times in very surprising ways. One way of avoiding this is knowing what your ally is up to.

Given how very SHOCKED!1! German politicians react, one could get the impression that they honestly believed the NSA would only spy on the lower classes.

Why do you find domestic spying to be appalling? It's done because of the same reasons they spy on foreign sources.

This has some interesting implications:

What would this information be useful for? Why was the NSA collecting this information and at whose request? Is the same being done to US politicians?

The most useful applications of this I can think of are betraying allies, manipulating negotiations with rival trade blocs, economic espionage, and of course protecting the power of the agencies who perform this surveillance and the lucky few who are given strictly limited access to it.

If the POTUS is given this intelligence and makes most of his decisions based on it, how does he know that he is being given the truth, rather than a carefully edited version of it?

It seems surveillance is no longer focussed on terrorism, if it ever was (indeed a few terrorist attacks have gone on the US without detection in spite of all this surveillance). It's telling that even the NSA have given up using that excuse as it becomes more and more clear where the focus of their intelligence gathering is directed.

Is the NSA (and the US by proxy) using the information it collects as a way of protecting and expanding its power? Is this inevitable if you give an organisation that much power over our lives and very little oversight?

Are all allies of the US mistrusted so much that they must be spied on? Should they in return shut down trust of the US and repudiate treaties they have with it like the one sharing SWIFT data or details of people visiting the US? Can the EU trust the products of American internet companies, or should they set up rivals?

It seems information has become more and more synonymous with power as our economies in the west become information economies, and the greatest power of all has been handed to an agency without significant legal limits and without any sort of public accountability, led by a member of the military.

In the 1970s it was well known that the CIA worked to pave the way for American business interests overseas, through everything from espionage to blackmail, murder and military interventions. I assume the NSA works much the same way today (but God knows what all the domestic spying is used for).

In the 1970s it was well known that the CIA worked to pave the way for American business interests overseas, through everything from espionage to blackmail, murder and military interventions.

I don't think this is the way countries should conduct themselves, particularly not ones which trumpet their freedom and liberty. Either the US can employ cynical realpolitik while making hypocritical statements about fighting for civilisation and freedom and live with the consequences, or it can aspire to live up to the ideals it claims to stand for. There's only so much hypocrisy you can employ as an empire before the hollow nature of your statements undermines your authority with allies and citizens alike, and exposure like this is inevitable when the lie becomes big enough.

but God knows what all the domestic spying is used for

I imagine for exactly the same ends, minus the military aspect, which is reserved for overseas at present (though also employed on US citizens abroad). If a politician wants to dismantle the extremely useful and effective spy apparatus, they are likely to find it turned against them first.

That's what I found remarkable about the Wikileaks embassy cables: Just how much of "diplomacy" amounts to leaning on our supposed friends in the world to accept our screwed up intellectual property laws and to otherwise compromise their standards for some pretty low, non-strategic commercial interests. At best it seems like diplomacy amounts to MPAA "spam" influence and at worst it is the spear-point of economic espionage.

Hell, we did that going back a hundred years for the Banana Wars (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_Wars). This is sadly not news.

I quite frankly don't understand why anyone would condemn such acts of espionage. They are not only essential for a nation state to function successfully, but they are also a far superior way for the US to maintain its hegemony as compared to using acts of brute force.

Now I do not condone Orwellian spying on the citizens of your own republic, but this really is their job and it's quite impressive that they're this good at it. Especially given the fact that historically the US has not been completely invested in espionage and has favoured building up capacity after key events and quickly dismantling the apparatus once the emergency has passed. What these scandals are offering is a glimpse into a dramatic shift in the way the US conducts its affairs and that in of itself is quite noteworthy.

In which you assume far too much:

- that espionage is required for a state to function successfully

- that maintaining US hegemony is both a national good and good for the world

- that brute force is the only other viable option to rampant surveillance

It is specifically because none of those things ought to be assumed, none of them are a given, and none are inherently good or desirable or required, that one ought to condemn these acts.

Am I surprised that this covert activity is happening? No. I'm not even surprised by the scale.

What will be interesting to find is who's not in that list that should be.

Who are the puppet masters?

US Hegemony = US shall rule over all nations of the world ? So US should own every country , because what, US is superior and the others inferiors?

And to maintain or to make this "hegemony" bigger they can use whatever tool they like to protect its own position of superiority and ruler.. really?

Im stunned by this speech and the ideology behind it.. its from people that believe in this dangerous (and ultra-right i must say) believes, that NSA is being feed of; and worst probably the US government has tons of politicians that think that way..

No wonder how the US get into this mess, and if it doesnt clear it up soon... things cant get pretty scary.. cause its way out of control.

I'm not sure you can class it as "We are this good at it"... when it's being discussed publicly around the world, and the president is fielding calls from world leaders asking why they are being spied on.

Will all these defences of the NSA be repeated when we discover the Germans returning the favour?

One very big reason is that this intelligence has been used for industrial espionage. Our allies now know that when they bid against US companies, they will only get the contracts that are considered unprofitable by US companies.

That's not a good way to keep allies.

I'm surprized that we are so bad at protecting our privacy, especily state leaders.

When ability is no longer a bottleneck on the actions of an individual or group, that is the time that the character of that individual or group is discovered.

The character of the US government in general, and the NSA in particular, is apparently that of a rotten, sneaking, dishonest liar.

I cannot say that I am surprised, human nature being what it is, but I am very disappointed.

On the bright side, it is in good international company.

I don't understand the bulk of comments being about this not being important. Or... well yeah, I understand the perspective that any intelligence agency should be collecting intelligence, so this shouldn't be a surprise per se. But this certainly levels out the playing field in that now the world knows at which lengths the NSA has been keeping tabs on people, and at least the majority of world leaders (and a lot of more "insignificant" people) will start using encrypted communications and networks like Tor. Which they should've been doing from the start. So, in this light, I think this is an important Snowden revelation.

After the crash of the Polish president's plane in Smolensk, it was widely known that the Americans have recordings of all conversations made with his satellite phone aboard the plane. I don't remember that sparking much controversy at the time, everyone was more like "yup, that's what Americans do" and there was pretty much no outrage over that.

US Foreign Policy: How to turn friends into enemies and isolate yourself from the world

Maybe we should step up the spying in Confederate states too?

Well to be fair, the Germans did try to kill us all.

Not everyone. And to be fair it was only twice, and it was a long time ago, and it's not like Germany was the only country to try.

Yeah, and the Mongolians once sacked the world. Should we be afraid of them too?

Definitely. If it weren't for the Chinese and Russians having them effectively surrounded, Europe would be knee deep in blood and the wreckage of their onslaught.

I can understand why "world leaders" would be frustrated by this, but much better them than us. This activity is at least plausibly within NSA's purview. Also, most of these leaders have less at risk to the NSA threat than do USA residents. It isn't as though NSA will sic the Drug Warriors, the IP Mafia, BATF, ICE, or EPA on leaders of other sovereign nations based on its observation of their communications. Whereas we're definitely in those crosshairs.

There are exceptions! If your nation could plausibly be on deck for the next military-industrial complex fundraising activity, you might want your leaders to secure their communications against NSA. Of course, if they're not doing anything wrong, they might want that fact to be observed, on the off chance it might make a difference.

Yes. And the US is the only country whose intelligence service has ever done anything like this.

And newsflash ... we probably bug your embassies too.

I seem to have missed the part where it was suggested that only the US is guilty.

If there existed a solid body of evidence to disclose to the world that Germany, France, or Russia was carrying out such actions on a wide scale, that would dominate the press in under a minute.

This is the US receiving equal treatment given a preponderance of evidence.

This is how the press should be.

I'm not suggesting this isn't news, it certainly is. Just that it's not out of the ordinary for either the NSA or governments in general. It's news in that we got caught.

Not caught, exactly. Espionage is well understood and expected in international relations.

The news is the depth and breadth of the NSA's activities, and that it is being shown with hard evidence, instead of the typical former-agent-speaks-vaguely-about-capabilities that typically show up in this area.

This comment reminded me that the USSR once built an embassy for the USA in Moscow; it was so full of bugs everywhere that the Americans had to tear it down and start from scratch.

I feel we are taking our eyes off the ball.

Domestic spying violates constitutional rights. More to the point, I don't want to support an institution with programs that violate my privacy, no matter what benefits such programs provide.

But isn't international spying is different? Honestly, I don't mind supporting an institution with an external espionage programs. Isn't in my best interest? Does it harm me? What are the concrete repercussions of spying on foreign officials? Are these officials really going to renege on international alliances because they have a chip on their shoulder? If they have anything to hide, it's by definition counter to US interests; if our allies are making plans behind our backs, I want our government to find out. (And to be totally honest, if our government is making secret plans behind our allies backs, I would want our allies to find out, as well.)

I'll repeat this, because it is a real question, and the answer could have a real effect on my opinion: What are the concrete repercussions of spying on foreign officials?

Possible concrete repercussions include:

Refusal of the EU bloc to cooperate over sharing banking and passenger data, and potentially other treaties down the line

Refusal of large South American nations to do trade deals or negotiate with the US, and a decline in US influence in the region

A move away from American dominance of the internet, and a reluctance to use companies with servers based in based in the US

The decline of the American empire, which is based on the tacit consent of the nations within their alliances like NATO (this one is more a long term potential outcome).

Okay. Thanks.

>Refusal of the EU bloc to cooperate...

Sharing of banking and passenger data is not something I know a lot about. Why do countries share this data now, and why would they stop because their prime minister is being spied upon? How the spying affect the pros and cons of sharing the data?

> Refusal of large South American nations to do trade deals...

Can you explain why a South American nation would not make a trade deal that made sense economically because of foreign espionage? How do the economics change as a result of the espionage?

> A move away from American dominance of the internet...

Who would avoid using servers based in the US as a result of espionage of 35 specific foreign officials? We're not talking about normal EU citizens in this particular article.

>The decline of the American empire...

Again, what decisions will countries make differently? Are countries going to make decisions that are not in their best interests in order to spite the US? Or are they already making decisions that are not in their best interests in order to be nice to the US, but won't anymore? Neither of these seems likely.

Well clearly these are partly predictions and speculation, but I do expect to see, and we have already seen, concrete repercussions from the exposure of spying on allies, because the actions of the US state have put its interests in clear conflict with those of its allies.

The excuse given for sharing banking and passenger data was fighting terrorism; as that's been shown to be far from the truth by these latest revelations, the EU parliament recently voted against sharing SWIFT data:


Can you explain why a South American nation would not make a trade deal that made sense economically because of foreign espionage? How do the economics change as a result of the espionage?

These decisions are not made on a purely economic basis. Rousseff cancelled a trade visit as a result of US spying:


From the article: Brazil is one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries in Latin America, so Rousseff's decision to postpone her visit - and her obvious anger at the U.S. -- has potentially far-reaching implications for Washington's standing and influence in the region. It is extremely rare for a head of state to call off an already-scheduled state visit, so the move is also a profound embarrassment for the administration.

The administration tried to spin this in the US as a joint decision, but this was a significant snub (along with her damning UN speech) from the largest country in the region and a huge setback for US influence in SA.

Who would avoid using servers based in the US as a result of espionage of 35 specific foreign officials?

The officials certainly have an incentive to move (in a way they didn't when they believed US gov assurances and thought only the little people were being spied on), and they may move the massive EU gov market away from any dependence on American owned servers. South American government have discussed doing the same (including Brazil, the biggest country). This will impact US internet companies long term, and I suspect just encourage an already emerging globalisation of the internet.

Are countries going to make decisions that are not in their best interests in order to spite the US?

It has been fully exposed just how little respect and rewards being a US ally earns you, and therefore a lot of countries will rethink the relationship. This has nothing to do with spiting the US and everything to do with protecting their own interests, which are less and less seen as congruent with the US due to its bullying behaviour.

If we are justified in spying on foreigners, then foreigners are justified in spying on us. If foreign intelligence agencies have records of all the emails, phone calls, metadata, etc. of US citizens, what's to stop them from handing that information to the NSA and vice versa?

I genuinely fail to be outraged by this. The NSA has a job, which is the monitoring of the signals of foreign militaries and governments. That they were doing that is not surprising or necessarily bad since those entities should be more than capable of operating in such an environment.

The problem is the mass slurping of the data of everyone else.

That's like saying the DoD has a job, which is to go to war with foreign countries.

This is honestly the revelation that I worry about least in these NSA leaks. Isn't foreign surveillance basically the raison d'etre for the NSA?

It may be one of the largest motivating factors in changing NSA practices, however. Pissed partners can lead to loss of trade, and the NSA suddenly becomes a campaign issue for the next round.

Hmm. That's a really good point, hadn't occurred to me. Good for us I guess, although I still don't think we can really lambaste them for doing something that's directly in their "charter". (As opposed to all the domestic surveillance, etc!)

Quite expected. My disappointment with the US gov and its general attitude is reaching new levels. Really BAD.

I really can't believe that there are so many comments that try to trivialize the actions.

It seems that the United States loses the reality and lapses in an egocentric / ethnocentric disease.

How would the U.S. react if they found out such a thing the other way around?

Presumably this will soon be followed up by other ground-breaking journalism pieces such as "Army kills people", "Surgeons perform surgery", and "Garbage collectors stun world by collecting garbage".

Irrespective of what one thinks of it (and I do not think favourably of it), how is it surprising that an organisation that is established specifically to spy on people is in fact spying on people?

Perhaps because foreign leaders do not consider tapping the phone lines of our allies to be within the scope of NSA's stated mission "to gain a decision advantage for the Nation and our allies under all circumstances."[1]

Or maybe because SigInt is supposed to be working "for intelligence and counterintelligence purposes and to support military operations."[1] They might not get why tapping their phones supports America's military operations, or why the US wouldn't just schedule a meeting/call to for "intelligence and counterintelligence purposes".

Might be that some fail to see how this qualifies as "operations to defeat terrorists and their organizations at home and abroad, consistent with U.S. laws and the protection of privacy and civil liberties."

There are wide-open channels for gaining intelligence from the leaders of allied countries. We've been using them for a while. They work pretty well.

The NSA is causing the US to look like it's the distrustful mate who is sneakily combing through his partner's texts, emails, messages, and other media to assure himself he can trust his partner.

The world is, perhaps, not liking the feeling of being spied on.

[1]: http://www.nsa.gov/about/mission/

How on earth is knowing the internal dealings of foreign governments not "gaining a decision advantage for the Nation"?!

Gaining a decision advantage for the Nation should not trump morality - some advantages or ways of gaining an advantage are clearly immoral.

For example, releasing a genetically engineered virus which killed the entire population of the South American continent would gain a decisive advantage for the US nation, because it would open up lots more lebensraum and could be invaded and settled, but it's not usually seen as an acceptable way to behave.

Unacceptable actions include cheating on your allies, treating your enemies like animals, massacring civilians in or out of wartime, etc. Cheating on allies is particularly damaging because it means no one will trust an American from now on.

Why on earth is it acceptable for the NSA--or any other foreign state's intelligence services--to know the internal dealings of foreign governments?

You're acting as if that isn't something that should be questioned, and should just be accepted as a general good in both domestic and international policy.

Many of us do not think that such a position is tenable or acceptable, much less a proven and legitimate point of view.

The mission statement does not end with "the Nation". It ends "and our allies under all circumstances." America's allies have a legitimate reason to complain their interests are not being served, and might actually be undermined and trespassed by the NSA's actions--just as America would claim the same thing whenever news reports proliferated with a preponderance of evidence detailing how Germany's intelligence services were tapping the White House phones and slurping up all congressional emails, text messages, and voicemails.

All sovereign states--be they allies or rogues--have a legitimate claim to and expectation of privacy where their internal dealings are concerned. This claim and expectation is even higher among allied nations, among whom it is expected that internal dealings concern other nations will be shared via standard diplomatic channels. And the determinations are left to the sovereign state itself regarding what, if any, internal dealings are shared with allies. But the allies do not possess some automatic right or privilege to spy as widely and deeply as they technologically are able to.

That espionage occurs, that states spy on one another in accordance with their relative positions of power to achieve their own self-interests is not up for debate. Nobody in any of these revelations is suggesting it does not happen. Hell, in the purely functional domain of international relations, there are plenty of net positives that result from espionage being neither endorsed nor prohibited by international law, and mutually allowed and expected among foreign states--such as verifying compliance with international obligations, and confirming the veracity of and commitment behind assurances given by foreign states.

But that still misses the more subtle point--foreign states are well within their rights (and, it might be argued, their sovereign responsibilities) to loudly grandstand and object to details that leak out regarding another state's espionage activities. Why would we expect anything less? That's simply not sensible. There can be legitimate outrage expressed over leaks of espionage because it could actually come as a surprise the depths to which a nation goes when spying on its allies. There could be other cultural and sociopolitical shifts among allied countries in one area, such as the EU, who have in various other ways been engaged in a long process of protecting civilian privacies and, in such a setting, to not engage political theater by expressing contempt for the actions of a state such as America--who shows such blatant disregard for personal privacies and who is caught within their spy's nets--violate the publicly proclaimed principles that the citizens of foreign states hold dear. If the leaders do not object, they could face political backlash.

Nobody doubts that all states engage in espionage against their neighbors, friendly or not. But that does not mean that the release of details showing a much heavier spying apparatus is deployed by the power with the greatest hegemony and strongest power position isn't going to make its allies feel very uncomfortable.

Beyond that, what's most alarming is that Americans truly do not give a fuck. Citizens of other nations, however, do not think like Americans. They've been working on the alliance and diplomacy thing for centuries. They approach things differently, having long learned many lessons through the rise and fall of empires.

> All sovereign states--be they allies or rogues--have a legitimate claim to and expectation of privacy where their internal dealings are concerned.

They're governments. They don't have any rights and as local monopolists of violence certainly don't have any expectation of laxity in others' vigilance.

There really aren't that many laws governing how nation-states should behave towards one another; and there certainly isn't any notion of rights to fall back on. The international arena is effectively a lawless "wild west" world, and it shows; particularly in the attitude and demeanour of those who have been exposed to its' vicissitudes for any significant length of time.

We have ended up with the same conversations on this spying lark far too often.

I appreciate the sentiment of those that want to protest against this and I can understand the spoon-fed arguments about how the NSA must go after the kiddie fiddlers, terrorists that want to blow up innocent kiddies (as in the ones that haven't been fiddled with, yet) and do all that mysterious national security stuff.

However, instead of same-old, same-old, can we work on a technological solution? Something that will work for you and I as well as Mrs Merkel?

We can let go the network analysis stuff, who is in contact with whom as right now there is no easy way to prevent the NSA slurping that stuff up. But, as for the content, can't that be encrypted properly, without the NSA having the key and without there being secret courts where keys get handed over in secret? It is just code we need, and with it we can get a reasonable compromise where our conversations are secure.

No non-US government official can feel secure in giving just a business card to his US counterpart, because he has to assume his contact info will be given to the NSA.

Hell, no one, regardless of nationality, in or out of government, can fell secure in any communication of any kind with a US government person.

It used to be spying on other people's governments would get people killed or start wars. In some way it will again. Maybe not so obvious this time.

I think we need a bit of context here. US is the hegemon.

Therefore it's not reasonable to apply same expectations of how it acts as we do pleasant little countries like Norway or Netherlands (who are probably only independent because US defended them against Germans & Soviets).

You're right. Perhaps the US should be held to a higher standard than it's allies who are next door to their enemies. After all, the US is bordered on no sides by anyone other than cooperative, friendly countries, or countries that are less cooperative but have a US presence.

As for countries like Norway and the Netherlands being independent because the US defended them against Germans and Soviets, that's not strictly true. It was a team effort on all sides, and the team America eventually joined won, with great thanks and a great debt to the US effort, which as I understand was paid off.

And hegemony is a dangerous thing that must be watched closely.

It is entirely reasonable to apply expectations to all countries that they not operate in ways that encroach upon the sovereignty and privacy of other nations, especially their allies or even less friendly nations with whom a declared state of war does not exist.

The hegemon ought answer to a much stricter standard than the "pleasant little countries" who do not wield such power.

Hegemony does not implicitly grant universal assent to be a total asshole.

You realize the first thing you do if you're going to attack someone is tell them one thing and then do another, right?

And that a country's leaders are replaceable components - the country doesn't have a personality, it has a government of thousands of individuals, all who subtly bias its aggregate behaviour in different ways, and whom the replacement of various members can fundamentally alter the country's goals, agenda and long-term interests against other countries?

How then, do you intend to maintain your own security if you've decided to simply take the word of one country's government - again, a shifting gestalt of thousands of individuals and millions of citizens goals - as naively true, when there is absolutely no reason or even motivation for that country not to simply lie to you - likely in many cases without even realizing it, as the messengers don't have the situational-awareness to understand the context of the message.

The Soviets did enter Norway towards the end of world war II, in order to defeat the German forces in the North. They then voluntarily withdrew, to the surprise of a lot of people, but seemingly without much US interference.

(The Norwegian response was rather disgusting: Remains of fallen Soviet soldiers were dug up from burial grounds all over the place and sent up the coast to be reburied closer to the border, in order to not have to let Soviet officers further into the country for memorial services etc. out of fear of spying..)

And you are right, our expectations might be different. But that does not mean that it is any more acceptable and that it will not affect the way people will deal with US diplomats and officials in the future:

Now we know that giving US officials phone numbers means those numbers will get monitored. So any government official wishing to give US officials a number now, will think twice, and then probably hand them numbers set aside exclusively for communications with the US, and will be reminded every time that the reason for doing this is that we can't trust US officials, because the US government does not trust us enough to not monitor us.

Hegemony depends on the tacit consent of those ruled.

If the US treats the rest of the world as an enemy, and a playground for its war machine and surveillance apparatus, it can expect at some point to earn the enmity of the people in all the countries where it has interfered. This has already happened in the Middle East, East Africa, and South America.

By these actions the US is undermining the only friends it has in the world, and is becoming increasingly isolated.

"One of the great American tragedies is to have participated in a just war." Kurt Vonnegut

I'd say US has a petty good record in the 20th century:


All won. And for the latter two (I personally think Germany losing WWI was the worst thing that happened to Europe), I am 100% on the side of the US (particular tactics notwithstanding).

I don't know what you are trying to say. It sounds like you've missed the point of the quote, which is understandable as it's not very transparent from that one sentence. To put the Vonnegut quote in fuller context:

"One of the great American tragedies is to have participated in a just war. It’s been possible for politicians and movie-makers to encourage us we’re always good guys. The Second World War absolutely had to be fought. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. But we never talk about the people we kill. This is never spoken of."

The point of the quote is that the US participation in just wars like WWII has given the US government a free pass in a vast number of other conflicts where it's behaviour has been shameful, as well as when it comes to the behaviour in specific instances in just wars. And this has happened to a great extent with the intelligence agencies too.

cough korea and vietam cough

Sure - both engagements were part of the Cold War which US has won.

Everybody knows that nobody won the cold war.

What is the strategy here? Of releasing information about NSA activities with foreign nations? Seems like it is mixing a potentially illegal activity (domestic spying) with their designated job. Doesn't every country try to do this. The NSA personnel could very well have undergone considerable risk to get this sort of thing going on. On the other hand, Joe public sees Snowden fleeing and chilling out in Russia/China and other "despotic" regimes.

Definitely Snowden:0 and NSA:1 in this case.

You are wrong its a 1:0 for Snowden. Now it`s not only the "common" people and how Merkel reacted is atypical for her.

Lets hope we see some actions out of this event at least the EU parliament set the first sign with voting against SWIFT.

Merkel is reacting this way because it plays well with a group of people who don't realize that they're actually wildly outside of their field of expertise on an issue.

Yeah, I don't get this. Snowden made a point of distancing himself from indiscriminate leakers like Chelsea Manning. But this kind of stuff isn't legally dubious invasions of American citizens' privacy - it's foreign heads of state. Leaking this kind of information only seems to damage the US internationally.

> Definitely Snowden:0 and NSA:1 in this case.

You think this release definitely helps the NSA? If so, then you think Alexander, et al. are definitely happy about this release?

I think the Guardian is just trying to ride the NSA gravy train at this point.

I disagree.

Within the UK, the general public has not favored the Guardian's reporting on the Snowden-NSA files. Many see it as anti-British and the much of the rest of the press has taken the government's side - quoting the government line concerning the protection of the country against terrorism and pedophiles.

What little the Guardian has been allowed to report (outside the D-Notice that covers GCHQ coverage) hasn't seen major coverage. The BBC for instance is petrified of losing its favourable role, and will not risk (again) threatening the government. Not in the near future anyway.

The Guardian's daily circulation figures since Snowden blew the whistle has continued to drop off [1]:

   Compared to the same period the year before, The Independent lost 26% of its
   daily audience. The other five losers, in descending order, were the Daily
   Star (-16%), The Guardian and Daily Express (-14%), Daily Mirror (-13%) and
   The Sun (-11%).
The actual month-by-month breakdowns are here:

- April 2013 [2]

- May 2013 [3]

- June 2013 [4]

- July 2013 [5]

- August 2013 [6]

- September 2013 [Not yet released]

Online is booming [7]. Back in January [8], the Guardian had already reported record online readership figures. I would hazard a guess that the online readership has continued to grow, but it isn't clear how many of those are from inside or outside the UK. The NSA reporting has no doubt improved the online bottom line, but not the ABC's.

At a minimum the ABC circulation figures (for print) seem to suggest that the Guardian has continued to see its readership shrink at a rate that is consistent with the entire UK press industry. The only upturn has been the Financial times which saw a 2% increase [1] for the same period.

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2013/aug/29/nati...

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/media/table/2013/may/10/abcs-nati...

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/media/table/2013/jun/07/abcs-nati...

[4] http://www.theguardian.com/media/table/2013/jul/15/abcs-nati...

[5] http://www.theguardian.com/media/table/2013/aug/09/abcs-nati...

[6] http://www.theguardian.com/media/table/2013/sep/06/abcs-nati...

[7] http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/sep/02/the-guardian

[8] http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Guardian/documents/201...

> Within the UK, the general public has not favored the Guardian's reporting on the Snowden-NSA files. Many see it as anti-British

Apologies if I've missed it somewhere in your post, but where are you getting this from?

Much of the rest of the press is, rather strangely given their seemingly life-or-death battle to defend their right to print celebrity tittle-tattle, mostly siding with the government on this. But I'm not seeing a groundswell of public opinion supporting that view.

General public opinion was a bit exaggerated as I was talking about the people around me and their open reactions to Snowden's whistle-blowing.

However, if you feel like it, you can read the 1100 comments on this BBC article and enjoy the anti-Snowden sentiment: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-24486649

Hint: Pay close attention to the 'editor's picks'.

In my opinion the British public seem to see Snowden as a traitor. 'General public opinion' is not verifiable (as you pointed out).

Whereas the people I've talked to about it tend to fall much more into the "disapproving of but not surprised with the NSA" camp.

And if you look at the top rated comments, rather than the BBC editor's personal picks, you'll see a fair amount of "Totalitarianism is a far greater threat to freedom than terrorism."-type comments before you get to any attacking Snowden's actions.

> What little the Guardian has been allowed to report (outside the D-Notice that covers GCHQ coverage) hasn't seen major coverage.

A D-Notice has no legal power. It carries an implied threat that just maybe some of the stuff covered might be met with a legal challenge, and could you please refrain? But it does not bar publication of anything.

Indeed heeding DA-Notices are voluntary, but I don't know of any cases where an editor has chosen to break one. Therefore the Guardian are not "allowed to report" on this unless they want to find themselves in court or under the threat of court action.

On the "is not monitoring and will not monitor"... If they took the time to deny present and future monitoring, the obvious question then becomes why haven't they denied past/recent past monitoring? Oh that's right, because they can't in fact deny it as they WERE monitoring.

Personally, I think it is misdirection. Why should we assume they are not willing to lie? More likely, in my opinion, is that they deny the present and future to make us think it used to happen, but just maybe might have stopped. Is there really any reason to assume they've stopped?

I mean, if they're not capable of lying convincingly, they'd make pretty shitty spies.

I thought that the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UKUSA_Agreement) were the only nations the NSA was even pretending to not spy on.

It's my understanding that the British were thought to have stolen submarine detection technology from the French, and the French were widely accused of industrial espionage against US companies in the 1990s. I also vaguely remember a 60 Minutes piece in the 1990s about Germans fulfilling their military service obligations by committing industrial espionage against US companies.

It seems to me that politicians are playing to public opinion, while knowing full well that this is how the international relations game has been played for decades, if not forever.

Watch as the flag-all-NSA-stories brigade pushes this relevant story off the front page...

I'm pleasantly surprised that it's not already on the bottom of the second page, headed towards the third. Between the flagging brigades and "flamewar detectors," I'm sure it will get there sooner than later.

The suppression of NSA stories on HN is an act of monumental stupidity. If we find 10-15 years from now that US technology, infrastructure, and services are shunned around the world it will come down to them cooperating with the NSA.

Australia and Canada have info sharing deals with the NSA but their citizens are not mad at their governments. Germans howl when a US military base might close. Serious cognitive dissonance does not deserve endless vapid repetition and HN users rightly flag such nonsense.

Each one of these stories brings new revelations, most of which have some impact on the trustworthiness of US technology businesses. So, while you may be right that countries that appear so far to be vassals with limited independence won't boycott US products, that's not most of the world.

Do you not see the hypocrisy of Australians and Canadians? Virtually all of the west? Is Europe going to side with Russia or China? They certainly aren't going to defend themselves.

If I were the leader of a major world power right now, I would push for a law in my country that decriminalizes the hacking of any government systems of countries that have proven hostile to my countries government. The only exception would be the hacking of public infrastructure like transportation systems and public utilities. Everything else would be fair game. Seems like this approach would introduce and element of M.A.D. into the mix that would mitigate the current hostile actions we are seeing from the US via the NSA and China via the PLA.

One way to tell if they are still doing it. Give them honeypots, hook them and wheel them in.

'After Merkel's allegations became public, White House press secretary Jay Carney issued a statement that said the US "is not monitoring and will not monitor" the German chancellor's communications.'

Which, of course, was a blatant lie.

Gee, I thought the government shutdown had succeeded in getting everyone to forget this whole spy hullabaloo. Well at least it worked in the good old USA.

I might think everyone should have access to all communications of all politicians. If you want to be a leader of millions you should be transparent.

I believe NSA is as much important as Android is to Google.

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