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Hi-Tech Fun and Games with the NSA


Voutenay sur Cure, France.

The reports that the US National Security Agency is spying on foes and friends with happy abandon should not come as a surprise. The news channel France 24 described the affair as “Old Revelations; New Outrage,” which sums it up. But France is critical, as well it might be, of US “intrusion on a vast scale, both into the private space of French citizens and the secrets of major national firms.” And here’s where the real monkey business of all this cyber-spookery is centered. While it’s proper for any country to try to spy out a potential threat and discover a terrorist motive, it is quite a different thing for a nation to use its amazing technology to eavesdrop on foreign commercial enterprises for the profit motive.

Faithful readers may recall a piece I had in Counterpunch in January 2003, before the catastrophic US war on Iraq. I questioned the existence of the ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ that indeed proved to have been fantasy. And it was based on the fact that no evidence had come from intercepting Iraqi communications, although this effort had been intense. I wrote ten years ago that —

“The United States of America, whose taxpayers pay forty billion dollars a year for information gathering and intelligence processing, is verging on the omniscient . . . US agencies and their colleagues in Israel, the UK and Australia can listen to every telephone and radio conversation in the world. They can examine every fax and email, assess Airbus production facilities [emphasis added] and similar anti-American activities (the French found out about this economic spying but can’t do anything about it), analyze the defenses of friend and foe alike, and are in general an Olympic-class nosy parker . . . It is fatuous for the Bush administration to say that information cannot be provided to the UN, or evidence to the world, about Iraq’s alleged NBC arsenal because ‘we don’t want to betray our sources’ . . . Show us pictures of the nuclear weapons plants, and the rockets and the canisters of chemical weapons. Or provide transcripts of intercepted communications indicating existence of these things. The methods themselves aren’t secret. It is quite possible Iraq has some very nasty weapons. OK: where are they?”

The listeners couldn’t produce anything about Iraq’s supposed WMDs, because there weren’t any WMDs, but their snooping has increased amazingly since then, as proved by the brave Mr Snowden who has destroyed his life by bringing attention to what is going on. Although it had been obvious that there was intercept jiggery-pokery by the NSA, he has confirmed without doubt that the stronghold of freedom whose ideals of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ we foreigners so much admire has become a grubby caricature of the shining city on a hill we imagined it to be. They listen to everyone, and it doesn’t matter if, as in India’s case, for example, they are what President Obama calls “an indispensable partner.”

In September Obama declared Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to be “a great friend . . . to the United States and to me personally,” but, as reported by Delhi’s The Hindu newspaper two days before the great friends met, “the NSA selected India’s UN office and the embassy as ‘location target’ for infiltrating their computers and telephones with hi-tech bugs.”

Does anyone imagine that Obama is unaware that his spooks record everything said and written in the Indian Embassy just across Dupont Circle from the White House? And can Dr Singh be unaware that all deliberations of his nation’s leaders and diplomats are reported by the tittering techno-dweebs of the NSA ?

As The Hindu recorded:

“According to the 2010 COMINT [communications intelligence] document about ‘Close Access SIGADs’, the offices of Indian diplomats and high-ranking military officials stationed at these important posts were targets of four kinds of electronic snooping devices:

• Lifesaver, which facilitates imaging of the hard drive of computers;

• Highlands, which makes digital collection from implants;

• Vagrant, which collects data of open computer screens; and

• Magnetic, which is a collection of digital signals.

All the Indian ‘targets’ in the list are marked with an asterisk . . . The NSA document doesn’t say when and how the bugs were implanted or how much data was lifted from Indian offices, but all of them were on the ‘target’ list for more than one type of data collection bugs.”

It would be interesting to know the list details. And, as I have been told recently, we might do so, sometime soon. It depends on the resolution or otherwise of media proprietors.

At the moment there’s the matter of a commercial contract between India and France for the supply of 126 advanced combat aircraft for the Indian Air Force, won fair and square by France’s Dassault Company in an international competition with Boeing and Lockheed Martin and others, but now subject to energetic US efforts to have it cancelled. It is intriguing that contract finalization is being delayed by unknown factors, much to the frustration of the country’s defense planners. The head of India’s air force, the estimable Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne, said in October that “There is no second option [to the deal with France]. It has to work. The government is fully aware of our requirement.” Yes, Sir; and there might be others who are “fully aware” of exactly what is going on. In the middle of 2013 French officials were provided with special encryption systems for their telephones and computers, but these have proved ineffective. India, of course, has very little protection for any of its communications.

It’s all gutter-stuff, but naturally the US is joined by Britain in all the hi-tech fun and games. As I have written before, if you are a member of a delegation of a Commonwealth country (or Nato or the G20 or any other international grouping, in fact) attending a meeting with the Brits, then you had better be on your guard. The grubby techno-dweebs of GCHQ, the Government Communications Headquarters, Britain’s certified listeners, defiling and dishonoring their country — and, as we have been shown with irrefutable evidence, boasting about their repugnant antics in their Power Point presentations — will be listening to you saying goodnight to your family.

It has been forgotten that a British cabinet minister stated on 26 February 2004 that her country was spying on the UN Secretary General. This admission of squalid delinquency was only a five-minute wonder, but it’s no less remarkable for that. The minister, Clare Short, was questioned on the BBC about the deceit and trickery that led to the war on Iraq and asked if pressure had been brought to bear on nations and individuals to fall in with USUK war plans. Part of her reply was “The UK in this time was also getting spies on [UN Secretary General] Kofi Annan’s office and getting reports from him about what was going on . . . These things are done and in the case of Kofi’s office, it was being done for some time . . . Well, I know — I’ve seen transcripts of Kofi Annan’s conversations.” Startled by this admission of Britain’s contempt for everything the UN is supposed to stand for, the interviewer said “So in other words British spies — let’s be very clear about this in case I’m misunderstanding you — British spies have been instructed to carry out operations inside the United Nations on people like Kofi Annan?” She answered “Yes, absolutely.”

So Britain, which signed the UN Charter almost 70 years ago, affirming “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person,” demonstrated its concern for dignity and worth by planting listening devices in the office of the Secretary General (and many other people). Washington is in all this up to its earphones, of course, by also listening to every country in the world. And nobody imagines for a moment that details of international commercial negotiations are not passed to worthy recipients.

The French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said this week that “It’s incredible that an allied country like the United States at this point goes as far as spying on private communications that have no strategic justification, no justification on the basis of national defense.” Yes, we all know that. And, sure, it’s immoral, illegal and ill-intentioned. And I’m sad to realize that the US ambassador in Paris, Charles Rivkin, must have known about it, because he’s a civilized fellow. One of the finest heads of mission that Washington has appointed to France.

But there is nothing — nothing at all — that will be done about it, because Washington will carry on its worldwide interception of every key-tap and phone call and everything else in the sphere of communications. Le Monde declared that “the public must not be kept ignorant of eavesdropping and spying programmes which become so extensive that they undermine any principle of checks and balances in a democracy.” Quite right.

But Le Monde forgets that America is no longer a democracy. Let me repeat that the country with the ideals of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ we foreigners so much admire has become a grubby caricature of the shining city on a hill. The president whom we had hoped would be a shining and lasting example of humanity, decency, development and leadership has proved to be a chimera, a sad illusion of distinction that can never come to reality. And the mean, despicable cyber-antics of the NSA and GCHQ will increase, and they will prosper.

Brian Cloughley’s website is


Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.

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