FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Spying on the G20 Summit

Today’s news is yesterday’s news—release of additional details about a shocking international surveillance operation that took place in 2009. And the 2009 spy operation was a remake of a questionable international surveillance operation that took place in 2003.

The ultimate déjà vu.

It’s the infamous 2003 story of Katharine Gun, GCHQ whistleblower (or leaker, depending) all over again. It’s the story of a newly revealed cloak and dagger case well deserving worldwide outrage now flooding the media, the story of Edward Snowden, NSA whistleblower (or leaker, depending).

The outrage, of course, depends upon perspective. Is Snowden a hero or a traitor?  Gun was labeled both at various times by various observers. Actor Sean Penn said of Gun that, “She will go down in history as a hero of the human spirit.” Angry Prime Minister Tony Blair cautioned at the time that people like her could put Great Britain “in a very dangerous situation.” Particularly, if they “could get away with it.”

In 2003, the target of secret government surveillance was the UN Security Council, with the London Observer breaking the Gun’s leak of the operation. In 2009, G20 participants were targeted, with the Guardian this week breaking Snowden’s detailed revelations about the case. Both newspapers took an enormous risk. Publishing classified information is a violation of the UK’s Official Secrets Act.  

The Gun/Snowden comparison is profoundly disturbing, and one must ask, “Do we never learn?” Or, more to the point, “Do intelligence agencies involved in this sort of espionage ever learn? Do they not understand that, sooner or later, someone with a troubled (or traitorous) conscience will let the electronic cat out of the bag?”

In both the 2003 and newly revealed 2009 cases, government spying was against friendly nations—not enemies. NSA’s operation in 2003 was against UNSC members whose votes were essential for passage of a Bush/Blair resolution specifically legitimizing war. It included as well non-Council members whose “perspectives” might be helpful. The 2009 surveillance against G20 participants, and Turkey in
spytriedparticular, has puzzled some observers. Turkey was a valued friend of the UK. The other nations were not threatening national security. Why was it necessary to eavesdrop on financial issues that could be discussed openly?

The “why” is always the big issue.

Hiding behind a shadowy cloak of  “national security,” or “fighting terrorism,” America’s NSA and Great Britain’s GCHQ continue to spy upon other government officials for purposes having little or nothing to do with either threat. In Gun’s case, the NSA invited GCHQ to join in its spying on the Security Council in an effort “to obtain results favorable to US goals.” In this later misadventure, the purpose for spying on G20 summit meetings in 2009 was essentially the same—to collect intelligence “relevant to HMG’s desired outcomes.” In both cases, the objective was solely to obtain political advantage.

And that is why, in both cases, the operations were highly classified, and why, in both, the individuals who leaked information about them became targets themselves. Gun was arrested in 2003, weeks before the invasion of Iraq. Snowden, on the run, no doubt will be arrested before long.

The British—fiction’s ultimate master spies—are essentially (although not entirely) free to spy upon whomever they wish for whatever purpose, given provisions in their Intelligence Services Act. The NSA lacks this broad-based permission. Instead, from time to time, denials are issued declaring that the agency works only within the “confines of the law.” Others have questioned this claim.

Looking even farther back than the 2003 NSA spy operation against the UNSC, one finds another lesson in what happens when government indulges in illegal (or inappropriate) surveillance. In 1949, FBI agents tapped conversations between an accused Soviet spy, Judith Coplon, and her attorney. Initially, agents lied on the stand, denying the existence of illegal electronic surveillance. In the end, they admitted having listened in on conversations conducted between the defendant and her attorney, even during the course of her trial. Coplon, although convicted twice, did not serve prison time—principally because an appellate court found the government guilty of wrongdoing. The case began a debate about wiretapping and secret surveillance that continues more than sixty years later.

As noted, will they ever learn?

Marcia Mitchell is co-author of The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion

More articles by:

December 11, 2018
Eric Draitser
AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?
Sheldon Richman
War Over Ukraine?
Louis Proyect
Why World War II, Not the New Deal, Ended the Great Depression
Howard Lisnoff
Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.
Mark Ashwill
A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!
Laura Flanders
HUD Official to Move into Public Housing?
Nino Pagliccia
Resistance is Not Terrorism
Matthew Johnson
See No Evil, See No Good: The Truth Is Not Black and White
Maria Paez Victor
How Reuters Slandered Venezuela’s Social Benefits Card
December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail