This northern summer, the glare of sunlight is penetrating even the darkest corners of the Western security apparatus.
Weeks of leaks about US government snooping have revealed just how closely the United States is watching citizens – and the world. Big US brands, from Google to the US Postal Service, have been tarnished as details emerge of their close collaboration with US law enforcement and spy services.
The Snowden scandal has hurt the standing of the United States with its European allies. Polls taken in Germany since the Snowden affair began have found that the United States’ reputation as a German ally has suffered grave damage. Less than half of Germany now regards the United States as a trustworthy partner.
America’s standing is now as low here as during the final days of George W. Bush’s administration.
Last week, anger mounted further over datagate. Claims that the United States is spying on European representatives in the United States and officials in Brussels provoked outrage.
Many here are convinced that the US interceptions are only ostensibly related to anti-terrorism efforts. European political leaders see other interests at play.
“Terrorism is used as an excuse,” the secretary of Italy’s parliamentary security committee, Felice Casson told Italian weekly L’espresso. “But what you are [really] talking about is intrusion that relate to economic, industrial and financial aspects.”
The Snowden leaks continue, inexorably, to emerge. Despite Snowden’s isolation at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, a new interview with the former NSA contractor was published over the weekend.
In certain cases, European media outlets are reporting that Snowden claims that US allies have also been conducting surveillance; snooping that is even more thoroughgoing than the NSA’s PRISM program or the US Postal Service’s Mail Isolation and Tracking Program.
In its Sunday edition, German weekly Der Spiegel printed an interview Snowden conducted with software developer Jacob Applebaum and filmmaker Laura Poitras before the contractor fled the United States for Hong Kong in May.
The secret services of US allies, the magazine asserts, have a supine relationship with America’s security state. In the chat, Snowden assails Western secret services for their “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on American surveillance.
“We inform [allies] when someone whom we want to grab is passing through one of their airports – and they serve him up to us,” Snowden says, in reference to surveillance of people of interest by the NSA.
“The other services don’t ask us where we got the information and we don’t ask them for anything. That’s how they’d be able to protect their leaders from the backlash if how much the privacy of people around the world is being violated came out.”
The German government, the magazine says in a separate feature, has loudly denied knowledge of US surveillance in Germany. Yet its intelligence service, the BND, has representatives at US listening post in Bad Aibling, near Munich. Meanwhile German security is reliant upon NSA data for their own anti-terrorism efforts.
The Spiegel interview with Snowden sheds new light on German government statements over surveillance, says Spanish daily El Mundo.
“It’s planned that a group of German experts headed up by the interior minister, Hans Peter Friedrich, will travel to Washington next week to learn details of the PRISM program and its actions in Germany.”
“The scale of the US program has visibly angered the German government, which considers actions of this kind to be 'unacceptable' when they concern 'friends and allies',” the paper writes.
Previous leaks have indicated that the NSA surveillance of communications was not merely for America’s eyes only. And the longer the spy scandal has dragged on, the greater the media focus has been on the snooping conducted by other Anglophone nations.
The NSA’s German listening post near Munich services Echelon, a spying system run by the Anglo-Saxon nations, Der Spiegel says. Information from the “Five Eyes” partners – Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – enhances the NSA’s own material, Snowden tells the magazine.
“The Five Eyes partners sometimes go further than the NSA itself,” the leaker says.
“Take the British secret service GCHQ’s Tempora program, for example. Tempora features the first ‘full take’ approach [to data] in the spy world. It sucks up all the data, no matter what it’s about and whose rights get hurt.”
“Not one byte gets away,” he adds.
While the scale of Britain’s communications surveillance has been publicly known for several weeks now, details on France’s data hoovering have only emerged in the past few days.
“All of our communications are spied on,” French daily Le Monde revealed in its investigation of French secret service DGSE’s high-tech tapping. “The DGSE systematically monitors the electromagnetic signals emitted by computers and phones in France and between France and abroad.”
“All of the e-mails, SMS, phone recordings, log-ins to Facebook and Twitter are then stockpiled for years,” the Parisian evening paper adds.
And it’s not just the DGSE – whose remit is to protect French interests abroad – that uses the products of those taps for its own purposes, Le Monde says. DCRI, the French ASIO, customs agents and the French anti-money laundering service uses the electromagnetic data “daily”.
Meanwhile, French politicians are aware of the program. But they have neither done anything to stop it, nor have subjected it to parliamentary oversight, Le Monde says.
“Although the revelations over the US espionage program PRISM have prompted howls of indignation across Europe, France has only protested limply,” the daily comments. “For two excellent reasons: It was aware [of Prism]. And it does the same thing.”
Over the past few weeks, the Snowden scandal has more twists than a James Bond film. Countries that last week seemed the hapless targets of US surveillance are this week presented as skulking accomplices.
ABOUT BEST OF THE REST: It's a big world out there and plenty of commentators and journalists are writing about it — but not always in English. And not surprisingly, ideas about big events of the day shift when you move away from the Anglosphere. Best of the Rest is a fortnightly NM feature by Berlin-based journalist Charles McPhedran. Charles reads the news in French, German, Spanish and Portuguese and reports on what the rest of the world is saying about the big stories.
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