Spy scandal: ‘An awful lot of this is a show’

(By Deutsche Welle) Washington is doing diplomatic damage control after revelations the NSA spied on three French presidents. But Reginald Dale, formerly of the International Herald Tribune, tells DW that the outrage is mostly for show.

DW: Paris has summoned the US ambassador over allegations that Washington eavesdropped on the conversations of three French presidents. In 2013, Der Spiegel claimed that German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell had been tapped. How have the reactions of France and Germany differed?

If you wanted to distinguish between the French and German reactions to this sort of thing, I would say the French reaction is basically cynical and hypocritical, whereas the Germans tend to be neurotic and distressed. It’s a totally different cultural reaction to these allegations or revelations.

What makes you say the French response is cynical and hypocritical?

The French response is cynical in the sense that they know their country does a lot of spying, in fact they would want it to. They think it should. They understand in the world we live in today, the Americans spy on them. That’s the way the world is and they don’t find it particularly reprehensible.

On the hypocritical side, the French are well known as the leaders in industrial espionage in Europe, particularly against the United States. There are lots of instances of the French obtaining information, secrets from the American defense and aerospace industries in particular.

In the 1990s, the French were supposed to have bugged the seatbacks in business class on Air France in the hope of picking up a confidential chitchat among American businessmen. That was of course denied, but it became a widespread – almost a joke.

Why do you say the German response is neurotic?

On the German side there is a deep neurosis for historical reasons because of the traumas resulting from the activities of the Gestapo and then the Stasi in eastern Germany. That’s always said to have bred a neurotic fear of any sort of snooping, particularly on individuals, which is why there was such a reaction when one of Chancellor Merkel’s cell phones was apparently bugged.

I think the Germans, unlike the French, feel a sense of betrayal about this. They spent all these years after World War Two rehabilitating themselves to become a model nation on the world stage, and they wanted approval from everyone, and they wanted particularly the friendship of the United States.

They believed they had won that approval and friendship, and then when they find they’re being spied on – the sense of betrayal like a stab in the back.

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Hey Patriot, what about Freedom? A brief history of US post-9/11 surveillance

(By Deutsche Welle) America responded to 9/11 by expanding surveillance through the Patriot Act. Since Edward Snowden’s revelations, the nation has largely recanted. The debate is now about a Freedom Act. Spencer Kimball reports.

Only one senator voted against the Patriot Act in the frantic weeks following the devastating terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC.

“This is an enormous expansion of authority, under a law that provides only minimal judicial supervision,” Russ Feingold declared during his speech on the floor of Senate.

At the time, first responders were still retrieving more than 2,000 corpses from the rubble of the World Trade Center, which had been renamed “Ground Zero.” A network of Islamist radicals led by Osama bin Laden had launched the worst attack on American soil since the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin, was voted out of office in 2010. But in the fourteenth year post 9/11, the tide has turned in America.

Even the Patriot Act’s father now opposes the most controversial provision of the law. Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin, claims he never intended for the now infamous Section 215 to permit the bulk collection of Americans’ call records.

“This program is illegal and based on a blatant misinterpretation of the law,” Sensenbrenner said after a federal appeals court had ruled against the program in early May.

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Switzerland mulls offering protection to Edward Snowden

(By Deutsche Welle ) Whistleblower Edward Snowden has maintained that he would prefer to find asylum in a democratic country. Could Switzerland secure his passage out of Russian exile?

Swiss authorities have reportedly concluded that they could protect former NSA contractor Edward Snowden from extradition to the United States, should he testify before a parliamentary commission on the National Security Agency’s espionage activities.

Switzerland’s weekly “SonntagsZeitung” gained access to a document leaked from the country’s attorney general, entitled “What rules would apply if Snowden was brought to Switzerland and the USA submitted an application for extradition?”

In the three-page document, the attorney general reportedly concluded that the whistleblower’s safety could be guaranteed inside Switzerland. The only obstacle would be “higher priority state obligations,” in other words, potential damage to Swiss-US relations.

In particular, the Swiss parliament could grant Snowden protection in the context of a hearing on the NSA, if the conclusion is made that his actions had “a primarily political character.”

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Whistleblower law expands protection to US intelligence agents

(By Deutsche Welle) US President Obama has signed into law expanded whistleblower protections that cover intelligence agents for the first time. But the protections still do not apply to contractors, such as ex-NSA analyst Edward Snowden.

Five years after vowing to strengthen whistleblower rights, President Barack Obama has extended statutory protections to intelligence agency employees who report abuse, closing a major gap in a law at least ostensibly designed to shield federal workers from retaliation.

Part of the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2014, the provisions would protect intelligence agency employees from retaliation if they report waste, fraud or abuse to designated entities. Those entities include superiors at the agency in question, one of the inspector general watchdogs, and the House and Senate intelligence committees.

For the first time, intelligence agency employees can use whistleblowing as an affirmative defense if they suffer retaliation; for example, if their security clearance is taken away. In addition, they are protected from retaliation for cooperating with an investigation or providing testimony under oath. They can also appeal to an internal administrative board to have their grievances redressed.

“It’s a significant precedent,” Shanna Devine, the Government Accountability Project’s legislative director, told DW. “No time before in history have there been enforceable statutory protections for intelligence community government employees.”

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Berlin demands US ambassador explain snooping on German parliament

(By Deutsche Welle) Berlin has called on the US ambassador to explain allegations that Washington spied on a parliamentary committee investigating NSA surveillance in Germany. A double agent reportedly sold the US sensitive documents.

On Friday, the German Foreign Ministry called on US Ambassador John Emerson to cooperate with the investigation into allegations that a double agent had spied on the Bundestag for Washington.

Germany’s top prosecutor, Harald Range, confirmed that a 31-year-old intelligence agent had been detained on Wednesday on suspicion of espionage.

The suspect was a midlevel agent with the foreign intelligence agency, known by its German initialism, BND. He had been active as a double for two years, according to the daily Bild newspaper, citing security sources.

According to German media, an employee of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency has been arrested on suspicion of spying for the United States. Intelligence expert Schmidt-Eenboom tells DW why this case is outrageous. (04.07.2014)

Bild reported that the agent sold 218 sensitive documents to an unspecified US intelligence agency for 25,000 euros ($33,000). At least three of the documents were from the parliamentary committee investigating the National Security Agency’s surveillance operations in Germany. He reportedly obtained his orders directly from the the US embassy.

“Spying for foreign intelligence agencies is not something that we take lightly,” German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

The public broadcasters WDR and NDR, as well as the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reported that the agent was detained under suspicion for allegedly having contacts with Russia. But during questioning, he admitted that he had delivered information to the US.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was informed of the affair on Thursday. She spoke with US President Barack Obama that evening, but it’s unclear whether or not the German double agent was a subject of their conversation.

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EU mulls cyber defense against US surveillance

(By Deutsche Welle) Through its cyber security strategy, the EU has pushed its member states to bolster their defenses against digital attacks. But after the Snowden revelations, will this strategy include measures against US espionage?

As a key component of its official cyber security strategy, the European Union has explicitly emphasized the importance of protecting basic rights as its member states and the private sector bolster defenses against digital attacks.

Written in the pre-Snowden era, the document does not address the potential risk posed to EU citizens’ personal data by the intelligence agencies of allied nations. Europeans’ personal data was allegedly compromised by an old and trusted partner – the United States – and by the the United Kingdom, an important member state of the bloc.

Since adoption of the cyber security strategy in April of 2013, some EU officials have begun to explicitly identify surveillance by the US National Security Agency, or NSA, as a threat. Neelie Kroes, the EU’s digital agenda commissioner, welcomed initiatives in the US aimed at scaling back the NSA’s surveillance operations.

“But we also need to ask ourselves the right questions,” Kroes said in a speech at a cyber security summit last February. “Not why the US wanted to bug the phones of so many. But: ‘How did they manage to succeed?’ Why are we so unprepared and unsecured against such threats?”

One of the biggest challenges from an EU perspective is that the infrastructure of cyberspace lies largely in private hands and many of those companies are American owned, according to Neil Robinson, a cyber security expert with RAND Europe. As a consequence, regulatory heads in Brussels cannot always protect EU citizens’ personal data.

Policymakers need to examine potential ramifications of a separate European Internet – a concept under consideration, Robinson told DW. Such a development would represent “a fragmentation in a way, which would be in my personal opinion very concerning,” he said.

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Merkel meets Obama in Washington amid violence in Ukraine

(By Deutsche Welle) German Chancellor Angela Merkel has met with US President Barack Obama. The two leaders are seeking to repair ties after the NSA scandal and forge a common front in the Ukraine crisis.

President Obama and Chancellor Merkel held talks in Washington on Friday, amid escalating violence in eastern Ukraine.

In a joint press conference, the two leaders made clear that they were stepping up preparations to impose sanctions against sectors of the Russian economy, if Moscow did not work to de-escalate tensions in eastern Ukraine before the country’s presidential elections on May 25th.

President Obama told reporters that the West was unlikely to end its business dealings with Moscow in the energy sector, but said that other areas of the Russian economy were vulnerable to EU-US sanctions.

“The idea that you’re going to turn off the tap on all Russian oil and gas exports, I think is unrealistic,” the president said. “But there are a range of approaches that can be taken not only in the energy sector, but in the arms sector, the finance sector, and lines of credit for trade, all of which have significant impact on Russia.”

Chancellor Merkel warned that the crisis in Ukraine has challenged Europe’s post-war order, which rests on the principle of the territorial integrity of all nations. Merkel said that although both the EU and US preferred a diplomatic solution, Moscow’s behavior would determine whether or not economic sanctions were imposed.

“It’s very much up to the Russians which road we will embark on,” Merkel said.

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Drake: ‘There was no protection against reprisal’

(By Deutsche Welle) Former NSA senior executive Thomas Drake blew the whistle on a failed surveillance program called Trailblazer. He tells DW that the US whistleblower laws failed to protect him from retaliation within the NSA.

DW: When you decided to blow the whistle on waste and abuse at the NSA, at that time what sort of procedures were you required to follow and to whom did you have to report?

Thomas Drake: They call them proper channels. Within an agency there are administrative procedures in which you can report to your chain of command; you can go to the inspector general, the office of the inspector general for the agency; or you can also go to the office of general counsel. Generally, in matters like this you go to the chain of command and/or the office of the inspector general. In my case, I went through every channel within the agency.

The huge elephant in the room is what happens if you happen to work in the Department of Defense / national security arena. That’s where it’s far more problematic.

At the time that your case was unfolding, the law was the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act. Under that law, what kind of protections were you afforded or were you supposed to be afforded?

There technically aren’t any protections. When I went to Congress and also the Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General, [the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act] was the act that I invoked on a regular basis – every time I had formal communication with any officer, agent, investigator, or staffer.

By the way, this act also covered at the time both contractors and employees of parts of the intelligence community – it’s important to note [that] it’s not everybody because the military has its own inspector general chain of command; it has its own military whistleblower protection act, just to be very clear here.

The problem was they retaliated. I was reprised against severely within the proper channels, meaning I was identified as a troublemaker and there’s a whole story behind that. But the fact remains, I was authorized to report through the proper channels but there was no protection per se against reprisal or the threat of reprisal, even though it’s prohibited.

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US whistleblower laws offer no protection

(By Deutsche Welle) The White House says that Edward Snowden should have reported his concerns within the NSA, instead of revealing surveillance programs to the press. But who exactly do US whistleblower laws protect?

Some eight months before Edward Snowden leaked classified NSA programs to the press, US President Barack Obama issued an order extending whistleblower protections to employees of America’s intelligence agencies. The White House often cites this fact when addressing the three felony charges against Snowden, in total carrying a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. Two of those charges fall under the 1917 US Espionage Act.

In his January speech on NSA reform, President Obama said that he did not want to “dwell on Mr. Snowden’s actions or his motivations.” But five months earlier, the US commander-in-chief had already made clear that he did not view the 30-year-old as a whistleblower or patriot, saying that Snowden had failed to use official, non-public “proper channels” to express his concerns about NSA surveillance.

But Snowden has said that Obama’s extension of whistleblower protections to the intelligence community, under Presidential Policy Directive 19 (PPD-19), does not cover government contractors. Before his disclosures, Snowden was an employee of the company Booz Allen Hamilton, which contracted with the National Security Agency.

“If I had revealed what I knew about these unconstitutional but classified programs to Congress, I could have been charged with a felony,” Snowden said in a live, online question and answer session last Thursday.

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Pressure builds to crack down on NSA spying

(By Deutsche Welle) Not only is Obama’s advisory panel putting pressure on the president, but Congress is also considering two bills aimed at the NSA’s spying programs. Will they provide additional protections for non-US citizens?

Republican Representative Jim Sensenbrenner has introduced the USA Freedom Act, which would tighten restrictions on NSA metadata collection. The bill represents a major political reversal for the Wisconsin conservative. After the 9/11 attacks, Sensenbrenner played a key role in the passage of the PATRIOT Act, the law that served as the genesis of expanded counterterrorism powers for law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

“…Somewhere along the way, the balance between security and privacy was lost,” Sensenbrenner said in a recent press release. “It’s now time for the judiciary committees to again come together in a bipartisan fashion to ensure the law is properly interpreted, past abuses are not repeated and American liberties are protected.”

Meanwhile, the FISA Improvements Act has cleared the Senate Intelligence Committee in a 11-4 vote. According to one of the bill’s main sponsors, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the legislation would increase transparency and accountability but keep bulk metadata collection largely in place.

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