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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US domestic surveillance powers in limbo after Patriot Act provision expires

(By Deutsche Welle) What happens now that the US government’s key domestic surveillance program has expired? Privacy advocates and surveillance hawks worry about the consequences, but for different reasons. Spencer Kimball reports.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act has expired.

For the first time since the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the American government faces major limitations on its ability to sweep up and sift through the call records of all US residents in search of potential terror plots.

The US Senate held an emergency session on Sunday in a last-ditch attempt to break a week of political gridlock. There were three options on the table: Pass reforms under the USA Freedom Act, extend the Patriot Act unchanged or let Section 215 expire altogether.

Under the pressure of a midnight deadline, 77 senators supported moving the USA Freedom Act to a final vote. Some genuinely wanted to end the government’s bulk collection program. Others thought voting for the bill’s limitations would be better than letting Section 215 expire altogether.

But for one senator, the reforms didn’t go far enough. Rand Paul, the Republican libertarian presidential candidate from Kentucky, issued an objection. The procedural move delayed a final vote beyond Section 215’s expiration date.

“While the sunset of Section 215 definitely demonstrates the strength of and the desire for strong privacy reform, the fact is that this isn’t the only section of the Patriot Act that the government could use, and in fact has used, for bulk collection,” Jake Laperruque, with the Center for Democracy & Technology, told DW.

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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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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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Hero or traitor: ‘Only history will decide’

(By Deutsche Welle) Howard Schmidt, former White House cyber security adviser, tells DW the US has gone too far in its surveillance operations. But he believes only time will tell whether whistleblower Edward Snowden is a hero or a traitor.

Howard A. Schmidt most recently served as US President Barack Obama’s Cyber-Security Coordinator from 2009 – 2012. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Schmidt also served as a cyber-security advisor to former President George W. Bush.

DW: In terms of the NSA debate, a lot of what we now know has come through Edward Snowden’s leaks. Before him, there was Wikileaks. Julian Assange is house-bound in a London embassy. And now their aide Sarah Harrison fears going back to the UK over legal consequences. Are these individuals whistle-blowers?

Schmidt: I think there are a couple of aspects to that. One, there’s a legal component. I’m not a lawyer, but when you look at someone committing a crime based on whatever basis – you have to face those consequences. And I think these people have all decided that.

The second piece of that is the future will determine whether or not it falls under the category of whistle-blower and hero or criminal and traitor. I don’t think any of us can decide this at this time. We’re too close to it. So in the future, when we look back at the Pentagon Papers and those sorts of things, our perspective is far different today than it was then. So, making judgements now of right, wrong or indifferent – only history will decide that.

Journalists working on the Snowden files claim that the NSA surveillance activities are much broader than what’s described in the current reporting.

I don’t know, and I can only speculate. One of the questions I get asked all the time is how much about this did I know. The thing is when you talk about classified government programs is they’re very compartmentalized. The category we always use is, “you don’t have a need to know.”

My job was defense. As a matter of fact, my work was based on stopping people from doing things like this [surveillance]. So as a consequence, they’re not going to be telling me that they’re doing something that I’m trying to fight against. So to that extent, is it possible.

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Ehud Barak: ‘It’s a wake-up call’

(By Deutsche Welle) Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak tells DW that the controls on intelligence agencies should probably be tightened as a consequence of the NSA affair. But he warns that citizens shouldn’t be naïve about security.

Ehud Barak has served as Israeli’s prime minister, foreign minister, defense minister and head of the Directorate of Military Intelligence, among a host of other posts. He has decades of experience in intelligence matters and is Israel’s most highly decorated soldier.

DW: You mentioned during your presentation at the Cyber Security Summit in Bonn that offensive capabilities are greater than defensive capabilities in terms of cyber security threats. With the NSA affair, we’ve seen the extent to which governments are able to conduct surveillance on foreign leaders, private citizens and industry. What can these groups do to protect themselves against such surveillance?

Ehud Barak: I don’t think that we should look at it as a competition or struggle between the American government or other governments and individual citizens. I don’t think that the American government, by allowing the NSA to do what it is doing, intended to spy on individual citizens. Basically, I believe them. They are trying to block terror, and probably they drifted into somewhat of a more general kind of operation.

The real answer is not to be taken by citizens, but by government. If the German government or the French government or other governments in Europe want to discuss this issue with America – and probably they need to discuss it with America – and they expect the Americans to be responsive, they have to sit together and clarify what happened. What is done by the American and what is done by other, including European, intelligence services and to set together rules for future behavior. My experience with the Americans is that once they accept a rule, they respect it.

Basically, within a government – like the NSA case or be it any other operation – I believe from my experience that it should be not just at the disposal of the executive branch, namely the heads of the intelligence services, but controlled by a triangle of the three branches.

Namely, the executive branch of course [and] the judicial branch. Everything should be under control of a judge or group of judges that have total access for the details of what is done and should prove it from a legal point of view. And then inspections by subcommittees of the parliaments with enough stuff to be able to learn and know what’s happened. I believe that was the case with the Americans, that both the Congress and judicial system had their representative. If it didn’t work well enough it should be improved. But it’s not something that we cannot think of.

The real challenge will be with the bad guys. There are some bad guys in the world, both cyber criminals and even some governments with bad intentions, where certain steps should still be taken in order to avoid terror and avoid breaking the foundations of world order. And that needs certain capabilities in these arenas of intelligence gathering.

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