Edward Snowden and The Five Eyes

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Have you ever heard of the “Five Eyes”?

More formally known by the acronym the UKUSA Agreement, The Five Eyes Alliance was first signed in March 1946 by the United Kingdom and the United States. The alliance was later extended to encompass the three Commonwealth realms of Canada, Australia and New Zealand. According to Wikipedia, the dragnet system of data interception has been abused for many years after the Cold War. While project ECHELON, also known as SIGINT has been around for many years, these recent revelations have resurfaced past controversial uses of the program.

Intelligence monitoring of citizens, and their communications, in the area covered by the AUSCANNZUKUS security agreement has caused concern. British journalist Duncan Campbelland New Zealand journalist Nicky Hager asserted in the 1990s that the United States was exploiting ECHELON traffic for industrial espionage.

An article in the US newspaper Baltimore Sun reported in 1995 that European aerospace company Airbus lost a $6 billion contract with Saudi Arabia in 1994 after the US National Security Agency reported that Airbus officials had been bribing Saudi officials to secure the contract.

In 2001, the Temporary Committee on the ECHELON Interception System recommended to the European Parliament that citizens of member states routinely use cryptography in their communications to protect their privacy, because economic espionage with ECHELON has been conducted by the US intelligence agencies.

The agreement of between the Five Eyes was established for the purpose of sharing intelligence, especially signals intelligence.  Recently there has been a very public leak of evidence suggesting that this system has been systematically abused in order to gain access into private citizen’s information. Such collation of data would be considered unlawful if it were not conducted through intermediately bodies such as the NSA for the GHCQ, and then shared with those in the alliance.

By May last year 300 analysts from GCHQ, and 250 from the NSA, had been assigned to sift through the flood of data. The Americans were given guidelines for its use, but were told in legal briefings by GCHQ lawyers: “We have a light oversight regime compared with the US”. When it came to judging the necessity and proportionality of what they were allowed to look for, would-be American users were told it was ‘your call’.

The GCHQ, the British equivalent of the NSA, has been accused of “ominous” spying that goes far beyond the NSA’s data retention program. IT expert Constanze Kurz stated in an interview with German news outlet DW, that it was “surprising to see the extent to which these agencies were able to operate without legal intervention.

The British as well as the Americans have rules for this groundless monitoring – namely that part of the communication has to take place outside of the US or Great Britain. By cooperating, the American and British agencies can now exchange the data mutually. And that amounts to a large percentage of global communication. With the British, we’re talking about over… [20 million gigabytes]… The number of people who are involved there is enormous and actually no longer in acceptable relationship to a democracy.

Through this system of collaboration, the two spy agencies are able to share information on innocent citizens within a supposedly “legal” framework. The GCHQ has had access to the US internet monitoring programme PRISM since at least June 2010. In return for this privilege  it allows the NSA to view the millions of gigabytes of information it collects travelling across the transatlantic cables, collated through it’s eerily similar “Tempora” electronic surveillance program.

The slow trickle of leaks has kept the story very much in the public domain, yet there are increasing efforts to split public opinion over the issue. The common thread of argument used against the leaks is that Snowden is a traitor. This is an irrelevant point – what is important however is that this system of surveillance operates largely in secret and with impunity. Snowden has become increasingly subject to unnecessary and unwarranted attacks on his character. Snowden is no “traitor”, and equally he is no “hero”. He has performed a valuable service to society, and should be commended for his efforts. But as he expressed himself from the very beginning, this should not be about whether we ought to vilify or venerate the ex CIA employee.

But the fact of the matter is, the US is being humiliated in this very public hunt for Snowden, according to commentator Simon Tisdall writing for the CNN.

Every country has its own experience of U.S. bullying. In Britain, the case of Pentagon hacker Gary McKinnon, accused by the U.S. of the “biggest military computer hack of all time”, became a cause celebre.

In the end even Britain’s sycophantic Cameron government was obliged, by force of public opinion, to throw out the U.S. extradition demand.

Extra-judicial assassination, drones, killer robots, extraordinary rendition, black ops, wet ops, psy-ops, silly ops… The world is a bit tired of all this American posturing, grandstanding, and self-serving banditry.

Regardless of what we think of Snowden, and whether he is a traitor or whistleblower, lets recap on what’s been leaked so far:

    1. The publication of Snowden’s leaks began with a top secret order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) sent to Verizon on behalf of the NSA, demanding the cell phone records of all of Verizon Business Network Services’ American customers for the three month period ending in July.
    2. Another secret document published by the Guardian revealed the NSA’s own rules for when it makes broad exceptions to its foreign vs. U.S. persons distinction, accessing Americans’ data and holding onto it indefinitely.
    3. Another leaked slide deck revealed a software tool called Boundless Informant, which the NSA appears to use for tracking the origin of data it collects. While Iran, Pakistan and Jordan appeared to be the most surveilled countries according to the map, it also pointed to significant data collection from the United States.
    4. A leaked executive order from President Obama shows the administration asked intelligence agencies to draw up a list of potential offensive cyber attack targets around the world.
    5. Documents leaked to the Guardian revealed a five-year-old British intelligence scheme to tap transatlantic fibre optic cables to gather data. Much of the data is shared with the NSA, which had assigned 250 analysts to sift through it as of May of last year.
    6. Another GCHQ project revealed to the Guardian through leaked documents intercepted the communications of delegates to the G20 summit of world leaders in London in 2009.
    7. Snowden showed the Hong Kong newspaper the South China Morning Post documents that it said outlined extensive hacking of Chinese and Hong Kong targets by the NSA since 2009, with 61,000 targets globally and “hundreds” in China.
    8. The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald has said that Snowden provided him “thousands” of documents, of which “dozens” are newsworthy. And Snowden himself has said he’d like to expose his trove of leaks to the global media so that each country’s reporters can decide whether “U.S. network operations against their people should be published.”

(note: thanks to reddit user earlsweatscript for this condensed list)

I think that all these supposedly damaging secrets do not encumber the safety of US or British citizens, but largely impeach on the liberties of people worldwide. What makes spying on foreigners any more moral that spying on your own citizens? And our countries are already doing just this, as has clearly been shown by the leaked information.

We should be worried that these powers are being abused for other purposes. For instance, the US Department of Justice targeted the records of more than 20 phone lines of AP reporters and editors in secret in April and May in an attempt to discover the source of leaked information about a foiled bomb plot in Yemen. Clearly this would stifle future attempts at whistleblowing  especially if leakers are afraid of their own safety and anonymity

We should be worried, not about the supposed terrorist threat, but about our privacy and safety being compromised by our own governments. But there are powers that are ready to stand up to the US government over this grievance. And I’m not talking about countries like Russia. Putin’s statement on the issue was largely political and somewhat ironic, considering his long list of human rights abuses. But Latin American countries are not conceding, and defying the demands for Snowden’s extradition. European countries are joining them also in the fight for truth and justice. Germany and Iceland have expressed their concern over these recent revelations, and Venezuelan president said he would not cow to US threats. It is now suspected Snowden may seek asylum in one of these brave countries, according to a letter to the Ecuador published yesterday.

I understand and appreciate that for a lot of people, it’s hard to care about these kinds of injustices perpetuated by our governments  especially when they seemingly have no direct consequence on our daily lives. With growing inequality, unemployment and the like, people seem to have more pressing concerns than these invasions of our privacy. But it’s important we speak up and be heard, not just for our own sakes, but for our children, for our future, and most importantly, for Edward Snowden. If caught, he could face a life in prison or worse for blowing the whistle on these grave intrusions on internet freedom and privacy.

First they used threat of child porn to curb our internet freedom. Then they used the threat of piracy. Ultimately however it was terrorism that gave them the power to reach into our private lives without proper mandate. Let me be clear however – I am not afraid of being spied on, but I am worried. I am worried for the future of the internet, and the unprecedented freedom it has enjoyed to date.  I am worried about our liberty and ability to have private lives, to associate without government oversight. We must stand up, and make our voices heard if we ever expect to claw back our freedoms, and save the internet from the clutches of these sadistic totalitarian rulers.



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