Widespread electronic spying that ignited a political firestorm in France and Spain recently was carried out by their own intelligence services and not by the National Security Agency, U.S. officials say.
The phone records collected by the Europeans—in war zones and other areas outside their borders—then were shared with the NSA, U.S. officials said, as part of efforts to help protect American and allied troops and civilians.
The new disclosure upends the version of events as reported in Europe in recent days, and puts a spotlight on the role of European intelligence services that work closely with the NSA, suggesting a greater level of European involvement in global surveillance.
Officials privately have said the disclosures in the European press put the U.S. in a difficult bind. The U.S. wants to correct the record about the extent of NSA spying but doing so in this case would require it to expose its allies’ intelligence operations, which could compromise cooperation in the future as well as ongoing intelligence efforts.
U.S. officials said the Snowden-provided documents had been misinterpreted and actually show phone records that were collected by French and Spanish intelligence agencies, and then shared with the NSA, according to officials briefed on those discussions.
U.S. intelligence officials studied the document published by Le Monde and have determined that it wasn’t assembled by the NSA. Rather, the document appears to be a slide that was assembled based on NSA data received from French intelligence, a U.S. official said.
Based on an analysis of the document, the U.S. concluded that the phone records the French had collected were actually from outside of France, and then were shared with the U.S. The data don’t show that the French spied on their own people inside France.
The journalists with Snowden's stolen files either don't know what they are reading, are deliberately misinterpreting what they are reading, and/or are omitting details that provide context to the classified information they report. They count on the fact that US intelligence officials can't provide that context or details.
Also, when people say "everyone does it," they aren't shitting you:
Updated to add this from the NSA hearing occurring now:
Updated to add:
Updated again to add:
Updated once again to add:
Washington Post story on today's hearing including the above info.
Russia and China's Systematic Spying on the Finnish Foreign Ministry
Because the USA is like, the only country that spies or something.
Project Rahab uses SIGINT — intelligence based on interception of signals, conversations and electronic communications — to gather information on foreign business competition that can benefit German companies. BND officers have penetrated computer networks and databases in countries including Russia, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Italy, and the United States.
In his book Spies Among Us, former NSA intelligence and computer systems analyst Ira Winkler details Project Rahab hackers' successful infiltration of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), which provides the network for financial institutions worldwide to send and receive trillions of dollars in a secure and reliable environment. The ability to monitor SWIFT transactions would provide German businesses a leg up — at least. (As it happens, last month, the German magazine Der Spiegel used documents acquired by Edward Snowden to break the news that the NSA monitors SWIFT.)
Project Rahab poses a far greater threat to U.S. national security. Of particular concern, according to Winkler, is "the apparent willingness of German businesses to funnel sensitive information and technology to nations that are hostile to the United States." For example, Iran. Much of what Iran has acquired is nuclear technology.
"Snowden couldn't have played better into China's strategy for protecting its cyber activities if he had been doing it on purpose,'' one American intelligence official says.
Snowden's revelations quickly veered away from what he called the NSA's "domestic surveillance state" to overseas espionage by the United States. After fleeing to Hong Kong, he provided local reporters with NSA documents and told them the United States was hacking major Chinese telecommunications companies, a Beijing university and the corporate owner of the region's most extensive fiber-optic submarine cable network. That information, government officials and industry experts say, is now used by the Chinese to deflect criticisms of their hacking, both in meetings with the administration and at cyber security conferences.
The activities of the two sides, however, are vastly different in scope and intent. The United States engages in widespread electronic espionage, but that classified information cannot legally be handed over to private industry. China is using its surveillance to steal trade secrets, harm international competitors and undermine American businesses.
"Snowden changed the argument from one of 'The Chinese are doing this, it's intolerable' to 'Look, the U.S. government spies, so everybody spies,' '' says Richard Bejtlich, chief security officer at Mandiant, the firm that linked hacking intrusions in America to the Chinese military. "Of course the U.S. spies, but none of what the U.S. is doing is benefiting American business, and pretty much everything the Chinese are doing is benefiting Chinese businesses."
China does not limit its computer espionage to America: All of western Europe, Australia, Japan, and other industrialized nations have been targeted, a fact the Obama administration had hoped to leverage into unified international pressure against Beijing. But subsequent Snowden disclosures about American surveillance of allied countries and world leaders (including German Chancellor Angela Merkel) have robbed the United States of the ability to persuade other countries to join it in condemning China.
"I don't think that point is going to win the day with Angela Merkel anymore,'' says Jason Healey, director of the Cyber Statecraft Initiative at the Atlantic Council, a national security think tank in Washington. "Certainly no one cares anymore about our whining about Chinese espionage. The time we had for making the case on that is long gone. Internationally, I don't see how we recover.''
Some security industry and former intelligence officials say they originally believed Snowden's apparent outrage at espionage by governments might lead him to expose activities by the Chinese, who use their hacking skills not only for economic competition but to track and damage dissidents overseas and monitor their citizens. There was good reason to believe Snowden had plenty of details about Beijing's activities - he has publicly stated that as an NSA contractor he targeted Chinese operations and taught a course on Chinese cyber counterintelligence. And while he says he turned over his computerized files of NSA documents to journalists in Hong Kong, he boasts that he is so familiar with Chinese hacking techniques that there is no chance the government there can gain access to his classified material.
But outside of American intelligence operations conducted there, Snowden has revealed nothing about surveillance and hacking in China, nor about the techniques he asserts he knows so well.
And there is plenty to disclose. The threat of Chinese espionage is so large that Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, who chaired the Intelligence Committee's Cyber Task Force, proclaimed it to be part of "the biggest transfer of wealth through theft and piracy in the history of mankind."