Surveillance to Fight Terrorism?

The most commonly used argument to justify mass surveillance of the kind the NSA / GCHQ have been shown to undertake is on the grounds of protecting civilians against political violence.

This was the default argument made when the Snowden revelations were first published with various US government officials stating that information gleaned through mass surveillance had been used to stop more than 50 terrorist attacks in the US and abroad. However, these statements were soon shown to be false as two US Senators – Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) – having scrutinised confidential documents of the intelligence agencies, have reported that collection of phone records has played “little or no role” in the disruption of terrorist plots.

The Snowden revelations have demonstrated what many have feared for long (and that the EU has previously complained of in relation to the Echelon program) – that the US and its allies (in the 5 eyes) are using this illegitimately gleaned information to further their political and economic ends.

Commercial Espionage:

Despite the consistent claims that information sourced through global surveillance is not used for ‘commercial purposes’ what other explanation could there be for the following…

1) the NSA has been shown to have spied on Petrobras, the Brasilian Oil Company which was involved in the auction of oil-fields of the coast of Brasil

2) Canadian Intelligence Agencies spied on Brazil’s Mines and Energy Ministry

3) The US has spied on an American law firm that was advising the Indonesian government on trade disputes with America (pertaining to the export of shrimp and clove cigarettes to America from Indonesia)

4) The US has broken into the SWIFT networks which is used by banks around the world to ensure financial settlements – this is the network used by Mastercard and Visa for instance to settle payments.

5) The NSA has spied on and embedded backdoors in the Chinese telecom manufacturer Huawei’s products as well as carried out surveillance of Chinese banks and telecom companies

6) Spying on the EU competition commissioner

7) Australian intelligence agencies have been shown to have spied on government officials of Timor Leste (formerly East Timor) during negotiations regarding oil exploration rights in the East Timor sea


8) Spying on the French defence and logistics provider Thales Group

9) Spying on unnamed Japanese companies for economic gain

10) Numerous German companies, and in particular ISPs have been targeted by the NSA

Political Espionage:

In addition to commercial espionage, the US and its allies have indulged in targeted surveillance of global political leaders and political events. Information gathered through these means has been used, often in real time, to enable US delegations to gain critical advance information relevant to international negotiations.
This not only violates the sovereignty of countries, but also poses great dangers to negotiation and decision making processes – for instance would it be entirely fanciful to suggest that personal communications of political leaders could be used for  purposes of blackmail?

1) The NSA has spied on the communications of the Brasilian President, Dilma Roussef

2) Spying on communications of the French Foreign Ministry and various other political targets in France

3) Spying on numerous public institutions in Mexico including public administration offices and communications of the President, Enrique Pena Nieto

4)  Climate Change talks at Copenhagen in 2009 and Bali in 2007


5) The EU parliament and various other EU offices

6) Communications of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel and ex-Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder

7) Comunications of Bali’s head of police

8) Real time spying on negotiations at the G20 summit of 200

9) Communications of Arab, Iranian and Syrian leaders (including Iranian head of state Ayatollah Ali Khamenei)

10) The IAEA

11) Spying on French telecom corporation Alcatel Lucent which operates in sensitive areas of telecommunications networks – including rendering services to the French navy

12) Targeting Indian officials involved in space exploration and nuclear weapons research


13) The Indian embassies in the USA

14) 38 embassies within the US

15) UN offices, UN offices of numerous countries, communications of the UN Secretary General, UN officials in Mogadishu, Somalia

16) Spying on 35 unnamed world leaders

17) Spying on the Israeli Prime Minister and Defence Minister

18) Spying on Economic Community of West African States, African Union Special Representative for Darfur, various African heads of state

19) Spying on Venezuelan officials and government communications to ensure that the US was successful in “preventing Venezuela from achieving its regional leadership objectives and pursuing policies that negatively impact U.S. global interests.” The NSA was also tracking monetary flows to Caracas from China (radar systems and oil drilling), Russia (MIG fighter planes and shoulder-fired missiles) and Iran (a factory to manufacture drone aircraft).

20) Spying on the head of the Africa Finance Corporation

21) Communications of the Afghan President Hamid Karzai

22) Spying on officials working in Nigerian state security


23) Spying on the headquarters of the World Bank and IMF

24) Spying on the Pope and other Vatican officials

25) Spying on Chinese government officials

Other targets of the NSA include:

1) UNICEF and charitable organizations such as the Medicines du Monde, World Vision, Somalia and Ideas Centre, Geneva

2) The NSA has broken into the news agency Al Jazeera’s computer systems and tapped their communications

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