The Strategic Consequences of Edward Snowden's Revelations (I)
Dmitry MININ | 17.01.2014 | WORLD

The Strategic Consequences of Edward Snowden's Revelations (I)

«If I defected at all, I defected from the government to the public».

E. Snowden

Оne of the most important world events of 2013 was Edward Snowden's revelation that the United States is attempting to keep all of humanity under surveillance using cutting-edge electronic devices.

In the final days of last year, the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor addressed the international community in a televised speech in order to once again point out the seriousness of the problem. In his speech Snowden referred to George Orwell's novel ‘1984’, saying that the means of monitoring people described by Orwell (the novel was written in 1948) seem laughable compared to what is being done today... «The conversation occurring today», he said, «will determine the amount of trust we can place both in the technology that surrounds us and the government that regulates it».

Alas, Snowden's video speech was broadcast only on Britain's Channel 4. The largest world media outlets tried as much as they could to belittle the significance of his words. The BBC, for example, did this at the expense of the authority of its own colleagues, pointing out that previously Channel 4 had given airtime to former Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad and even cartoon character Marge Simpson.

However, as hard as Washington might try to forget the nightmare of Snowden's revelations as soon as possible, their influence on world politics continues, and in some areas has taken on a strategic character. 

1. At present it can already be said that in the United States themselves the program for the electronic monitoring of humanity will be subject to reform, but all in all it will survive, especially the international part.

For example, the Senate intelligence committee has approved a bill which would tighten control over American government programs for large-scale cyber-surveillance, but would not shut them down completely. In closed hearings, the committee supported the introduction of new limitations on intelligence agencies working with large bodies of communications data and a five-year storage period for such data, with 11 votes «for» and 4 «against». After the expected approval of the bill by Congress and a presidential signature, a special court will appoint outside experts for independent assessment of questions of interpretation of the law. The Senate will also confirm the director and inspector general of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).

Experts have written that «if the United States is to reduce its dangerous dependence on doublespeak, it will have to submit to real oversight and an open democratic debate about its policies. The era of easy hypocrisy is over». At one time it seemed that the turn could be more decisive, when on December 16, 2013 a Federal District Court in Washington found in favor of two Americans who were suing the government and the NSA and ordered an end to the collection of telephone conversation data. The court decided that the telephone data collection program violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects U.S. citizens from unjustified searches. The world took this as a prelude to the possible rehabilitation of Snowden.

However, on January 3 the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allowed intelligence agencies to continue the mass collection of telephone conversation data of American citizens. On the same day, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a protest in the U.S. Court of Appeals against the decision of the Federal District Court to block the wiretapping program. For now, «Big Brother» is winning this round.

It is expected that as a result of the scandal, NSA chief General Keith Alexander could resign in spring of 2014. He has headed the agency since 2005. The Guardian names Vice Admiral Michael Rogers, who is currently the commander of U.S. Navy Fleet Cyber Command, as one of the most likely candidates to become the new head of the NSA.

Does this mean a lessening of electronic wiretapping in the U.S. arsenal? Not at all. Despite all the noise around the global surveillance system, the White House does not intend to give up the potential it has created; rather, it plans to make this structure even more secret, hiding it in the depths of the Pentagon, to which many of the functions of the current NSA will be shifted, as it is a «more reliable» keeper of secrets. This was one of the recommendations of a special committee created by the order of President Obama after Snowden's revelations. It, in particular, suggested turning the information security administration of the NSA into a separate agency under the jurisdiction of the Pentagon.

In the next few years the Pentagon plans a fivefold increase in the size of Cyber Command, a specialized structure within the U.S. Armed Forces, from the current 900 people to 4900 people. Experts do not rule out that this figure could increase. Other divisions of the Pentagon are threatened with mass layoffs. Furthermore, Cyber Command could be given independent status. Currently it is part of U.S. Strategic Command, along with strategic nuclear forces, missile defense forces and space forces. It is expected that the new command, besides protecting networks and collecting information, will conduct cyber-attacks «against hostile states and organizations» from the territory of the U.S. or its allies. 

At the same time, serious lines of discord appeared between the intelligence community and the U.S. government when White House representatives constantly tried to pretend that they and the President had nothing to do with anything, and the intelligence agents had been eavesdropping of their own volition and for their own purposes. Among their ranks, such disloyal and unscrupulous behavior from their own customers caused indignation. In an article published in the Los Angeles Times, representatives of the American intelligence community refuted statements that President Barack Obama and his assistants did not know about such high-level wiretapping. The wiretapping of the telephone conversations of the leaders of friendly countries was conducted with White House and State Department approval, assert current and former American intelligence agents. «People are furious», said one high-ranking source. «This is officially the White House cutting off the intelligence community».

2. Besides the U.S., the other members of the so-called «Five Eyes» alliance, or the «Anglosphere» – Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – have also had significant political difficulties in their relations with other countries since their unsavory role in the system of global cyber-espionage came out. At the same time, it turns out that Washington was not entirely honest with its closest allies, either.

The U.S. signed a mutual non-spying agreement with Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Many others among their partners, such as Berlin and Paris, hope for such an agreement. But as it turns out, such a document is no barrier to the Americans. It is certain that Great Britain was also under surveillance, and most likely Canada and Australia as well. 

Relations in this sphere between London and Brussels have become seriously strained; Brussels intends to show the British directly that the practices of British intelligence agencies violate the general security policy of the European Union. In connection with what has happened, the European Commission plans to petition the European Court in Luxembourg to order an end to Britain's secret electronic surveillance if they violate EU laws. This possible ruling of the European Court would take priority over British national legislation. The European Commission essentially demanded that the British provide legal justification for the spying activities of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), which collected information on contacts on the Internet from over 200 fiber-optic communications channels. Germany is seriously displeased. British intelligence possessed an entire network of «electronic listening posts» just a few steps away from the Bundestag and the office of Chancellor Angela Merkel, using equipment located on the roof of the Embassy.

Problems have arisen in London's relations with a number of Middle Eastern countries, as it was revealed that spying on their leaders, including Israel, was being carried out in close cooperation with American intelligence agencies from the territory of Britain's Dhekelia military base on Cyprus, near the dividing line between the Greek and Turkish parts of the island. This was confirmed by investigative reporting based on Snowden's documents conducted by the Greek newspaper Ta Nea.

Many countries in the Asia-Pacific region have made complaints against Canberra when NSA documents revealed that Australia also allowed the Americans to use their embassies in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, China and East Timor for spying activities.

Canada, as it turned out, specialized in economic espionage in the interests of the «Five Eyes» alliance against Mexico and Brazil, particularly their petroleum companies.

3. Despite the demonstrative willingness of the U.S. to «amicably» settle all the complications which have arisen as a result of the revelation that it is spying on its closest allies, the worm of doubt which has lodged itself in them will never disappear. It is no longer possible to explain these facts by the need to fight terrorism. It has become obvious to the leaders of countries allied with Washington that the U.S. thus kept them under constant control, achieving one-sided advantages. They do not speak of it loudly, but there is no doubt that they are drawing conclusions. 

The Chancellor of Germany demanded that the U.S. sign an agreement with Berlin and Paris by the end of the year promising not to spy on one another. Spying on America's two closest allies must be stopped, she declared. «This initiative could be supported by other members of the European Union in the future», stated Merkel. Leaders of EU countries have expressed their support for the French-German plan. «Friendship and partnership between EU countries, including Germany, and the U.S. are not a one-way street», noted Merkel. «We are depending on them. But the U.S. also has weighty reasons to have friends in the world».

Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, stated, «We cannot negotiate on a large trans-Atlantic market if there is the slightest suspicion that our partners are spying on the offices of our chief negotiator».

However, it would be naive to assume that Washington, which has stable and deeply-rooted positions in Europe, will allow it to slip out of its strong cyber-embrace so easily. This, in particular, became clear late last year when the issue of whether to invite Edward Snowden to a Europarliament hearing on December 18, or at least hold a remote video conversation with him, was being decided. A representative of the «consistently atlantist» European People's Party, which has the largest fraction in the European Parliament, reported on December 12 that conservative members of the European Parliament had voted not to allow Snowden's video message to European Parliament members, thus blocking it. According to the «consistent atlantist», such an action would have «negative consequences for transatlantic relations, which is highly undesirable on the threshold of signing a free trade agreement between the U.S. and the EU».

Such a strategic U.S. ally as Israel also was among the victims; it learned that its leaders were under total surveillance, including from Jerusalem hotel rooms rented near the government quarter. And this when for many years the Americans have refused to release Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a lifetime sentence, from prison, saying that such behavior is «amoral and unacceptable in relations between close allies». Now Israel is speaking of the «monstrous hypocrisy» of the White House and demanding that Pollard be freed in what is almost an ultimatum.

(To be continued)