The Strategic Consequences of Edward Snowden's Revelations (II)
Dmitry MININ | 19.01.2014 | WORLD

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

Part I

4. Snowden's revelations have had a significant effect on U.S. relations with Brazil. 

President Dilma Rousseff, who canceled a state visit to Washington because of the revealed surveillance against her, is in no hurry to reschedule the visit and insists on a serious change in the White House's policy on cyber-security. A $4 billion deal for the Brazilians to purchase American fighter planes fell through. Rousseff rejected Washington's explanations that the intelligence activities of the NSA are directed «exclusively at preventing and detecting terrorist threats and are not motivated by commercial interests». According to her, the joint infiltration of U.S. and Canadian intelligence agencies into the Brazilian mining ministry and the hacking of the computer networks of the Petrobras oil company are nothing other than industrial espionage. The Canadian ambassador was summoned to the Brazilian Ministry of External Relations, where an explanation was demanded for the «serious and unacceptable violations» of Brazil's sovereignty and invasion of the privacy of the commercial activities of companies.

The scandal is expanding, as the NSA used the telecommunications infrastructure of Brazil in order to spy on the governments of other Latin American states as well. «I get goose bumps when I hear that they are spying on us using their agents in Brazil», stated Argentinian president Cristina Fernández. Mexico, in turn, expressed indignation regarding the fact that NSA employees read the e-mail of the country's former president Felipe Calderon and Mexican ministers. The Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs called this practice «unacceptable, illegal and in violation of Mexican and international law».

Now Latin American countries are considering the possibility of creating a communications system which would protect them from U.S. intelligence activities. The new project is under consideration by the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which unites 12 states. 

In Asia, besides China and India, Indonesia has been seriously affected by U.S. actions. There, after reports appeared that Australian and U.S. intelligence had been conducting surveillance on Indonesian leaders, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and wiretapping the telephones of Indonesian citizens, there were mass protests. A statement from the Indonesian foreign ministry notes that the actions of the U.S. are considered not only «an unsanctioned intrusion, but also a serious violation of diplomatic rules and ethical norms». 

5. Although it does not have any way to directly accuse Russia of «blowing up a scandal around Snowden» thanks to Russia's reserved position, Washington is nevertheless trying, with the help of its allies, to undermine trust toward everything coming out of Moscow. 

For example, a clumsy attempt was made during the last G20 summit in September 2013 in St. Petersburg, which was after Snowden's arrival in Sheremetyevo, to accuse Russia of giving flash drives and cell phone chargers to delegates and journalists which were actually devices for hacking into computers and cell phones. Information about this was only published in Italian tabloids, and with caveats that all of this might be nothing but a provocation. Although it is theoretically possible to create something of that sort, such devices only make sense if they are returned to the giver. And giving evidence to «nowhere» against oneself is ridiculous. The sensation did not last long. Russia's foreign ministry made a statement refuting the reports that it was trying to spy on the representatives of foreign states at the G20 summit in St. Petersburg, calling these accusations «an attempt to divert attention from the revelations related to America's NSA». At the same time, Russia is already drawing necessary conclusions with regard to the need to protect its communications systems. In particular, the creation of a cyber command in the Russian Armed Forces has been announced.

In all, in the opinion of renowned French Kremlinologist Thomas Gomart, the Snowden affair is perceived by the world as «the latest moral defeat of the U.S». «Just like Guantanamo, the word PRISM has become a symbol of the departure from democratic values in a country which cannot find the balance between its constitutional principles and the war on terrorism».

6. Leading international organizations are also continuing to learn from the reports of total surveillance America is conducting on them. Among the objects of surveillance were not only the UN, the IMF, the World Bank and the IAEA, but also UNICEF, Doctors without Borders and others. 

32 newspapers around the world published an appeal from writers protesting against the systematic collection of personal information on the Internet. The text was signed by 560 writers from 83 countries, including such living classics as Umberto Eco, Gunther Grass and Tom Stoppard. 

«Surveillance is theft», declare the writers. «This data is not public property: it belongs to us. When it is used to predict our behaviour, we are robbed of something else: the principle of free will crucial to democratic liberty... WE CALL ON THE UNITED NATIONS to acknowledge the central importance of protecting civil rights in the digital age, and to create an International Bill of Digital Rights. WE CALL ON GOVERNMENTS to sign and adhere to such a convention». Note that Russia has been advocating such an initiative for several years already.

On December 19, 2013 the UN General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution on the protection of Internet users from illegal surveillance. The «Five Eyes Alliance» represented by the U.S., Great Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, which had tried hard to scuttle the resolution, did not even dare to vote against it; they did, however, get the wording which states that spying can be a violation of human rights changed. As stated in the document, full privacy should be guaranteed on the Internet. «The unlawful wiretapping and monitoring of electronic communications of citizens is impermissible and must be stopped». The resolution urges all UN countries to conduct necessary reforms of their intelligence agencies. In particular, it suggests creating independent oversight mechanisms which would determine the appropriateness and justification for surveillance of the Internet in each specific case.

7. A wave of creation of in-house systems and means for protecting electronic communications has arisen with the aim of overcoming dependence on the U.S. 

Many large Internet companies have warned that American business could lose part of its profits abroad, as clients, having lost their faith in the Americans, will give preference to local providers. According to data from the American research group Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, the losses of technological companies due to the NSA scandal could reach $35 billion by 2016, as users are doubtful about how reliably these companies ensure the confidentiality of data. Eight companies, including Microsoft Corp, Twitter, LinkedIn Corp, Yahoo Inc and AOL Inc., signed a letter in which they set down their concerns. They are afraid that «people will not use technology they don't trust». 

And the competition does not sleep. The Chinese giant Huawei is preparing to expand on the telecommunications technology market, guaranteeing its clients complete freedom from «back doors» and the capability for reliable self-coding. The Chinese plan to snatch a significant share of the clients of American companies, especially in the third world. They have proclaimed their commercial slogan to be «security».

There is a boom in the IT business in Germany. The telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom has reported its intention to create its own system, together with other companies; this system would include a mail service and search engine and would make it possible to prevent the collection of information from citizens of Germany and the EU in general. The field of «cloud» technologies for storing electronic data can expect a yearly growth of 37 percent over coming years, forecast specialists from the Association of the German Internet Industry. «We Europeans must work together to overcome our dependence on America and China and deliver strong technologies ourselves», said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Politicians have started talking about Europe's need for an Internet analog of the airplane manufacturer EADS, which thanks to its Airbus liners has been able to catch up to Boeing.

But war is war: if armor is made stronger, ammunition is improved as well. As The Washington Post reported on January 3, the NSA is trying to create its own quantum computer which would be able to crack practically any encryption system. If it is created, no one in the world will be able to feel secure. The project is part of a $79.7 million research project titled «Penetrating Hard Targets». Most of the work is being conducted in a physics laboratory in College Park, Maryland.

Unlike the bits which are used in regular computers, a quantum computer is based on qubits, which randomly shift into one of their states. It is expected that a quantum computer will be able to solve certain tasks many times faster than an ordinary computer, as it does not carry out operations one by one; it skips steps that are not necessary for solving the problem.

While some time ago scientists said that creating a quantum computer would take at least 100 years, now, according to Seth Lloyd, a leading specialist on quantum mechanics from MIT, one could say that the goal will be reached within the next decade, but no earlier than 5 years, as the scientists still have a lot of work to do in this field. As with any great invention, quantum computers could accomplish many grandiose tasks, including the creation of artificial intelligence. However, when the main initiator of their creation is the NSA, it is not thoughts of the benefit of humanity that come to mind, but thoughts of the establishment of total control over humanity…