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News :: Human Rights
What Europe Should Know about US Mass Surveillance by Edward Snowden
08 Mar 2014
Address to investigative panel of the European Parliament looking into the nature and scope of U.S. surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency and its partner agencies in Europe. Following the statement are answers to written questions posed by the panel to Mr. Snowden.
Click on image for a larger version

NSA snowden.jpg
Whistleblower delivers written testimony to European Parliament

by Edward Snowden, March 08, 2014 ( )

– Introductory Statement:

I would like to thank the European Parliament for the invitation to provide testimony for your inquiry into the Electronic Mass Surveillance of EU Citizens. The suspicionless surveillance programs of the NSA, GCHQ, and so many others that we learned about over the last year endanger a number of basic rights which, in aggregate, constitute the foundation of liberal societies.

The first principle any inquiry must take into account is that despite extraordinary political pressure to do so, no western government has been able to present evidence showing that such programs are necessary. In the United States, the heads of our spying services once claimed that 54 terrorist attacks had been stopped by mass surveillance, but two independent White House reviews with access to the classified evidence on which this claim was founded concluded it was untrue, as did a Federal Court.

Looking at the US government's reports here is valuable. The most recent of these investigations, performed by the White House's Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, determined that the mass surveillance program investigated was not only ineffective – they found it had never stopped even a single imminent terrorist attack – but that it had no basis in law. In less diplomatic language, they discovered the United States was operating an unlawful mass surveillance program, and the greatest success the program had ever produced was discovering a taxi driver in the United States transferring $8,500 dollars to Somalia in 2007.

After noting that even this unimpressive success – uncovering evidence of a single unlawful bank transfer – would have been achieved without bulk collection, the Board recommended that the unlawful mass surveillance program be ended. Unfortunately, we know from press reports that this program is still operating today.

I believe that suspicionless surveillance not only fails to make us safe, but it actually makes us less safe. By squandering precious, limited resources on "collecting it all," we end up with more analysts trying to make sense of harmless political dissent and fewer investigators running down real leads. I believe investing in mass surveillance at the expense of traditional, proven methods can cost lives, and history has shown my concerns are justified.

Despite the extraordinary intrusions of the NSA and EU national governments into private communications world-wide, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the "Underwear Bomber," was allowed to board an airplane traveling from Europe to the United States in 2009. The 290 persons on board were not saved by mass surveillance, but by his own incompetence, when he failed to detonate the device. While even Mutallab's own father warned the US government he was dangerous in November 2009, our resources were tied up monitoring online games and tapping German ministers. That extraordinary tip-off didn't get Mutallab a dedicated US investigator. All we gave him was a US visa.

Nor did the US government's comprehensive monitoring of Americans at home stop the Boston Bombers. Despite the Russians specifically warning us about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the FBI couldn't do more than a cursory investigation – although they did plenty of worthless computer-based searching – and failed to discover the plot. 264 people were injured, and 3 died. The resources that could have paid for a real investigation had been spent on monitoring the call records of everyone in America.

This should not have happened. I worked for the United States' Central Intelligence Agency. The National Security Agency. The Defense Intelligence Agency. I love my country, and I believe that spying serves a vital purpose and must continue. And I have risked my life, my family, and my freedom to tell you the truth.

The NSA granted me the authority to monitor communications world-wide using its mass surveillance systems, including within the United States. I have personally targeted individuals using these systems under both the President of the United States' Executive Order 12333 and the US Congress' FAA 702. I know the good and the bad of these systems, and what they can and cannot do, and I am telling you that without getting out of my chair, I could have read the private communications of any member of this committee, as well as any ordinary citizen. I swear under penalty of perjury that this is true.

These are not the capabilities in which free societies invest. Mass surveillance violates our rights, risks our safety, and threatens our way of life.

If even the US government, after determining mass surveillance is unlawful and unnecessary, continues to operate to engage in mass surveillance, we have a problem. I consider the United States Government to be generally responsible, and I hope you will agree with me. Accordingly, this begs the question many legislative bodies implicated in mass surveillance have sought to avoid: if even the US is willing to knowingly violate the rights of billions of innocents – and I say billions without exaggeration – for nothing more substantial than a "potential" intelligence advantage that has never materialized, what are other governments going to do?

Whether we like it or not, the international norms of tomorrow are being constructed today, right now, by the work of bodies like this committee. If liberal states decide that the convenience of spies is more valuable than the rights of their citizens, the inevitable result will be states that are both less liberal and less safe. Thank you.

I will now respond to the submitted questions. Please bear in mind that I will not be disclosing new information about surveillance programs: I will be limiting my testimony to information regarding what responsible media organizations have entered into the public domain. For the record, I also repeat my willingness to provide testimony to the United States Congress, should they decide to consider the issue of unconstitutional mass surveillance.

– Rapporteur Claude Moraes MEP, S&D Group:

Given the focus of this Inquiry is on the impact of mass surveillance on EU citizens, could you elaborate on the extent of cooperation that exists between the NSA and EU Member States in terms of the transfer and collection of bulk data of EU citizens?

A number of memos from the NSA's Foreign Affairs Directorate have been published in the press.

One of the foremost activities of the NSA's FAD, or Foreign Affairs Division, is to pressure or incentivize EU member states to change their laws to enable mass surveillance. Lawyers from the NSA, as well as the UK's GCHQ, work very hard to search for loopholes in laws and constitutional protections that they can use to justify indiscriminate, dragnet surveillance operations that were at best unwittingly authorized by lawmakers. These efforts to interpret new powers out of vague laws is an intentional strategy to avoid public opposition and lawmakers’ insistence that legal limits be respected, effects the GCHQ internally described in its own documents as "damaging public debate."

In recent public memory, we have seen these FAD "legal guidance" operations occur in both Sweden and the Netherlands, and also faraway New Zealand. Germany was pressured to modify its G-10 law to appease the NSA, and it eroded the rights of German citizens under their constitution. Each of these countries received instruction from the NSA, sometimes under the guise of the US Department of Defense and other bodies, on how to degrade the legal protections of their countries' communications. The ultimate result of the NSA's guidance is that the right of ordinary citizens to be free from unwarranted interference is degraded, and systems of intrusive mass surveillance are being constructed in secret within otherwise liberal states, often without the full awareness of the public.

Once the NSA has successfully subverted or helped repeal legal restrictions against unconstitutional mass surveillance in partner states, it encourages partners to perform “access operations.” Access operations are efforts to gain access to the bulk communications of all major telecommunications providers in their jurisdictions, normally beginning with those that handle the greatest volume of communications. Sometimes the NSA provides consultation, technology, or even the physical hardware itself for partners to "ingest" these massive amounts of data in a manner that allows processing, and it does not take long to access everything. Even in a country the size of the United States, gaining access to the circuits of as few as three companies can provide access to the majority of citizens' communications. In the UK, Verizon, British Telecommunications, Vodafone, Global Crossing, Level 3, Viatel, and Interoute all cooperate with the GCHQ, to include cooperation beyond what is legally required.

By the time this general process has occurred, it is very difficult for the citizens of a country to protect the privacy of their communications, and it is very easy for the intelligence services of that country to make those communications available to the NSA – even without having explicitly shared them. The nature of the NSA's "NOFORN," or NO FOREIGN NATIONALS classification, when combined with the fact that the memorandum agreements between NSA and its foreign partners have a standard disclaimer stating they provide no enforceable rights, provides both the NSA with a means of monitoring its partner's citizens without informing the partner, and the partner with a means of plausible deniability.

The result is a European bazaar, where an EU member state like Denmark may give the NSA access to a tapping center on the (unenforceable) condition that NSA doesn't search it for Danes, and Germany may give the NSA access to another on the condition that it doesn't search for Germans. Yet the two tapping sites may be two points on the same cable, so the NSA simply captures the communications of the German citizens as they transit Denmark, and the Danish citizens as they transit Germany, all the while considering it entirely in accordance with their agreements. Ultimately, each EU national government's spy services are independently hawking domestic accesses to the NSA, GCHQ, FRA, and the like without having any awareness of how their individual contribution is enabling the greater patchwork of mass surveillance against ordinary citizens as a whole.

The Parliament should ask the NSA and GCHQ to deny that they monitor the communications of EU citizens, and in the absence of an informative response, I would suggest that the current state of affairs is the inevitable result of subordinating the rights of the voting public to the prerogatives of State Security Bureaus. The surest way for any nation to become subject to unnecessary surveillance is to allow its spies to dictate its policy.

The right to be free unwarranted intrusion into our private effects – our lives and possessions, our thoughts and communications – is a human right. It is not granted by national governments and it cannot be revoked by them out of convenience. Just as we do not allow police officers to enter every home to fish around for evidence of undiscovered crimes, we must not allow spies to rummage through our every communication for indications of disfavored activities.

Could you comment on the activities of EU Member States intelligence agencies in these operations and how advanced their capabilities have become in comparison with the NSA?

The best testimony I can provide on this matter without pre-empting the work of journalists is to point to the indications that the NSA not only enables and guides, but shares some mass surveillance systems and technologies with the agencies of EU member states. As it pertains to the issue of mass surveillance, the difference between, for example, the NSA and FRA is not one of technology, but rather funding and manpower. Technology is agnostic of nationality, and the flag on the pole outside of the building makes systems of mass surveillance no more or less effective.

In terms of the mass surveillance programmes already revealed through the press, what proportion of the mass surveillance activities do these programmes account for? Are there many other programmes, undisclosed as of yet, that would impact on EU citizens rights?

There are many other undisclosed programs that would impact EU citizens' rights, but I will leave the public interest determinations as to which of these may be safely disclosed to responsible journalists in coordination with government stakeholders.

– Shadow Rapporteur Sophie Int'Veld MEP, ALDE Group:

Are there adequate procedures in the NSA for staff to signal wrongdoing?

Unfortunately not. The culture within the US Intelligence Community is such that reporting serious concerns about the legality or propriety of programs is much more likely to result in your being flagged as a troublemaker than to result in substantive reform. We should remember that many of these programs were well known to be problematic to the legal offices of agencies such as the GCHQ and other oversight officials. According to their own documents, the priority of the overseers is not to assure strict compliance with the law and accountability for violations of law, but rather to avoid, and I quote, "damaging public debate," to conceal the fact that for-profit companies have gone "well beyond" what is legally required of them, and to avoid legal review of questionable programs by open courts. In my personal experience, repeatedly raising concerns about legal and policy matters with my co-workers and superiors resulted in two kinds of responses.

The first were well-meaning but hushed warnings not to "rock the boat," for fear of the sort of retaliation that befell former NSA whistleblowers like Wiebe, Binney, and Drake. All three men reported their concerns through the official, approved process, and all three men were subject to armed raids by the FBI and threats of criminal sanction. Everyone in the Intelligence Community is aware of what happens to people who report concerns about unlawful but authorized operations.

The second were similarly well-meaning but more pointed suggestions, typically from senior officials, that we should let the issue be someone else's problem. Even among the most senior individuals to whom I reported my concerns, no one at NSA could ever recall an instance where an official complaint had resulted in an unlawful program being ended, but there was a unanimous desire to avoid being associated with such a complaint in any form.

Do you feel you had exhausted all avenues before taking the decision to go public?

Yes. I had reported these clearly problematic programs to more than ten distinct officials, none of whom took any action to address them. As an employee of a private company rather than a direct employee of the US government, I was not protected by US whistleblower laws, and I would not have been protected from retaliation and legal sanction for revealing classified information about lawbreaking in accordance with the recommended process.

It is important to remember that this is legal dilemma did not occur by mistake. US whistleblower reform laws were passed as recently as 2012, with the US Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, but they specifically chose to exclude Intelligence Agencies from being covered by the statute. President Obama also reformed a key executive Whistleblower regulation with his 2012 Presidential Policy Directive 19, but it exempted Intelligence Community contractors such as myself. The result was that individuals like me were left with no proper channels.

Do you think procedures for whistleblowing have been improved now?

No. There has not yet been any substantive whistleblower reform in the US, and unfortunately my government has taken a number of disproportionate and persecutory actions against me. US government officials have declared me guilty of crimes in advance of any trial, they've called for me to be executed or assassinated in private and openly in the press, they revoked my passport and left me stranded in a foreign transit zone for six weeks, and even used NATO to ground the presidential plane of Evo Morales – the leader of Bolivia – on hearing that I might attempt to seek and enjoy asylum in Latin America.

What is your relationship with the Russian and Chinese authorities, and what are the terms on which you were allowed to stay originally in Hong Kong and now in Russia?

I have no relationship with either government.

– Shadow Rapporteur Jan Philipp Albrecht MEP, Greens Group:

Could we help you in any way, and do you seek asylum in the EU?

If you want to help me, help me by helping everyone: declare that the indiscriminate, bulk collection of private data by governments is a violation of our rights and must end. What happens to me as a person is less important than what happens to our common rights.

As for asylum, I do seek EU asylum, but I have yet to receive a positive response to the requests I sent to various EU member states. Parliamentarians in the national governments have told me that the US, and I quote, "will not allow" EU partners to offer political asylum to me, which is why the previous resolution on asylum ran into such mysterious opposition. I would welcome any offer of safe passage or permanent asylum, but I recognize that would require an act of extraordinary political courage.

Can you confirm cyber-attacks by the NSA or other intelligence agencies on EU institutions, telecommunications providers such as Belgacom and SWIFT, or any other EU-based companies?

Yes. I don't want to outpace the efforts of journalists, here, but I can confirm that all documents reported thus far are authentic and unmodified, meaning the alleged operations against Belgacom, SWIFT, the EU as an institution, the United Nations, UNICEF, and others based on documents I provided have actually occurred. And I expect similar operations will be revealed in the future that affect many more ordinary citizens.

– Shadow Rapporteur Cornelia Ernst MEP, GUE Group:

In your view, how far can the surveillance measures you revealed be justified by national security and from your experience is the information being used for economic espionage? What could be done to resolve this?

Surveillance against specific targets, for unquestionable reasons of national security while respecting human rights, is above reproach. Unfortunately, we've seen a growth in untargeted, extremely questionable surveillance for reasons entirely unrelated to national security. Most recently, the Prime Minister of Australia, caught red-handed engaging in the most blatant kind of economic espionage, sought to argue that the price of Indonesian shrimp and clove cigarettes was a "security matter." These are indications of a growing disinterest among governments for ensuring intelligence activities are justified, proportionate, and above all accountable. We should be concerned about the precedent our actions set.

The UK's GCHQ is the prime example of this, due to what they refer to as a "light oversight regime," which is a bureaucratic way of saying their spying activities are less restricted than is proper. Since that light oversight regime was revealed, we have learned that the GCHQ is intercepting and storing unprecedented quantities of ordinary citizens' communications on a constant basis, both within the EU and without. There is no argument that could convince an open court that such activities were necessary and proportionate, and it is for this reason that such activities are shielded from the review of open courts.

In the United States, we use a secret, rubber-stamp Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that only hears arguments from the government. Out of approximately 34,000 government requests over 33 years, the secret court rejected only 11. It should raise serious concerns for this committee, and for society, that the GCHQ's lawyers consider themselves fortunate to avoid the kind of burdensome oversight regime that rejects 11 out of 34,000 requests. If that's what heavy oversight looks like, what, pray tell, does the GCHQ's "light oversight" look like?

Let's explore it. We learned only days ago that the GCHQ compromised a popular Yahoo service to collect images from web cameras inside citizens' homes, and around 10% of these images they take from within people's homes involve nudity or intimate activities. In the same report, journalists revealed that this sort of webcam data was searchable via the NSA's XKEYSCORE system, which means the GCHQ's "light oversight regime" was used not only to capture bulk data that is clearly of limited intelligence value and most probably violates EU laws, but to then trade that data with foreign services without the knowledge or consent of any country's voting public.

We also learned last year that some of the partners with which the GCHQ was sharing this information, in this example the NSA, had made efforts to use evidence of religious conservatives' association with sexually explicit material of the sort GCHQ was collecting as a grounds for destroying their reputations and discrediting them. The "Release to Five Eyes" classification of this particular report, dated 2012, reveals that the UK government was aware of the NSA's intent to use sexually explicit material in this manner, indicating a deepening and increasingly aggressive partnership. None of these religious conservatives were suspected of involvement in terrorist plots: they were targeted on the basis of their political beliefs and activism, as part of a class the NSA refers to as "radicalizers."

I wonder if any members of this committee have ever advocated a position that the NSA, GCHQ, or even the intelligence services of an EU member state might attempt to construe as "radical"? If you were targeted on the basis of your political beliefs, would you know? If they sought to discredit you on the basis of your private communications, could you discover the culprit and prove it was them? What would be your recourse?

And you are parliamentarians. Try to imagine the impact of such activities against ordinary citizens without power, privilege, or resources. Are these activities necessary, proportionate, and an unquestionable matter of national security? A few weeks ago we learned the GCHQ has hired scientists to study how to create divisions amongst activists and disfavored political groups, how they attempt to discredit and destroy private businesses, and how they knowingly plant false information to misdirect civil discourse.

To directly answer your question, yes, global surveillance capabilities are being used on a daily basis for the purpose of economic espionage. That a major goal of the US Intelligence Community is to produce economic intelligence is the worst kept secret in Washington.

In September, we learned the NSA had successfully targeted and compromised the world's major financial transaction facilitators, such as Visa and SWIFT, which released documents describe as providing "rich personal information," even data that "is not about our targets". Again, these documents are authentic and unmodified – a fact the NSA itself has never once disputed.

In August, we learned the NSA had targeted Petrobras, an energy company brazilian-oil-giant.html). It would be the first of a long list of US energy targets. But we should be clear these activities are not unique to the NSA or GCHQ. Australia's DSD targeted Sri Mulyani Indrawati, a finance minister and Managing Director of the World Bank. Report after report has revealed targeting of G-8 and G-20 summits. Mass surveillance capabilities have even been used against a climate change summit.

Recently, governments have shifted their talking points from claiming they only use mass surveillance for "national security" purposes to the more nebulous "valid foreign intelligence purposes." I suggest this committee consider that this rhetorical shift is a tacit acknowledgment by governments that they recognize they have crossed beyond the boundaries of justifiable activities. Every country believes its "foreign intelligence purposes" are "valid," but that does not make it so. If we are prepared to condemn the economic spying of our competitors, we must be prepared to do the same of our allies. Lasting peace is founded upon fundamental fairness.

The international community must agree to common standards of behavior, and jointly invest in the development of new technical standards to defend against mass surveillance. We rely on common systems, and the French will not be safe from mass surveillance until Americans, Argentines, and Chinese are as well.

The good news is that there are solutions. The weakness of mass surveillance is that it can very easily be made much more expensive through changes in technical standards: pervasive, end-to-end encryption can quickly make indiscriminate surveillance impossible on a cost-effective basis. The result is that governments are likely to fall back to traditional, targeted surveillance founded upon an individualized suspicion. Governments cannot risk the discovery of their exploits by simply throwing attacks at every "endpoint," or computer processor on the end of a network connection, in the world. Mass surveillance, passive surveillance, relies upon unencrypted or weakly encrypted communications at the global network level.

If there had been better independent and public oversight over the intelligence agencies, do you think this could have prevented this kind of mass surveillance? What conditions would need to be fulfilled, both nationally and internationally?

Yes, better oversight could have prevented the mistakes that brought us to this point, as could an understanding that defense is always more important than offense when it comes to matters of national intelligence. The intentional weakening of the common security standards upon which we all rely is an action taken against the public good.

The oversight of intelligence agencies should always be performed by opposition parties, as under the democratic model, they always have the most to lose under a surveillance state. Additionally, we need better whistleblower protections, and a new commitment to the importance of international asylum. These are important safeguards that protect our collective human rights when the laws of national governments have failed.

European governments, which have traditionally been champions of human rights, should not be intimidated out of standing for the right of asylum against political charges, of which espionage has always been the traditional example. Journalism is not a crime, it is the foundation of free and informed societies, and no nation should look to others to bear the burden of defending its rights. Shadow Rapporteur Axel Voss MEP, EPP Group

Why did you choose to go public with your information?

Secret laws and secret courts cannot authorize unconstitutional activities by fiat, nor can classification be used to shield an unjustified and embarrassing violation of human rights from democratic accountability. If the mass surveillance of an innocent public is to occur, it should be authorized as the result of an informed debate with the consent of the public, under a framework of laws that the government invites civil society to challenge in open courts.

That our governments are even today unwilling to allow independent review of the secret policies enabling mass surveillance of innocents underlines governments' lack of faith that these programs are lawful, and this provides stronger testimony in favor of the rightfulness of my actions than any words I might write.

Did you exhaust all possibilities before taking the decision to go public?

Yes. I had reported these clearly problematic programs to more than ten distinct officials, none of whom took any action to address them. As an employee of a private company rather than a direct employee of the US government, I was not protected by US whistleblower laws, and I would not have been protected from retaliation and legal sanction for revealing classified information about lawbreaking in accordance with the recommended process.

It is important to remember that this is legal dilemma did not occur by mistake. US whistleblower reform laws were passed as recently as 2012, with the US Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, but they specifically chose to exclude Intelligence Agencies from being covered by the statute. President Obama also reformed a key executive Whistleblower regulation with his 2012 Presidential Policy Directive 19, but it exempted Intelligence Community contractors such as myself. The result was that individuals like me were left with no proper channels.

Are you aware that your revelations have the potential to put at risk lives of innocents and hamper efforts in the global fight against terrorism?

Actually, no specific evidence has ever been offered, by any government, that even a single life has been put at risk by the award-winning journalism this question attempts to implicate.

The ongoing revelations about unlawful and improper surveillance are the product of a partnership between the world's leading journalistic outfits and national governments, and if you can show one of the governments consulted on these stories chose not to impede demonstrably fatal information from being published, I invite you to do so. The front page of every newspaper in the world stands open to you.

Did the Russian secret service approach you?

Of course. Even the secret service of Andorra would have approached me, if they had had the chance: that's their job.

But I didn't take any documents with me from Hong Kong, and while I'm sure they were disappointed, it doesn't take long for an intelligence service to realize when they're out of luck. I was also accompanied at all times by an utterly fearless journalist with one of the biggest megaphones in the world, which is the equivalent of Kryptonite for spies. As a consequence, we spent the next 40 days trapped in an airport instead of sleeping on piles of money while waiting for the next parade. But we walked out with heads held high.

I would also add, for the record, that the United States government has repeatedly acknowledged that there is no evidence at all of any relationship between myself and the Russian intelligence service.

Who is currently financing your life?

I am.

– Shadow Rapporteur, Timothy Kirkhope MEP, ECR Group:

You have stated previously that you want the intelligence agencies to be more accountable to citizens, however, why do you feel this accountability does not apply to you? Do you therefore, plan to return to the United States or Europe to face criminal charges and answer questions in an official capacity, and pursue the route as an official whistle-blower?

Respectfully, I remind you that accountability cannot exist without the due process of law, and even Deutsche Welle has written about the well-known gap in US law that deprived me of vital legal protections due to nothing more meaningful than my status as an employee of a private company rather than of the government directly. Surely no one on the committee believes that the measure of one's political rights should be determined by their employer.

Fortunately, we live in a global, interconnected world where, when national laws fail like this, our international laws provide for another level of accountability, and the asylum process provides a means of due process for individuals who might otherwise be wrongly deprived of it. In the face of the extraordinary campaign of persecution brought against me by my the United States government on account of my political beliefs, which I remind you included the grounding of the President of Bolivia's plane by EU Member States, an increasing number of national governments have agreed that a grant of political asylum is lawful and appropriate.

Polling of public opinion in Europe indicates I am not alone in hoping to see EU governments agree that blowing the whistle on serious wrongdoing should be a protected act.

Do you still plan to release more files, and have you disclosed or been asked to disclose any information regarding the content of these files to Chinese and Russian authorities or any names contained within them?

As stated previously, there are many other undisclosed programs that would impact EU citizens' rights, but I will leave the public interest determinations as to which of these may be safely disclosed to responsible journalists in coordination with government stakeholders. I have not disclosed any information to anyone other than those responsible journalists. Thank you.

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Re: What Europe Should Know about US Mass Surveillance by Edward Snowden
08 Mar 2014
Click on image for a larger version

Assange: NSA, GCHQ’s ability to surveil everyone on planet ‘almost here’

Published time: March 08, 2014 20:05

The NSA and GCHQ will soon have the ability to spy on the entire planet, as their capabilities double every 18 months, Julian Assange told the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference on Saturday.

The Wikileaks founder made a Skype appearance at the interactive technology festival, which is taking place in the city of Austin.

Prior to the Edward Snowden leaks, the NSA's public relations campaign was non-existent, Assange told the large audience while speaking from the Ecuadorian embassy in London. In fact, reporters used to joke that NSA stood for “no such agency.”

Snowden, a former contractor for the agency, last year exposed mass global surveillance programs led by the NSA and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), its British counterpart. The leaks exposed the agencies' practices of tapping the internet networks, emails, and phone calls of millions of ordinary citizens and political leaders.

Assange criticized the current power balance as “totalitarian dystopia,” by which he meant that “surveillance is total, so that no one exists outside the state.”

Whereas only four years ago the internet was largely an apolitical space, it is has now – through movements such as the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement – become a tool to motivate and organize political change. This means that those in power will seek to control and surveil such a tool, the Australian activist said.

To showcase the claim, Assange pointed at Snowden and various other whistleblowers, including those from Wikileaks.

British journalist and legal researcher Sarah Harrison, US filmmaker Laura Poitrasa, and US computer security researcher Jacob Applebaum are now all living in effective exile in Berlin, while Glenn Greenwald – who used to be a freelance writer for the Guardian and wrote many of the reports from Edward Snowden on the NSA – is in Brazil. Edward Snowden himself was forced to seek asylum in Russia.

Partly as a result of the NSA leaks scandal, Brazil has become a powerful advocate of trying to limitmass global surveillance. In April, the country will try to introduce changes to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) regulations. ICANN is responsible for the coordination of the global internet's systems.

But Assange warned that it will be very difficult to turn back the tide of mass global surveillance, as the surveillance agencies hold all the cards and all the power. Specifically, it would be practically impossible for anyone within the government to meaningfully reduce the powers of the surveillance agencies.

“We know what happens when a government gets serious: someone gets fired, prosecuted, etc. These have not happened to the NSA,” he said.

He gave as an example the case of General David Petraeus, former head of the CIA, who was squeezed out over an extramarital affair scandal in 2012 – although the official version of events is that he resigned after an extramarital affair was discovered by the FBI, Assange said.

Video still from SXSW's stream (

Video still from SXSW's stream (

When asked if he would have done anything differently over the past few years, Assange was adamant that he would not have stayed in the UK, adding that it has a distasteful class system, unlike his native Australia. He said he listened to bad advice from his lawyers, who have profited vastly from the publicity of representing him, while Assange himself has been stuck in the Ecuadorian Embassy for over a year and a half.

Assange is wanted in Sweden to face questioning for an alleged sexual offense, which he claims has been fabricated in order to get him to face trial in the US for the activity of Wikileaks.

He applied to Ecuador for political asylum in June 2012 and has been inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London since June 19, 2012. Assange was formally granted asylum by Ecuador on August 16, 2012.

A team of police are on constant duty outside the embassy in case Assange tries to escape. The cost of keeping them there is estimated to have already reached US$4.5 million.
See also:
Re: What Europe Should Know about US Mass Surveillance by Edward Snowden
10 Mar 2014
computer boat.jpg

Throughout the history of capitalism, the state has engaged in attempts to squelch dissent and left-wing political activism--and today is no different.

THERE'S AN old cliché about the left that we see plots by the state where they don't exist. But the latest revelations about the Big Brother spy state via National Security Agency (NSA) leaker Edward Snowden show that an equally old joke has the ring of truth: Just because we're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get us.

Recent articles by journalist Glenn Greenwald for NBC News and The Intercept document, using evidence obtained by Snowden, cooperation between the British intelligence agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and the NSA.

A previously unknown division of GCHQ called the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG) presented classified documents to the NSA and other government intelligence agencies that detailed some of their favorite spy tactics and dirty tricks--including "monitoring of YouTube and Blogger, the targeting of Anonymous with the very same [denial of service] attacks they accuse 'hacktivists' of using, the use of 'honey traps' (luring people into compromising situations using sex) and destructive viruses," Greenwald wrote.

The bottom line, according to Greenwald: "[T]hese agencies are attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the Internet itself."

Consider JTRIG's advice on how to discredit a political activist, as explained in a Power Point presentation: "Set up a honey-trap. Change their photos on social networking sites. Write a blog purporting to be one of their victims. E-mail/text their colleagues, neighbors, friends, etc." Other slides in the presentation include suggestions for "Identifying and exploiting fracture points" of activist groups--and "Gambits for deception" when infiltrating such organizations.

According to JTRIG, the "four D's" of "online covert action" are: "Deny/Disrupt/Degrade/Deceive."

As Greenwald concludes:

Whatever else is true, no government should be able to engage in these tactics: what justification is there for having government agencies target people--who have been charged with no crime--for reputation-destruction, infiltrate online political communities and develop techniques for manipulating online discourse?

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THESE NEW revelations are another potent reminder that the actions of the national surveillance state go far, far beyond the usual justification for them--the need to stop terrorism. JTRIG and its associated programs at the NSA have nothing whatsoever to do with stopping a real (or imagined) "terrorist" threat. They are about keeping tabs on--and destabilizing, if possible--radical political activism.

In this respect, the "four D's," taken out of their new context of the Internet age, are nothing new for governments like America's, with its long and ugly record of harassing and repressing the left--such as the execution of the Haymarket Martyrs in the 1880s; the anti-left and anti-immigrant hysteria of the Palmer Raids in the early 20th century; the McCarthyite witch hunts against socialists and communists in the 1950s; and the FBI's COINTELPRO operations against the civil rights, Black Power, anti-Vietnam War and other radical movements.

Coincidentally, another little-known chapter of that history has been revealed by a new documentary, Spies of Mississippi, which aired in February on PBS and is available online until March 12. The film details how, during the 1950s and '60s, the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission created a secret, state-funded spy agency to infiltrate "the civil rights coalition, eavesdropping on its most private meetings and pilfering its most sensitive documents."

The filmmakers show how the commission used a "cadre of Black operatives" to infiltrate the civil rights movement, discover its future plans, target its leaders and harass its rank-and-file participants. In all, some 87,000 people were spied on by the agency, which sometimes shared its reports with local police departments--where officers often also belonged to local Ku Klux Klan chapters.

The film makes the case that reports from the Sovereignty Commission played a direct role in the infamous murder of civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner during Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964.

But more typical was the case of Clyde Kennard--a young Black Korean War veteran who applied three different times to go to school at the University of Southern Mississippi in the late 1950s.

The Sovereignty Commission investigated Kennard and his family, his schooling and his Army record, looking for any hint of moral failing that could be used to discredit his campaign to attend school at an all-white university. When none was found, police--with the help of the Sovereignty Commission--planted stolen chicken feed on the Kennard farm. Kennard was arrested and sentenced to seven years in prison at Parchman Penitentiary. He died of cancer soon after his release in 1963

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OF COURSE, the FBI's "COINTELPRO" (Counter Intelligence Program) didn't stop with the civil rights movement. It targeted Black Power organizations, Native American groups, the Puerto Rican independence movement, antiwar activists, and socialists and communists--precisely because these movements for change were seen as a threat to the status quo.

Today, every elementary school student learns about Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech at the 1963 March on Washington. At the time, though, it earned him the label of "the most dangerous Negro in the future of this Nation" in a memo written by the head of the FBI's domestic intelligence division. A few years later, FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover himself declared that "the Black Panther Party, without question, represents the greatest threat to the internal security of the country." Both King and the Panthers were subjected not just to surveillance, but a campaign of harassment and dirty tricks aimed at sewing divisions and undermining organizing efforts.

The FBI also kept tabs on the socialist left--the Communist Party, which was the original target of COINTELPRO, as well as other socialist groups and organizations of the New Left of the 1960s. The FBI, for example, set out to smear Socialist Workers Party (SWP) member Clifton DeBerry, who ran for president in 1964, by sending out anonymous letters detailing minor personal transgressions, in order to discredit him and split the ranks of the SWP.

Peter Camejo, who ran as the SWP candidate for president in 1976, sued the FBI after his campaign offices were burglarized. As a Truthdig article reported in 2012:

The judge asked the FBI special agent in charge how many FBI agents had worked in Camejo's presidential campaign; the answer was 66. Camejo estimated he had a campaign staff of 400 across the country...[T]hat would be an infiltration rate of about one in six. Camejo discovered that among the agents was his campaign co-chair. He also discovered eavesdropping equipment in a campaign office and documents showing the FBI had followed him since he was an 18-year-old student activist.

Most people probably assume such practices are a thing of the past. After all, who would defend the government spying on Martin Luther King--who has a federal holiday in his honor, after all? To all but right-wing ideologues, the McCarthy era witch-hunts are a dark blot on American history.

But government spying on legally protected left-wing political activity has been rehabilitated in the post 9/11 era, just the same.

The first targets were Muslims and people of Arab descent, who government officials like ex-Attorney General John Ashcroft claimed must be watched in order to "prevent terrorism." So FBI agents and police spied on and infiltrated mosques, not only spying on Muslims engaged in constitutionally protected religious activities, but entrapping young Muslim men into outlandish "terrorist plots." Incredibly, this modern-day witch hunt was declared legal by a federal judge who threw out a lawsuit against the NYPD.

The targets of surveillance extended to antiwar activists, socialists and anarchists, the Occupy movement and even opponents of the death penalty, among others.

Generally, the attack on our rights today is not as bold and overt as when federal agents rounded up and deported foreign-born socialists; or executed Communist Party members as atomic spies; or stormed into a Chicago apartment building and murdered Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in his bed.

But make no mistake: The state is still engaged in an assault on the left and on dissent in general, designed to keep social movements and political activism fractured and marginal.

The American ruling class prefers to rule by consent, so it can claim to be "the world's greatest democracy"--which means we get to vote in elections every two or four years where the choice is almost always limited to two pro-corporate candidates. But the still-unfolding NSA scandal is further evidence of the fact that it will resort to coercion as necessary.

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NO ONE should be discouraged from fighting for our rights--including our right to protest and to privacy under the constitution, both won by long years of past struggles--by the strength and scope of the Big Brother spy state.

We need to respond, though, with basic precautions. We have a duty to fellow participants in the struggle--those fighting for union rights or planning actions at work that put them at risk of being fired, for example; or those who are undocumented; or those who could face punishment from the criminal injustice system--to defend and shield them, as best we can, from harassment and retaliation by the state, by employers and by our enemies on the right.

Knowing that government agencies like the NSA, not to mention the police, have programs directed at the left, we have every reason--and, in fact, a responsibility--to be suspicious about obvious signs of such operations: the unlikely activist who starts attending meetings right before a big demonstration, the out-of-the-ordinary questions about what we think about violence as a tactic, destructive rumor-mongering from anonymous sources on the Internet.

One counter-argument is that since the NSA's tentacles reach into every form of communications these days, security consciousness is a waste of time. But we certainly don't need to make it easier for the state to abuse our side, or intimidate us into complacency or inaction. And the left has other enemies--most obviously, right-wing opponents in various forms--who don't have the same kind of access.

Ultimately, the left's best weapon against state repression is for our side to get bigger--to convince more people of the need to build the struggle against oppression and injustice. History shows that the agents of the state will always attempt to obstruct struggles to change the status quo--but it also shows that they don't always succeed.

Democratic mass struggles--like the anti-Vietnam War movement, for example, which grew strong enough at its height to discredit a presidency when Richard Nixon's corruption and dirty tricks were revealed--are the best means of combating the security state.

The revolutionary Victor Serge wrote in 1926: "Repression can only really live off fear. But is fear enough to remove need, thirsts for justice, intelligence, reason, idealism--all those revolutionary forces that express the formidable, profound impulse of the economic factors of a revolution?"

The answer then, as now, is "no."