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http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/10/25/exclusive_21_nations_line_up_behind_un_effort_to_restrain_nsa


    Germany, Brazil Turn to UN to Restrain U.S. Spies

 

Exclusive: 21 Nations Line Up Behind U.N. Effort to Restrain NSA
Posted By Colum Lynch, John Hudson, Shane Harris Friday, October 25, 2013 - 6:50 PM

 An effort in the United Nations by Brazil and Germany to hold back government surveillance is quickly picking up steam, as the uproar over American eavesdropping grows.

The German and Brazilian delegations to the U.N. have opened talks with diplomats from 19 more countries to draft a General Resolution promoting the right of privacy on the Internet. Close American allies like France and Mexico -- as well as rivals like Cuba and Venezuela -- are all part of the effort.

The push marks the first major international effort to curb the National Security Agency's vast surveillance network. Its momentum is building. And it comes as concerns are growing within the U.S. intelligence community that the NSA may be, in effect, freelancing foreign policy by eavesdropping on leaders like Germany's Angela Merkel.

The draft, a copy of which was obtained by The Cable, calls on states "to respect and ensure the respect for the rights" to privacy, as enshrined in the 1976 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It also calls on states "to take measures to put an end to violations of these rights" and to "review their procedures, practices and legislation regarding the extraterritorial surveillance of private communications and interception of personal data of citizens in foreign jurisdictions with a view towards upholding the right to privacy."

The draft does not refer to a flurry of American spying revelations that have caused a political uproar around the world. But it was clear that the revelations provided the political momentum to trigger the move to the U.N.

On Friday, the State Department responded to questions concerning The Cable's initial report about the U.N. effort published Thursday.

"We'll of course review that when the text is available," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, speaking of Germany and Brazil's draft. "

"It's not something you're opposed to in principle?" a reporter asked.

"No," said Psaki. "Our U.N. mission in New York will review the text as usual."

The NSA has reportedly monitored communications of up to three dozen world leaders and accessed the emails of the president of Mexico.

The draft appears designed to provide oversight of those types of incursions -- as well as surveillance incursions of average citizens worldwide. It requests that the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights report to the U.N. General Assembly twice in the next two years on "human rights and indiscriminate surveillance" with "views and recommendations" aimed at "identifying and clarifying principles, standards and best practices on the implications for human rights of indiscriminate surveillance."

The State Department said Friday that the U.S. initiated a review of its surveillance practices  in order to "balance security needs with privacy concerns." However, it's already clear that even individuals in the intelligence community are concerned that NSA activities have gone beyond the pale.

Former intelligence officials tell The Cable they are concerned that NSA officials have been deciding on their own which foreign leaders to "target," or collect information about.  "We're targeting these leaders. Who's making these political decisions? Gen. Alexander or one of his subordinates?" said a former senior intelligence official. "If so, he is getting to make decisions that have wider impact on international relations."

Vanee Vines, and NSA spokesperson, said that the agency takes its cues from higher up the official chain of command. "NSA is not a free agent," she told The Cable. "The agency's activities stem from the National Intelligence Priorities Framework, which guides prioritization for the operation, planning, and programming of U.S. intelligence analysis and collection."

The framework is a list of priority issues that senior policymakers want the intelligence agencies to work on. It could include long-term matters such as the threat of global terrorism, or more specific and pressing questions, such as how long until Iran is able to build a nuclear weapon.

The list is reviewed twice a year by the most senior officials in government, including the secretaries of Defense, State, and Treasury, as well as the president's chief of staff and national security adviser. And it's ultimately approved by the president. But the individual intelligence agencies are generally left to decide how to best address those priorities, which includes choosing what types of intelligence to collect.

Another former senior intelligence official said that, in practice, the NSA is told to collect certain kinds of information, but it also preemptively does that job in anticipation of what its "customers" -- those senior government decision-makers -- will want and need.

"It's works both ways," the former official said. "There are two things the NSA wants to do: Answer their customer's request, and anticipate their customer's needs. There's not a doubt in my mind they're doing both."

Administration officials have avoided answering questions about what kind of surveillance was ordered against foreign leaders. In response to allegations that Merkel's phone was tapped, the White House issued a statement that the United States " is not monitoring and will not monitor" her communications. But it didn't say whether the United States had done so in the past.

There's nothing in the intelligence framework that would require the NSA to get permission to intercept Merkel's calls. And it remains unclear what specific direction, if any, the agency received from the White House or senior administration officials about which foreign leaders to target.

According to the framework, the director of national intelligence and his senior staff play a key role in recommending to policymakers what items should be included on the priorities list. And they gather opinions from the component intelligence agencies, of which the NSA is one.

When it comes down to ensuring that the agencies are collecting the right intelligence to meet their customers needs, the director of national intelligence and the individual agencies are authorized to make those decisions, according to the framework.

The heads of executive departments and agencies also have authority to manage elements within their organization. The NSA, for instance, is part of the Defense Department, and can be directed to perform certain intelligence functions by the Secretary of Defense.

On at least one occasion, the NSA appears to have taken upon its own initiative gathering up of phone numbers, email and residential addresses of foreign officials. In 2006, according to an internal NSA memo published by the Guardian, the agency asked U.S. officials to supply contact information of foreign leaders from their personal "Rolodexes." One unnamed official gave the agency 200 phone numbers, which led to the monitoring of 35 world leaders. The memo makes clear that the NSA unit decided on its own to start asking U.S. officials to supply them with such leads.

The report raised questions as to whether State Department officials handed over contact information of foreign leader to the NSA -- an action Foggy Bottom would neither confirm nor deny.

"I was just wondering if you would answer if any State Department employees offered contact information ... of foreign leaders to the NSA?" The Cable asked Psaki.

"I've seen those reports. I don't have anything for you on it," she said.

"So you don't know if there were any State Department employees..."

"I don't have anything for you on it," repeated Psaki.

The former intelligence official who questioned whether Alexander was making decisions on which leaders to target predicted there will be far-reaching repercussions to revelations about spying on foreign leaders. Stories about NSA's global surveillance already had sparked public protests in Germany, and in Brazil, the government is considering whether to require companies that store citizens' personal information on databases inside the country, where they'd be harder for the NSA to access.

"The extent to which international political opinion and law are going to condition intelligence collection for the future, that's a new world," the former official said, adding that the NSA is not prepared to deal with that political blowback.

You can read the U.N. draft in full below. Other countries participating in the talks are Argentina, Austria, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Norway, Paraguay, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, and Uruguay.

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Offline Oceander

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Re: Exclusive: 21 Nations Line Up Behind U.N. Effort to Restrain NSA
« Reply #1 on: October 25, 2013, 10:57:52 PM »
And this would be enforceable how, exactly?

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Re: Exclusive: 21 Nations Line Up Behind U.N. Effort to Restrain NSA
« Reply #2 on: October 26, 2013, 01:11:38 AM »
And this would be enforceable how, exactly?

I would assume by lack of co-operation. The NSA may think it is all that, but most of their significant intel comes from foreign services, as part of the agreements to share information. They want to spy - no one can stop them from doing so. However, any signatory could refuse to co-operate.

Got a terrorist sitting in Berlin, directing operations against the USA? Well - tough. He is not harming German interests, so you are on your own. No, we won't follow him, arrest him or extradite him, and any attempt by the NSA to do so will be construed an act of war on a sovereign nation.

Seems the easiest way to do it.
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Re: Exclusive: 21 Nations Line Up Behind U.N. Effort to Restrain NSA
« Reply #3 on: October 26, 2013, 07:23:43 AM »
Hitler had a wonderful grasp of foreign policy, too.  Like Obama, he wanted nothing to do with it so he could concentrate on those things which interested HIM, not necessarily what was good for the country - obviously.  Obama is taking America down that same slippery slope. :Obounce:
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Re: Exclusive: 21 Nations Line Up Behind U.N. Effort to Restrain NSA
« Reply #4 on: October 26, 2013, 09:00:17 AM »
I would assume by lack of co-operation. The NSA may think it is all that, but most of their significant intel comes from foreign services, as part of the agreements to share information. They want to spy - no one can stop them from doing so. However, any signatory could refuse to co-operate.

Got a terrorist sitting in Berlin, directing operations against the USA? Well - tough. He is not harming German interests, so you are on your own. No, we won't follow him, arrest him or extradite him, and any attempt by the NSA to do so will be construed an act of war on a sovereign nation.

Seems the easiest way to do it.

Fair enough; however I've no doubt that if the NSA really wanted intel no one else would give them, a Russian bot-net owner would be more than happy to exchange use of their botnet for money and access to government-controlled computer resources - and don't forget that the NSA has its own botnet-like capabilities since it intentionally compromised some of the internet security protocols to make it easier to access some encrypted communications and, if I recall, took advantage of at least one weakness in the Firefox browser to go after people.

There's also a return to the old ways of doing things: subversion.  Subvert a few individuals in the German government who have even low level access to German government computer infrastructure and that could very well give sufficient access for NSA to hack the system, raise the privileges on the compromised account(s), and allow it to start snooping on German government intel.

As for terrorist leaders they won't interfere with: don't forget the old cliche of the poison-tipped umbrella:  if Germany won't arrest or extradite a terrorist sitting in Berlin, then they may soon be footing the bill for his burial.  Dead may be second best to interrogation, but it's better than alive and kicking.
« Last Edit: October 26, 2013, 09:02:58 AM by Oceander »

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Re: Exclusive: 21 Nations Line Up Behind U.N. Effort to Restrain NSA
« Reply #5 on: October 26, 2013, 10:05:14 AM »
Gee, it's almost as though Obama were trying to turn every last one of our traditional allies against us.   :whistle:
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Re: Exclusive: 21 Nations Line Up Behind U.N. Effort to Restrain NSA
« Reply #6 on: October 26, 2013, 11:55:24 AM »
Fair enough; however I've no doubt that if the NSA really wanted intel no one else would give them, a Russian bot-net owner would be more than happy to exchange use of their botnet for money and access to government-controlled computer resources - and don't forget that the NSA has its own botnet-like capabilities since it intentionally compromised some of the internet security protocols to make it easier to access some encrypted communications and, if I recall, took advantage of at least one weakness in the Firefox browser to go after people.

There's also a return to the old ways of doing things: subversion.  Subvert a few individuals in the German government who have even low level access to German government computer infrastructure and that could very well give sufficient access for NSA to hack the system, raise the privileges on the compromised account(s), and allow it to start snooping on German government intel.

As for terrorist leaders they won't interfere with: don't forget the old cliche of the poison-tipped umbrella:  if Germany won't arrest or extradite a terrorist sitting in Berlin, then they may soon be footing the bill for his burial.  Dead may be second best to interrogation, but it's better than alive and kicking.

True. It would be a fairly minor inconvenience, nothing more.

I assume they already have subverts in place in most countries anyway, and would not be at all surprised if they don't already have a mutually beneficial arrangement with a few botnet owners, just in case. Common sense thing to do.

The assassination part? Very tricky to carry out well and undetectably, but doable.
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Re: Exclusive: 21 Nations Line Up Behind U.N. Effort to Restrain NSA
« Reply #7 on: October 26, 2013, 11:19:12 PM »
True. It would be a fairly minor inconvenience, nothing more.

I assume they already have subverts in place in most countries anyway, and would not be at all surprised if they don't already have a mutually beneficial arrangement with a few botnet owners, just in case. Common sense thing to do.

The assassination part? Very tricky to carry out well and undetectably, but doable.

I think that one of the current - and most serious - flaws of the US intelligence community, as a whole, is that for more than a generation there has been too much focus on, shall we say, "remote" spying - getting intel via cameras and computers - and too little focus on the fundamentals of spying:  covert human assets on the ground.  If that goes as deep as I suspect it does, it may be that the US currently doesn't have enough moles around to end-run the sort of scenario you've painted.

Any "working arrangements" with one or more of the serious botnet owners would be a Faustian bargain on a grand scale; given this (mal)administration's track record, I'd be seriously concerned that they'd have managed to give the house away in any such deal.

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Re: Exclusive: 21 Nations Line Up Behind U.N. Effort to Restrain NSA
« Reply #8 on: October 26, 2013, 11:34:51 PM »
I think that one of the current - and most serious - flaws of the US intelligence community, as a whole, is that for more than a generation there has been too much focus on, shall we say, "remote" spying - getting intel via cameras and computers - and too little focus on the fundamentals of spying:  covert human assets on the ground.  If that goes as deep as I suspect it does, it may be that the US currently doesn't have enough moles around to end-run the sort of scenario you've painted.

Any "working arrangements" with one or more of the serious botnet owners would be a Faustian bargain on a grand scale; given this (mal)administration's track record, I'd be seriously concerned that they'd have managed to give the house away in any such deal.

The over emphasis of sigint over humint has been a bone of contention in the community since the Reagan years, but has gotten massively more lopsided in recent years. There are a few reasons - the main one being cost. Any 14 year old with a few readily available tools can get into a camera system or computer system. Humint requires more money (or whatever the asset requires/wants), boots on the ground, co-ordination to the second and serious cut outs that will stretch the very best the opposition can provide.

Yet humint is far more valuable. People pick up on cues that signals miss. Knowing the boss is nervous on a particular day means something is going down - something that sigint on it's own can never provide.
Take a friendly example - the Boston bombers. Russian security noted them as people of interest and passed them on to US security. A good system, how it is meant to work. But because it came in as part of a data dump - how were the US security services supposed to prioritize it? It was a few lines in the daily shared information. Easy to find after the fact - not so much before the fact.

While I agree an arrangement with a botnet would be a Faustian bargain - can you, hand on heart, say the current idiots would not do so for short term gain?
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