Monday, November 4, 2013

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is preparing to testify in the Angela Merkel wiretapping case after meeting with a German MP in Moscow. 
Mr Snowden is set to give explosive testimony and according to the MP Hans-Christian Stroebele, it's "clear that he knows a lot" about the scandal involving the NSA and Ms Merkel, the German Chancellor.

As Mr Snowden threatens to blow the case wide open, we take a closer look at the NSA. and explain the controversy over America's spying operations in five simple points.


The National Security Agency is one of America's largest intelligence organisations. Think of it as a less famous cousin of the FBI and CIA. It specialises in codemaking and codebreaking, and providing secret information to US political and military leaders.

The NSA outlines two broad "missions" on its website. Its "Information Assurance" mission is aimed at keeping stickybeaks out of America's business, while its "Signals Intelligence" mission gathers and processes information for "intelligence and counterintelligence" purposes.

The agency describes its vision as "Global Cryptologic Dominance through Responsive Presence and Network Advantage". Ironically, you would need to be a codebreaker yourself to make any sense of that.

Orwellian language aside, the NSA basically spies on people. But it can't conduct "human-source" intelligence gathering - everything's electronic. There are no James Bonds in the NSA.


Practically everyone, apparently. Particularly America's allies. The NSA reportedly monitored the phone conversations of 35 world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was royally irritated when she found out. She called up US President Barack Obama for what was presumably the most awkward conversation ever.

"Spying between friends, that's just not done," Merkel said later. "The trust will have to be rebuilt."
They weren't just bugging the bigshots either. News reports in France and Spain have suggested tens of millions of phone calls were monitored in those countries. The NSA disputes the details.

Back in the US, the agency successfully requested access to the "call-detail records" of millions of residents through their telecommunications companies. That information reportedly included personal details, such as customers' names and addresses, along with records of calls they made or received. The goal was to create "a database of every call ever made".

The NSA also gained access to millions of emails, both foreign and domestic, through the so-called PRISM program.


Much of this information comes to us courtesy of Edward Snowden, a former NSA worker turned whistleblower who fled the US in May after exposing the agency's phone and internet surveillance programs.

The US has charged Snowden with theft of government property, wilful communication of classified communications intelligence and unauthorised communication of national defence information. Basically, that means he can't return to the US if he wants to stay out of prison.

Snowden is currently living in Russia, which granted him temporary asylum, and his leaked documents are still breaking new stories. This week we learned the NSA has secretly plundered data centres run by Yahoo and Google, gaining further access to online data.


That's a surprisingly complicated question. Intelligence officials insist the White House broadly knew about the NSA's operations, but that doesn't necessarily mean the president himself was aware of them.

Sources in the White House say Obama didn't know the NSA was monitoring the phones of world leaders until this year. If that's true, he was kept out of the loop as president for about five years. The NSA reportedly ended the program after he discovered it.

However, Obama did know about the confiscation of Americans' telephone records, and he has publicly defended the move.

"My assessment was that they help us prevent terrorist attacks," Obama said.

A senior government official said the president is generally informed of "broad intelligence-collection priorities", but the details are worked out elsewhere.

"These decisions are made at NSA," the official said. "The president doesn't sign off on this stuff."


Maybe. Intelligence expert Professor Des Ball told Lateline the Australian Signals Directorate is sharing information with the NSA, using local listening posts in the Asia Pacific region

"The fact that the United States has special collection elements that are doing this today is no different from what many other countries are doing today. It's not unusual," Professor Ball said.

He doesn't think Australians should be worried about their own privacy being threatened. We have an agreement with the US, UK, New Zealand and Canada precluding spying between the five countries, and Professor Ball believes it hasn't been breached.

"The fact that it hasn't now for over five decades, I think, signifies the integrity of at least that part of the arrangement," he said. 4 Nov 2013

At the end of the day it's all about monitoring and control of every person. 

It's a new form of terrorism, Data Terrorism.

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