In the US, spying is a big business. The NSA’s new centre for stocking computer records at Bluffdale, Utah will cost on its own $2 billion, but the agency has a ‘secret-defense’ budget which, for all its cloak of secrecy, is at least five times that. It’s a slush fund involving the huge defense contractors like Lockheed-Martin and Endgame as well as companies like Booz Allen and Hamilton, the company whose alumni include the whistle-blower Edward Snowden and also Mike McDonnell, a former head of the NSA.
Scarcely surprising that Booz was entrusted with so many juicy defense contracts. Because in many ways, good money can be made out of this otherwise seemingly Pharaonic collection of the world’s internet browsing and email habits.
‘That which on the face of it, concerns only private lives can serve very well, the next day, in economic competition’, says Franck Bulinge.
The fight against Al Qaeda is only an excuse for a much bigger fight’ the economic one. Terrorism merely provides ‘an excuse for the NSA to expand its reach and increase its power’. One anonymous source in the French defence department, who had been entertained several times in the NSA’s headquarters at Fort Meade, told:
‘Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, in reality, the NSA has been 80% preoccupied with economic intelligence.’
Similarly, in the UK, GCHQ is specifically tasked to intercept foreign communications ‘in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom’. GCHQ’s K Division analyses targets specified by the government’s Overseas Economic Intelligence Committee, the Economic Staff of the Joint Intelligence Committee, the Treasury, or the Bank of England.
After all, even before Edward Snowden, there was Mark Klein, the telecommunications technician who revealed that AT&T was allowing the NSA access to vast amounts of customer data without warrants. And before that, there had been Congressional inquiries into the mass interception of civilian communications in the US and a large (multi-year) investigation by the European Parliament in 1999.
The 1975-76 Church Committee congressional hearings, presided over by Senator Frank Church, probed widespread intelligence abuses by the FBI, CIA, IRS and NSA. Reporting in the shadow of the Watergate Scandal, the committee revealed how under the guise of national security, agencies had spied on American citizens for political purposes during the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations.
In those days, the COMINT focussed on ‘company plans, telexes, faxes, and transcribed phone calls’. All that has changed is that now, with email, the monitoring is even easier.
Forget all the talk about ‘crime fighting’. Return instead the 1970s when the US Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board recommended that ‘henceforth economic intelligence be considered a function of the national security’ and, a meeting between NSA, CIA and the Department of Commerce authorised the creation of secret new department, the ‘Office of Intelligence Liaison’. Its task was to handle ‘foreign intelligence’ of interest to the Department of Commerce and pass on secret intercepts from the NSA to support commercial and economic interests. That meeting was held on 5 May 1977. After this scandal was highlighted in a British TV programme in 1993, its name was changed to the ‘Office of Executive Support’.
Frank Church’s report catapulted the National Security Agency (NSA) from the shadows of the intelligence underworld to the national stage. The hearings revealed how the NSA set up secret projects codenamed ‘Shamrock’ and ‘Minaret’ to collect international and domestic communications.
In Project Shamrock, the major communication companies of the day ‘Western Union, RCA Global and ITT World Communications’ provided the NSA access to their international message traffic, from which the NSA extracted telegrams containing the names provided to them by the FBI, CIA and other sources. The report concluded by saying that the three-decade-long programme ‘certainly appears to violate section 605 of the Communications Act of 1934 as well as the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.’
The complete failure of the Church committee to influence policy is nowhere better illustrated than by the final extension of the secret agencies’ powers by good ol’ President Clinton, who permanently and formally married US intelligence to commercial organisations by creating a new National Economic Council, paralleling the National Security Council. The nature of this intelligence support has been widely reported. Tips based on spying regularly flow from the Commerce Department to US companies to help them win contracts overseas.
1. The French electronics giant, Thomson, lost a contract for the supply of a $1.3 billion surveillance system for the Amazon rainforest after the Americans intercepted phone calls concerning the negotiations and passed them on to their own Raytheon Corporation.
2. US newspapers have obtained reports from the Commerce Department demonstrating intelligence support to US companies in Indonesia. One document consists of minutes from an August 1994 Commerce Department meeting to help. A CIA employee spoke at the meeting; and no less than 5 of the 16 people on the distribution list for the minutes were from the CIA.
3. After the NSA lifted all the faxes and phone calls between Airbus, the Saudi national airline and the Saudi government from a commercial communications satellite, US officials complained that Airbus agents were offering bribes – unfair! – helping Boeing and McDonnell Douglas win the $6 billion contract.
But here are some suggestions where insider information could have been very useful:
In International Patents Battles
Apple’s $1 billion patent win over Samsung in 2012.
Business.time.com wrote that ‘Apple’s huge intellectual property victory over Samsung was … about market dominance in the exploding global smartphone race’.
In World Trade Disputes
A 2012 ruling by the World Trade Organisation found heavily for the US, saying, on the basis of information provided in large part by the US, that while Boeing received between $3 billion and $4 billion in US subsidies, the European consortium, Airbus, received $18 billion in subsidies from European governments.
To Steal Intellectual Property
Although the US is spying on everyone, including its supposed allies, like the UK, Germany and France, all of whom faithfully provide secret information to their US spymasters, the US government is obsessed about the damage to its interests from other country’s industrial espionage. The extent to which this is the case was well indicated by Dennis Blair, who served as President Barack Obama’s first director of national intelligence, and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who served as US ambassador to China from 2009 through 2011. In an investigation conducted in public, for obvious political reasons, they claimed that the US loses billions in intellectual property to Chinese ‘hackers’ every year. Their report found that an estimated 2.1 million American jobs were lost due to intellectual theft. And corporations hire what amounts to full-time IT security guards to protect their networks from intruders.
It’s not just the Chinese though who are the enemy of the NSA. Congressman Peter King, Chair of the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence (a committee created in the wake of the findings of the Church Committee in the 1970s to act as a watchdog on the secret services, speaking on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ defended the United States’ spying saying:
What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
Although it is very difficult to quantify the losses caused by industrial espionage, writing in 1999, researchers for the European Parliament (STOA) already put the losses incurred by European firms at billions of euros per year. The bottomline is that the aim of the US monitoring of the world’s communications is not to capture terrorists armed with box-cutters but to obtain significant economic information and, hence, to secure a leading position on the commercial markets.
Recently, a German lawmaker invited Edward Snowden to brief the German parliament on the secret activities of its great ally – in principle- the US. To do that, he would probably have to be offered political asylum and special protection from assassination. That, things have come to such a pass, shows how deeply damaging the US government’s secret programmes are; not only to its European allies but to the US’s true economic interests too