Snowden: Spy Services of EU Member States Independently Hawk Domestic Access to NSA, GCHQ

Edward Snowden

As part of a European parliamentary committee’s inquiry into electronic massive surveillance on the citizens of European Union member states, former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden provided testimony to the committee.

Snowden described to the committee how spy services in the EU cooperate with the NSA to monitor citizens in countries without ever having to admit that this surveillance is happening.

“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,” Snowden testified.

According to him, this creates a kind of “European bazaar.” Any EU member state can give NSA access to a “tapping center” on the condition that the NSA does not spy on that state’s citizens.

…[A]n 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 [Swedish National Defence Radio Establishment], 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…

What makes the “patchwork of mass surveillance” possible, Snowden also highlights, is how the NSA’s Foreign Affairs Division pressures or incentivizes 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,” he stated. “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.'”

Specifically, Snowden recounts recent developments:

Snowden: Spy Services of EU Member States Independently Hawk Domestic Access to NSA, GCHQ

Edward Snowden (Creative Commons-licensed Photo by DonkeyHotey)

As part of a European parliamentary committee’s inquiry into electronic massive surveillance on the citizens of European Union member states, former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden provided testimony to the committee.

Snowden described to the committee how spy services in the EU cooperate with the NSA to monitor citizens in countries without ever having to admit that this surveillance is happening.

“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,” Snowden testified.

According to him, this creates a kind of “European bazaar.” Any EU member state can give NSA access to a “tapping center” on the condition that the NSA does not spy on that state’s citizens.

…[A]n 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 [Swedish National Defence Radio Establishment], 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…

What makes the “patchwork of mass surveillance” possible, Snowden also highlights, is how the NSA’s Foreign Affairs Division pressures or incentivizes 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,” he stated. “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.'”

Specifically, Snowden recounts recent developments:

[W]e 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.

The dismantling or systematic undermining of legal protections through pressure on EU member states then makes it possible for “access operations” so that the NSA and other agencies can gain access “bulk communications” of the major telecommunications providers. It makes it “very difficult” for any citizen to protect their communications from being subjected to mass surveillance.

Snowden was asked to “comment on the activities of EU Member States intelligence agencies” in operations and “how advanced their capabilities have become in comparison with the NSA.” He was also asked to “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.” He confirmed that the documents on cyber-attacks were authentic and unmodified but could not provide further information because journalists are working on stories that will reveal more information. (more…)