If The NSA Isn't Engaged In Economic Espionage, Why Is The USTR Considered 'A Customer' Of Intelligence?

from the simple-questions dept

We just had a story about how Australia used its equivalent of the NSA to do economic espionage for the sake of improving trade deals and helping private companies by passing along useful info they gleaned from spying on the Japanese. It had become so common that companies getting the info would joke that it had "fallen off the back of a truck." Of course, many have argued that the US is obviously engaged in similar activity. The most damning evidence, of course, was the release a few months ago of details of how the NSA spied on Petrobas, the Brazilian oil giant.

The US has sworn up, down, left and right that it does not use the NSA for economic espionage. In August, the Department of Defense issued a statement to the Washington Post saying:
“The Department of Defense does engage” in computer network exploitation, according to an e-mailed statement from an NSA spokesman, whose agency is part of the Defense Department. “The department does ***not*** engage in economic espionage in any domain, including cyber.”
Those triple stars were in the original. That was before the Petrobas revelation. After that came out, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper tried to explain that away, arguing that it was not for economic espionage at all, but to get a better sense of whether there was an upcoming financial crisis.
What we do not do, as we have said many times, is use our foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of - or give intelligence we collect to - US companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line.
Of course, it's a very blurry line between using that information to create policies that help US companies and just giving the information to them directly. Perhaps it's true that the NSA doesn't hand out the information it gleans from foreign companies directly to US companies to help them understand, say, how a foreign product is built -- but reverse engineering is pretty good these days, so it's doubtful that too many US companies need that kind of help anyway. Instead, it seems to be just as nefarious, and certainly a form of economic espionage, to use this information to create trade policies that clearly boost certain US interests.

But that's certainly happening. The NY Times' giant profile of the NSA's activities that came out earlier this month included a list of "customers" for the NSA. Pay close attention to the last two on the list:
This huge investment in collection is driven by pressure from the agency’s “customers,” in government jargon, not only at the White House, Pentagon, F.B.I. and C.I.A., but also spread across the Departments of State and Energy, Homeland Security and Commerce, and the United States Trade Representative.
Now, one can make a (potentially compelling) argument that of course it's US policy to try to improve situations for American companies. And that's perfectly reasonable -- but it seems like a clearly bogus argument for the NSA to say it "does not do economic espionage" just because it (allegedly) does not do one particular tidbit of economic espionage: directly handing companies information. If, instead, it's spying on foreign companies and then providing that information to the USTR, you can assure that two things are happening: economic policies that help the special interests that have a close relationship with the USTR are getting extra favorable policies in their place, and some of that information is seeping out of the USTR to those companies anyway.

And we've already seen, repeatedly, how the USTR appears to have very cozy relations with certain legacy industries, while having almost no relationship at all with younger, more innovative industries. As such, not only is the NSA clearly engaged in economic espionage, it's doing so to the detriment of actual innovation and economic growth, by using this information to prop up legacy industries, while handicapping the innovative industries.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    RyanNerd (profile), Nov 12th, 2013 @ 11:44am

    From the not news dept.

    This revelation is about as enlightening as knowing countries spy on each other and use their spying to support their own interests.
    This is not shocking and it is not news. Sad, wrong and probably not ethical, but still this is the way things have been since we all came down out of the trees.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Nov 12th, 2013 @ 1:04pm

      Re: From the not news dept.

      When a certain MEP "leaked" a released set of notes from the ACTA-negotiations, it was almost explicitly stated that USA had to go by USTR and recieve a draft from US industries on the, in the end, fatal digital chapter before they wanted to discuss the issue. It is 100% impossible for the USTR officials not to have a significant contact with certain companies. Already at that point, there is a massive legal capture at play and therefore extremely high stakes for the companies lobbying.

      The worrying thing is that the trade negotiations are kept just as closed as NSAs efforts. The lack of transparency in the negotiations are feeding suspicion of them covering something.

      A guess of NSA-information as part of the negotiation drafting is almost confirmed here. The USTR comments in the past almost confirms their "transparency" is actually an almost complete cooperation with the US industries and they are probably sincere when they say they are unable to increase it much further. Be aware that even the negotiators sharing negotiation positions with the industry lobbyists may be enough to make companies able to deduct secret information...

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 12th, 2013 @ 11:58am

    Just today I read an article on guardian how business run governments.

    Only NSA had the infrastructure (or GSA working with NSA) to record Kim Dotcom's skype conversations and emails. Just another example of economic espionage done for legacy industries.

    That's copyright monitoring of the entire world courtesy of NSA (financed by the taxpayer's dime).

     

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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
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    out_of_the_blue, Nov 12th, 2013 @ 12:02pm

    Are you baffled by the mis-terming, or that USTR might actually need some info?

    Well the term is explained above: ' “customers,” in government jargon', AND you write "using that information to create policies that help US companies", SO I guess your your only purpose was to get to the last paragraph and take some vague jabs at "certain [but unspecified] legacy industries". It's impactful elucidation on important topics such as this keeps me here.

    After slogging through your jellied prose, I'll just JAM this in:

    Google makes Gmail EVEN NOISIER, or should that be nosier?

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/11/12/google_makes_gmail_even_noisier_or_should_that_be_nos ier/

    Read the comments, fanboys: the ratio of those against Google is at least the reverse of here.

     

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      Rikuo (profile), Nov 12th, 2013 @ 12:22pm

      Re: Are you baffled by the mis-terming, or that USTR might actually need some info?

      Would you kindly provide evidence of there being Google supporters/fanboys among the Techdirt readers?

      Three things will happen.
      1) OOTB will not answer
      2) OOTB will answer but with his usual insanity
      3) He'll go off to kill Andrew Ryan

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 12th, 2013 @ 12:18pm

    After slogging through your jellied prose, I'll give you a report vote again ootb. Goggle has no place in the article, not mentioned anywhere.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 12th, 2013 @ 12:21pm

    It's the same familiar word game...

    Notice their original statement. (Emphasis mine.)

    “The Department of Defense does engage” in computer network exploitation, according to an e-mailed statement from an NSA spokesman, whose agency is part of the Defense Department. “The department does ***not*** engage in economic espionage in any domain, including cyber.”

    Sure the DOD doesn't directly do economic espionage. They just hand off to other agencies that do use the information in that manner.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 12th, 2013 @ 12:44pm

    if the NSA denies this, it will just add to the bunch of lies already told. there are no discussions that have involved the USTR that have been open and transparent. it cant just be to protect what they want and who for, they are trying to protect how they got the information in the first place to enable the best possible deal for USG and US businesses, all at the detriment of whoever else is involved in the so-called 'Trade Negotiation'. we only have to look at the procedures followed for the latest 'deal', the TPP and how that is trying to be rushed through with no oversight, no transparency and definitely no representation for the people!!

     

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    Baldaur Regis (profile), Nov 12th, 2013 @ 12:55pm

    [The USTR has] almost no relationship at all with younger, more innovative industries.
    Predators rarely chum around with their prey.

     

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    BentFranklin (profile), Nov 12th, 2013 @ 1:33pm

    Even if you like the idea that they are helping US industries compete, they are only doing that for certain large, well-connected, legacy industries. Yet, the price is being paid by everyone, perhaps even in greater proportion, dollar for dollar, since the larger companies evade their taxes. Therefore, this is a transfer of wealth from the smaller US companies to the larger.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Nov 12th, 2013 @ 1:55pm

      Response to: BentFranklin on Nov 12th, 2013 @ 1:33pm

      Some of the blame lies with the so-called younger, more innovative companies. It's unlikely that USTR goes out and recruits the companies it is close to. It's almost certainly a result of a decision by certain companies to participate in that space by cultivating a relationship, being helpful and often influencing policy. That's what lobbying.

      It's awfully hard to hear the complaints by "younger, more innovative" companies about being locked out of a process most have not ever sought to become a part of.

       

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    jlaprise (profile), Nov 13th, 2013 @ 1:39am

    Historical Perspective

    History supports the NSA contention. Known examples of US economic espionage address issues such as foreign bribery. The NSA discovers illegal behavior by a foreign corporation in negotiations and then provides that information to US diplomatic personnel who reveal this knowledge to the contracting entity to compel them to take action to address the misconduct. The USTR may be a consumer of intelligence for good reason if the treaty addresses misconduct and the USTR wants to know to what degree it is occurring.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 13th, 2013 @ 5:49am

    'using this information to prop up legacy industries, while handicapping the innovative industries'

    while screwing all other countries involved in the so-called Trade Negotiations and threatening those other countries with sanctions, if not worse, when they wont toe the USTR line and try to get better deals for their countries and peoples!! and dont forget that everything is done in secret, no openness, no transparency! i am assuming that is in case there is a slip somewhere that lets out what the USTR knows about the other 'interested parties'!!

     

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