Sweden's Version Of The NSA Almost Indistinguishable From The 'Original'
from the breaks-laws,-grabs-data,-blames-terrorism dept
All the news that’s rolled in over the past few weeks has converted former suspicions into a truism: intelligence agencies break laws. It’s not just the NSA blowing past legal boundaries in its quest for more data. The GCHQ has severely damaged its own reputation over the past few weeks and now it appears Sweden’s answer to the NSA, the FRA, has broken a few laws of its own.
The State Inspection for Defense Intelligence Operations (Statens inspektion för försvarsunderrättelseverksamhet – Siun) has as recently as May criticized the FRA for its handling of personal information, the Dagens Nyheter newspaper (DN) revealed after an overview of the inspection’s regulatory records.
As many of the details remain secret, the entire picture is unclear, but the FRA has made use of a loophole in the law, DN reported, by providing large amounts of raw data from telephone and internet records in what it refers to as “technical development work”.
It’s all sounds so familiar. Raw data. Legal loopholes. Secret details. Oversight that does too little, far too late. But maybe the FRA can’t be blamed entirely for its transgressions. It’s not like it came up with these ideas on its own.
Last week, British investigative journalist Duncan Campbell revealed Sweden’s involvement as one of the United States’ most important partners in efforts to monitor internet communications across the globe.
“A new organization has joined the “Five Eyes” and is seen as the largest cooperating partner to [the UK’s] GCHQ outside the English-speaking countries – and that is Sweden,” Campbell told the European Parliament committee, referring to the colloquial term used to refer to the US, UK, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada.
Specifically, he pointed to the Swedish National Defence Radio Establishment (Försvarets radioanstalt, FRA), explaining that the agency helped the US National Security Agency (NSA) and British GCHQ gain access to signals intelligence carried through fibre optic cables at the bottom of the Baltic Sea.
Good old peer pressure. An older boy told the FRA to do it. Given the usual state of political infighting, it’s almost refreshing to see this sort of international cooperation. It just goes to show that if our nations’ intelligence agencies work together, there’s no law they can’t break!
As in the US, these revelations have been greeted with a mixture of surprise and anger by legislators.
“It’s very serious matter if Sweden is indeed involved in American surveillance programmes,” Green Party IT policy spokeswoman Maria Ferm told The Local…
“It’s deeply troubling if Sweden is participating in surveillance operations that are as extensive as those of the United States and that attempt to circumvent national laws.”
Oh, the FRA did much more than simply participate. It invited two foreign agencies to “tap” into its undersea cables.
Sweden’s Democracy Minister, Birgitta Ohlsson of the Liberal Party (Folkpartiet), was also alarmed by the revelations.
“I absolutely think this is not good. I’ve also been engaged in issues related to personal privacy and transparency in Sweden and I think in all countries, including Sweden, the EU, and the United States…that things have gone too far,” she said during an interview with Sveriges Television (SVT).
Also familiar: politicians hearing details of surveillance programs not from their own government but from leaks and investigative reporters. And, like the US, the defenders of these illegal activities are quick to point out that national security is more important than following laws or respecting citizens’ rights.
In a statement, Defence Minister Karin Enström of the Moderate Party said Sweden’s intelligence exchange with other countries is “critical for our security” with rules that “balance security and privacy interests”.
“Intelligence operations occur within a framework with clear legislation, with strict controls, and under parliamentary oversight,” the statement read.
Oh, Karin. You need some new talking points. It almost sounds like the NSA ran off a few copies of its canned rebuttals while it was waiting for the taps to be installed.
“Clear legislation?” Doubtful, unless you mean “clear” to those few members of the inner sanctum. Those legislators on the outside seem rather convinced laws have been broken. “Controls?” “Oversight?” Again, ask these other politicians. They seem genuinely surprised by the news, which would suggest there’s not a whole lot of either “control” or “oversight” in play.
These legislators want answers and actual transparency, not the fake “transparency” that releases a couple of heavily-redacted documents and calls it a day. Not the fake “conversation” about security and privacy that results in a small cadre of insiders who report to the head of the intelligence community. But if the defenders are already trotting out reasonable facsimiles of the NSA’s narrative, it’s hard to believe this shock and anger will change anything.