GCHQ, NSA Spied On Known Terrorist Haven… UNICEF

from the wtf? dept

The latest revelations from the Snowden documents, according to reports in both the NY Times and the Guardian is that the UK’s GCHQ, operating out of a site heavily funded by the NSA, targeted a variety of humanitarian and charitable groups, including the United Nations Children’s Fund, better known as UNICEF. Another target was Médecins du Monde, a well known medical relief group that delivers medicines and medical help to war-torn areas.

The reports also detail spying on various government officials, though, as I’ve said in the past, that kind of stuff isn’t particularly bothersome — as spying on leaders of other countries is typical and expected espionage activity, though it can certainly create some diplomatic awkwardness. Perhaps more interesting is that there’s much more evidence here of economic espionage activity. Among those “targeted” were Joaquin Almunia, the EU commission “competition” boss, who has been investigating anti-trust claims against American companies like Google and Microsoft. The NSA has insisted (and repeated in response to questions from reporters writing the two stories above) that it doesn’t engage in economic espionage — though GCHQ apparently doesn’t have any such restriction, suggesting that the NSA can just hand that kind of activity off to its UK friends, who it funds, and then reap the benefits.

Furthermore, the NSA seems to indicate in its response that while it may not engage in economic espionage in the form of spying on issues and handing that info directly to US companies, it does seem to open up the possibility of engaging in economic espionage to inform US policy makers — meaning it likely gets filtered back to those companies anyway:

“We do not use our foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of — or give intelligence we collect to — U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line,” said Vanee Vines, an N.S.A. spokeswoman.

But she added that some economic spying was justified by national security needs. “The intelligence community’s efforts to understand economic systems and policies, and monitor anomalous economic activities, are critical to providing policy makers with the information they need to make informed decisions that are in the best interest of our national security,” Ms. Vines said.

There is some validity in the idea that if there’s going to be some sort of earth-shattering revelation that could have a wider impact on the whole economy, that there’s some value in having intelligence services aware of what’s going on — but it’s a pretty slippery slope from there to simply intercepting direct information that might be helpful for a particular company, and providing them an advantage.

But, going beyond that, targeting groups like UNICEF seems like going way too far. It’s hard to see any legitimate justification for this, unless someone’s going to argue that terrorist groups were somehow co-opting UNICEF, which seems like a huge stretch. To argue that there’s any national security reason to spy on UNICEF seems laughable. It really seems like the NSA and GCHQ were targeting organizations like that because they can.

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: medecins du monde, unicef

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “GCHQ, NSA Spied On Known Terrorist Haven… UNICEF”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
out_of_the_blue says:

NSA caught spying on EU official investigating GOOGLE...

Behind a paywall, but there’s the headline for ya.


Now, is anyone surprised that NSA spies on anti-Google EU official? How about anyone surprised that Mike doesn’t mention it?

Google’s ability to target you for advertising is EXACTLY what NSA needs to target you as political dissident, NOT coincidentally.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: NSA caught spying on EU official investigating GOOGLE...

Now, is anyone surprised that NSA spies on anti-Google EU official? How about anyone surprised that Mike doesn’t mention it?

Blue, I know you say you don’t actually read the posts, but Mike pretty clearly does mention exactly that in the second paragraph. Honestly don’t get what you get out of posting inane and totally bogus comments like that.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Ya know…you’ve raised an extremely good point. Can someone remind me, in case I’ve forgotten, whether any of Snowden’s leaks have shown the NSA to target actual bad guys (Al’Qaida et al)? I literally cannot remember if they have, all I recall is the leaks showing them spying on anyone but the ‘bad guys’.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Allies spy on each other too. It’s one of those open secrets not usually mentioned by polite people, but everyone knows it. No matter what they might say in public, I doubt anyone is going to be particularly upset over this. No doubt European intelligence agencies are doing the exact same thing, though presumably with a somewhat lower budget.

As for why they’re going after charities, it may not be just for the lulz. Those organisations do their work all over the world, including some of the most instable places on earth. It’s entirely possible something of interest to the USG would come to the attention of one of their people in the field.

At least, that’s what I think the idea might have been. No clue whether it holds any water.

Anonymous Coward says:

If nothing else this should be a wake-up call for EVERYONE to use properly encrypted communications on the web, and for them to demand of Internet standard makers to encrypt the Internet as much as possible.

Also, if UNICEF was so likely to get double agents and whatnot, then they should be monitoring their own employees a lot more, because NSA/CIA infiltration seems like a much juicier target for such double agents, and since they have such poor internal audit systems (on purpose) so they can’t even know when someone stole something and who did it, the payout can be great, too.

Anonymous Coward says:

moving on slightly, it seems to me that the spying on charities is not the only thing that the EU should be looking at. given what was revealed in an earlier topic on Techdirt, the EU is ‘quite upset’ at how the UK is’ more than just a USA stooge’. spying on other countries that are supposed to be part of the same group, in favour of helping the USA seems a bit traitorous to me. then add in that members of the EU Commission are doing behind the scenes deals with extra restrictive practices they want brought in the TAFTA/TTIP discussions that are on-going at the moment. if it were up to me, i think there would be charges thrown at Karel de Gucht, Patrice Pellegrino and Velasco Martins. they are all supposed representatives of the EU and supposedly neutral. how that could be is beyond me. de Gucht had secret meetings, apparently, with USA entertainment industries execs. the other two involved are from the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market but are now showing their true colors which are definitely not neutral! their whole intention is to bring back the parts of ACTA that were thrown out and addin some more and even more strict rules. all of these will greatly benefit the USA and greatly be detrimental to the EU countries, with no way out! good ol’ UK, still doing what it can to stay on the good side of Obama, not realising that as soon as they have served the usefulness, will be dropped like a red hot turd!!

Anonymous Coward says:

carefully worded denial

> We do not use our foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of ? or give intelligence we collect to ? U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line,

Assume the statement is technically accurate (already a stretch), and consider what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t deny using other governments’ capabilities or NSA’s domestic surveillance capabilities, or obtaining trade secrets without depriving the rightful users of their use, nor obtaining info other than trade secrets, or selling the info to US companies, or giving it to US companies for other purposes.

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: carefully worded denial

Knowing how the NSA’s denials are tweaked by lawyers to mislead while not explicitly lying:

?We do not use our foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of ? or give intelligence we collect to ? U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line,?

I think we can safely interpret that as NSA DOES give trade secrets and intelligence to US companies. Full stop.

It’s just that NSA’s justification for doing so isn’t competitiveness or profit – it’s umm… national security. Or terrorism. Or drugs. Or the children.


Bottom line – now that we know how to parse the NSA’s public statements – they ARE giving intelligence to private firms.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...