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.