NSA — Despite Claiming It Doesn't Engage In Economic Espionage — Engaged In Economic Espionage

from the oh-look-at-that dept

The NSA has long claimed that it does not engage in “economic espionage.” NSA and Defense Department officials have repeatedly insisted that while they do lots of other things, economic espionage is not on the list:

?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.?

These claims are made in a strange attempt to suggest that the NSA is somehow “better” than those like the Chinese, who absolutely do engage in economic espionage, looking for corporate secrets and the like. Of course, it’s not entirely clear why not engaging in economic espionage is such an important moral argument for the NSA — but, at the very least, the agency claims it has its limits.

Of course, it’s already been pretty clear that this was more hot air than reality from the NSA anyway. Soon after the first Snowden leaks came out, it was suggested that there was evidence of economic espionage against Germany. Later revelations showed what appears to be economic espionage in Brazil. And, on top of that, we wondered why the US Trade Rep is listed as a “customer” of NSA intelligence if it wasn’t doing economic espionage. Oh, and let’s not even mention that former CIA boss and Defense Secretary Robert Gates has admitted to trying to do economic espionage, but stopping because the US wasn’t very good at it.

Anyway, with all that it should be obvious that of course the NSA engages in economic espionage — but as if to highlight this even more strongly, Wikileaks has now released more documents showing pretty clear economic espionage in the form of snooping on French finance ministers, looking to get information on “French export contracts, trade and budget talks.”

As with the initial revelation that the NSA was spying on the French government, by itself, I don’t find this too concerning. Governments spying on other governments is kind of how it goes. But it is notable that there’s more evidence of economic espionage when the NSA is so insistent that it absolutely never engages in such tactics. It seems likely that the “out” the NSA would claim here is that it doesn’t do economic espionage in the form of spying on companies to try to get their secrets. But it does other forms of economic espionage by spying on government officials engaged in trade deals and such… That seems like a distinction without much meaning.

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Comments on “NSA — Despite Claiming It Doesn't Engage In Economic Espionage — Engaged In Economic Espionage”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Funnily enough, you can find the truth by the magnitude of the lies from the NSA.

I could easily, for example, enter tin-foil hat territory and sya that the NSA is a Cheno-Russian plant to discredit the US on any diplomatic missions.

And that would still be closer to the truth than the NSA and DHS.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The law is flexible if you are good enough at bending the words: NSA does not engage in deliberately acquiring economic sensitive material for distribution to US companies.

What it does is spying on international political organs, private people outside US and whatever else they acquire through their sloppy mass collection of everything and lackluster reductions. In the “unintentionally acquired data” economically sensitive data will inevitably surface and since a lot of NSAs data are meant to be spread, even though in a small circle of people, at least verbal retelling will spread through their contractors and other connections to US companies.

Mass collection is the main problem here. In later stages, the economic espionage effect is impossible to protect against…

John Thacker (profile) says:

The usual claim of the NSA is that it does not engage in economic espionage, but that it has a particular definition of economic espionage. Among other things, they say that spying to get evidence of other countries’ companies engaging in bribery is not economic espionage. (US law has global reach for US citizens and US companies; certain activities, ranging from child prostitution to environmental restrictions to bribery, are illegal for US persons and US companies to do even in countries where it is legal.)

Just as what they consider “collect” is not what you might think; intelligence isn’t “collected” until it is processed and archived, as they give themselves the right to incidentally pick up US person communications in the process of tapping a wire so long as they discard it as soon as they can determine that. Therefore they say that they don’t “collect” on US persons.

Edward Teach says:

How does a corporation get on the distribution list?

The real issue is which US companies get the “economic intelligence”, isn’t it? Because that means that someone, US Trade Rep, or Executive Office or NSA is playing favorites with US companies, rather than letting the market decide.

This is a lot like the revelation of US/UK code breaking during WW2. Knowing that Nazi and Imperial Japanese codes were deciphered makes the Allied Generals and Admirals look a lot less heroic and a lot more human. Knowing that US companies get “economic intelligence” makes the whole “free markets! Free trade!” arguments seem a lot less magical.

jlaprise (profile) says:

The NSA is *gasp* telling the truth

From all the evidence and history, the NSA does not engage in economic espionage. However, this needs unpacking. In many countries including France, economic intelligence is passed from the government to the private sector for the specific purpose of giving domestic industry an advantage. Known examples of US economic espionage entail the discovery of wrongdoing including bribery and foreign economic espionage. The US government has used this knowledge to counter such activity by threatening to bring legal action or simply make these revelations pubic. There is no evidence that I am aware of where US intelligence services provide intelligence to the private sector for their illegal advantage.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: The NSA is *gasp* telling the truth

So what you’re saying, is that the NSA, unlike say, regular Americans, is innocent until proven guilty.

All very nice until you realize that the only authority capable of investigating their activities and proving them guilty of economic espionage, is their employer – the United States Federal Government – who would be implicated as well by that same proof of guilt.

I suspect the USG would claim the fifth amendment allows them to refrain from self incrimination, and thus allows them to refrain from investigating their own or their employees criminal activities, such as spying for economic reasons and this pretty much eliminates any possibility that the USG would then prove their employees were doing economic espionage.

There is no evidence that I am aware of where US intelligence services provide intelligence to the private sector for their illegal advantage.

That statement and a couple of bucks will get you a cup of coffee.

As long as we have no idea who you are, this claim remains utterly invalid, since without being a very high ranking member of the “company”, or the USG itself, you could not possibly be aware of any evidence of “US intelligence services providing intelligence to the private sector for their illegal advantage.”, because no such evidence has been made public by the only authority that is capable of doing such investigation and disclosure.

Anonymous Coward says:


“It seems likely that the “out” the NSA would claim here is that it doesn’t do economic espionage in the form of spying on companies to try to get their secrets.”

At least in Germany that seems to be true. They didn’t directly go after f.e Siemens but they did tell the german counterpart (BND) to spy on Siemens for them iirc. So technicly they are correct. But because of various treaties made over the past 50ish years Germany can’t deny such a request so…

Uriel-238 (profile) says:


Most of their monster budgets go towards arranging for their next monster budget, whether bribing / extorting representatives or facilitating enhanced revenues. There may be some efforts towards doing work to justified its purpose beyond that.

So yeah, every dollar they get goes to a massive infrastructural army whose primary purpose is to stop what you are suggesting from happening.

It’s not just a lot of fire, it’s a massive conflagration.

Kraut says:

Old article, I know, but wow is it wrong

This author clearly has no idea what “economic espionage” is, nor do most of the commenters.

Here’s what it’s not: spying on trade delegations

Here’s what it is: government spy agencies accessing the systems of private foreign corporations and passing the info they glean to their nation’s companies. China does this on a grand scale. The US does not do this at all.

Facts are fun

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