New Intercept Leak Shows That Intelligence Agencies Are Ready And Willing To Perform Economic Espionage If US Tech Edge 'Slips'

from the altitude-of-high-road-rapidly-approaching-sea-level dept

The NSA has repeatedly assured the public that it definitely does not perform economic espionage. It may collect metadata and communications from around the world (including that of US citizens) and intercept shipments of computer hardware in order to install its own spying devices, but it doesn't perform espionage in service of American corporate interests.

This was the small thing that set our intelligence agencies slightly above similar agencies in China. Last August, the ODNI (Jame Clapper's office) sent this categorical denial to the Washington Post in response to leaked documents. (Emphasis in original.)

“The department does ***not*** engage in economic espionage in any domain, including cyber.”
And then the truth came rolling in, thanks to Snowden's leaks.
After that categorical statement to the Post, the NSA was caught spying on plainly financial targets such as the Brazilian oil giant Petrobras; economic summits; international credit card and banking systems; the EU antitrust commissioner investigating Google, Microsoft, and Intel; and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. In response, the U.S. modified its denial to acknowledge that it does engage in economic spying, but unlike China, the spying is never done to benefit American corporations.
A slight change in wording and the denial still holds. Or does it? The Intercept's latest set of documents -- issued by Clapper's office -- show the US government definitely has plans to do the one thing Clapper says we don't: spy for the benefit of US corporations.
The document, the 2009 Quadrennial Intelligence Community Review—provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden—is a fascinating window into the mindset of America’s spies as they identify future threats to the U.S. and lay out the actions the U.S. intelligence community should take in response…
According to this document, one of the threats that the government might call in the services of its intelligence agencies to handle is a slip in America's "technological and innovative edge." The appropriate response in the free world -- especially a country that always tells its citizens they can achieve anything through hard work and determination -- would be to allow the struggling corporations to solve their own problems. If it really needed to get involved, the government could take a close look to see if it was creating bottlenecks with iffy IP laws or its random blend of regulation and deregulation. Anything but take the easiest way out.

But if the American way of life (such as it were) is threatened in the future, Clapper's office recommends letting the spies fix it.
The report recommends “a multi-pronged, systematic effort to gather open source and proprietary information through overt means, clandestine penetration (through physical and cyber means), and counterintelligence” (emphasis added). In particular, the DNI’s report envisions “cyber operations” to penetrate “covert centers of innovation” such as R&D facilities.
Cheat to win. And saying everyone else is doing it (even if they are) doesn't do anything more than drag the US down to their level. One scenario included in the document posits Russia and India working together to outpace the US. At this point, the NSA and others would step in to perform cyber-espionage, hacking into the foreign research facilities and making off with proprietary data. The data collected would be (this is a direct quote)
...assesse[d] whether and how its findings would be useful to U.S. industry.
As is noted by Glenn Greenwald, there's no indication the US has actually done this in the past. But it is a long-term document, meant to envision the intelligence agencies' roles over the next 20 years. And one of those roles being discussed is stealing secrets to put US companies ahead.

Some may defend this as being a purely speculative document that details numerous what-if scenarios that will never be played out. But that defense is inadequate. The speculations aren't tied to scenarios in which the US government shifts towards a more China-like role and gives up its ambitions of being the leader of the free world. In these scenarios, the United States is presumed to be doing business as a democratic republic -- one that has often sought to rise above this sort of behavior.

The NSA has the capabilities to do many things, some of which remain unexplored (or at least unrevealed). This is one of them. The agency's defenders have argued that it doesn't abuse these powers, but its internal documents (along with statements from former NSA head Keith Alexander) that it will always "play to edges" of its confinements. This document shows it's willing to step into this role if asked to. Or if it thinks it was asked to. Or it may perform this role proactively and ask forgiveness later.

The fact is that this scenario never should have been presented. It's not that much different than using the threat of domestic terrorism as a what-if projection for unencumbered harvesting of US citizens' communications. There are lines you don't cross -- not in this nation -- even hypothetically. Corporate espionage is one of them. Especially when the US Attorney General is handing out indictments for corporate espionage by the Chinese.

Nothing may ever come of this. But it's important for the world to know that offer is on the table.

Filed Under: economic espionage, intelligence community, james clapper, lies, nsa, odni, surveillance


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  • icon
    BentFranklin (profile), 5 Sep 2014 @ 12:53pm

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Trevor, 5 Sep 2014 @ 1:48pm

    A short story

    Journalist NSA, do you perform economic espionage on foreign corporations and countries?

    NSA while nodding yes ABSOLUTELY not!

    Journalist Ok, next que- wait, what?

    NSA continues to nod "yes" We do not spy on foreign corporations for the benefit of US corporations...

    Journalist Okay, but why are you nodding your head "yes?"

    NSA I'm not nodding "yes." Whatever do you mean? wink nudge nudge

    Journalist You do realize I am from The Intercept, and not Fox News, right? We are not owned by News Corp...

    NSA head stops nodding This interview is over. PROVIDE ME WITH YOUR SOURCES, TERRORIST.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2014 @ 1:53pm

    Everyone loves to take down a bully when they stumble. get beaten up for your lunch money enough times and even the nicest person turns person turns mean

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2014 @ 1:55pm

    Who will save US from US?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2014 @ 2:11pm

    Thanks for the direct link to the PDF. The Intercept doesn't offer it without allowing cross site requests and scripts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2014 @ 2:15pm

    Misspelled ,Lame ,I Mean James Clappers name (Jame Clapper's office)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2014 @ 2:24pm

    From page 6 (13) of the PDF:

    "The IC would emplace sensors and monitor applications that run autonomous collection of the most relevant data, trigger pattern recognition sequences, and process raw feeds. This would require supercomputer-like capabilities at every “computational point-of-presence,” from computer terminal to digital handheld device."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2014 @ 2:26pm

    And we sink deeper and deeper into the pit that was once America.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Dave Cortright (profile), 5 Sep 2014 @ 2:42pm

    So one program will repair the damage another one causes?

    I think I see Cisco's tech edge slipping...
    https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140518/17433327281/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2014 @ 2:55pm

    So how will their super surveillance powers address the "slipping" of competitiveness as a result of super surveillance powers?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      jo (profile), 5 Sep 2014 @ 3:30pm

      Re:

      I wonder if by slipping they mean lost of sales and does this mean the next great bailout by the already poor citizens of Amerika will be to help the former tech giants.

      I'm glad I'm poor and old there doesn't seem to be any real life left in Amerika, the surveillance state.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2014 @ 3:56pm

        Re: Re:

        Politics is extremely dirty and people have way too high expectations of politicians, party because of the politicians themself. Surveillance is not a US-only phenomenon, US is just a bit more effective at collecting things than most other military SIGINT services. There is a reason to redistribute wealth in countries outside of staving off economic monopolisation (or envy/class warfare) and that is the political monopolisation the same power accumulates.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    TestPilotDummy, 5 Sep 2014 @ 3:33pm

    if then else

    sounds like a loop command already being used in 12333 702 and all the other oath breaking shit bills/laws.

    if goldmansax$ = < x (value), then
    #identity hackers logic
    set false_flag = 1
    set china_did_it = 1
    set ukrane_did_it = 0
    set russia_did_it = 0
    echo "initiating propaganda headlines"
    set randomX_poor_target = 1
    echo "propagating propaganda headlines"
    call array
    end()

    if obamacare$ = > x (visitors), then
    #DDoS logic
    set china_did_it = 0
    set ukrane_did_it = 1
    set russia_did_it = 1
    echo "initiating propaganda headlines"
    set randomX_poor_target = 0
    echo "propagating propaganda headlines"
    call array
    end()

    false flag (
    false flag
    false flag )
    end()

    also

    if time = time + 2 weeks without shock war false flag, then gosub random_target() false_flag, end()


    moar syntax errors than you can toss a boat anchor IBM keyboard at!

    But hey those buggers at obamacare.gov they got the win for securitard'ED-ness no matter what you say about ME

    I HAVE hope for them
    --hope they will DDoS themselves with a nice iptables -J DROP list

    0.0.0.0/8
    ...
    255.255.255.255/8

    turn off ipv6 and your good to go.
    can't sign up for what doesn't exist.

    and even as a dummy,
    I knew they were full of shit on security,
    the day I heard about it,
    My senators know, I put it right in their faces back then
    they can NOT SAY they were NOT warned!!

    Recall them from office, Indict their asses. that's all they know WAR.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2014 @ 3:52pm

    Once again, we learn that the things US keeps accusing China of (IP theft), it's been doing, too.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2014 @ 4:20pm

    These documents prove the US Gov would the exact same things a China, if they were in their shoes. Hippocratic liars sums US policy best.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 5 Sep 2014 @ 10:27pm

    Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink

    This really is not a revelation, and it's tiring to keep pointing out that we knew they were lying anyway. It's so much easier to simply assume that whatever they can do, they will do.

    No restraint, no rules, no respect, no boundaries; and always, always, always more lies. They don't even bother to do good lies; half the time you can read the truth from between the lines of the lies they spout.

    It's like the Monty Python Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink script: They just nudge, nudge, wink, wink, we all know what they are doing and they know we know, but plausible deniability in the form of yet another lie is their only answer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 8 Sep 2014 @ 8:33am

      Re: Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink

      "It's so much easier to simply assume that whatever they can do, they will do."

      Not only is it easier, it's a very safe assumption judging by history.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Sep 2014 @ 5:12am

    How is this possibly news? I'd be bloody amazed if there was some sort of official internal policy of NOT doing economic espionage if America falls behind. Do you expect the NSA to talk about patent law? I don't, that's not the NSA's job. If the NSA gets called in to help with this sort of situation, it won't talk about regulation or IP laws. NSA is going to steal everything they can get their hands on and say "We're a fucking spy agency. What did you expect us to do?"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Sep 2014 @ 2:45pm

      Re:

      There is a giant problem with that hypocritical stance. Namely that if you do that you have absolutely zero standing if anyone else engages in economic espionage against you. Instead of support the reaction of everyone else turns into "Good.". Besides as proven in the Cold War throwing resources behind copying when falling behind is a losing game and the money and effort is better spent improving your own development efforts.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 6 Sep 2014 @ 7:35am

    So much for that Free Market Capitalism I keep hearing about. Oh, wait...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Sep 2014 @ 10:58am

    One scenario included in the document posits Russia and India working together to outpace the US...

    ...Some may defend this as being a purely speculative document that details numerous what-if scenarios that will never be played out.


    Speculative, my ass. The BRICS nations are already working together: http://alainet.org/active/76072

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Sep 2014 @ 4:58pm

    There's some crapper in my lapper, I think I've got the Clapper, there's a skeeter on my peter, whack it off.
    Clap on, Clap off, the Clapper.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ethorad (profile), 7 Sep 2014 @ 2:53pm

    Hypocrisy, thy name is USA

    The fact is that this scenario never should have been presented

    You say that, but nations often have plans of what to do in various unthinkable scenarios. As an example, the US put together various war plans in the 20s and 30s for fighting various nations - including the UK. Given the US and UK were on friendly terms it seems unconscionable to put together a plan on how to fight, but it's far better to do it while you're friendly and have time to think than after the shooting starts.

    Arguably being in a shooting war is a more serious than just losing a technological edge[citation required], but then economic espionage is also less serious than shooting. However I can see that any dropping behind is seen as the start of a slippery slope to a loss of world power so early counter-measures are needed.

    To me it's less that this scenario shouldn't have been presented, and more another example of US hypocrisy being revealed

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2014 @ 4:37am

      Re: Hypocrisy, thy name is USA

      The US making war plans against the UK made sense in the 1920s, since the two nations were the greatest of the Great Powers (the US had more active industrial potential and more favourable geography, the British Empire had more people, larger and better-trained armed forces, and more industrial potential).

      Even by the 1930s, it was not implausible that the two nations would end up on opposite sides of the then-anticipated war, especially before Britain and Japan drew apart (with US encouragement) around 1935.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Tweak (profile), 8 Sep 2014 @ 8:36am

    Alternative scenarios

    The other scenarios posited by this forward-thinking review are equally frightening in their foresight (unless everyone at the NSA is a big science fiction fan). Reading through this document has reminded me not to underestimate these people. Although they may be unable to create a powerpoint that looks better than a five year old could make in 15 minutes, they do seem to have their fingers on the pulse (around the throat?) of potential future social tendencies.

    - "Identity-based groups supplant the authority of nation-states, competing with one another for influence in a chaotic political environment"
    - ("BRICS Bust-up") "Locked in multi-polar competition, states jockey for resources and adopt mercantilist trade policies in a precarious balance of power"
    - "Power shifts to corporations and megacities, allowing global ills (climate change to international crime) to spiral out of control"

    This highlights for me the essence of the NSA's true work in creating a global surveillance platform: control of the future of society. Stopping "terrorism" is an excellent front and I am sure that many NSA employees truly believe that this is their goal; however, this, combined with the previous documents about Human Intelligence and social tendencies derived from the monitoring of social media and sites like reddit and Youtube, tell a greater story.

    Control and absolute power are the goals here. Never forget that.

    P.S. - On the bright side, it is nice to see the government recognize and state that climate change is an issue of importance.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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