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.