from the unexpected-but-also,-sadly,-unsurprising dept
A new book written by journalist Richard Kerbaj, detailing the history of the so-called “Five Eyes” surveillance collaboration between the NSA and surveillance agencies in the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, is revealing a few more postscripts to the Ed Snowden story.
The new book contains a couple of revelations that don’t appear to previously have been published. Perhaps the most shocking (but maybe not all that shocking) is the apparent fact that NSA applied pressure to its UK counterpart in hopes of preventing UK journalists from committing journalism.
The US National Security Agency (NSA) tried to persuade its British counterpart to stop the Guardian publishing revelations about secret mass data collection from the NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, according to a new book.
Sir Iain Lobban, the head of Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), was reportedly called with the request in the early hours of 6 June 2013 but rebuffed the suggestion that his agency should act as a censor on behalf of its US partner in electronic spying.
The head of GCHQ felt comfortable rejecting the NSA’s request to somehow stop publication of the first Snowden leaks. But it wasn’t so resistant a few days later, when its own government apparently talked it into showing up at The Guardian’s offices and forcing employees to destroy hard drives that supposedly contained leaked NSA documents.
What’s not shocking about this is that the NSA would have likely done anything to stop the leaks from being published, especially if it could persuade a third-party located in a different country to apply pressure. That would free it from legal liability and allegations of rights violations and make another spy agency look like it was the one that couldn’t handle the pressure and pulled the trigger on an outrageous attempt to save itself at the expense of journalistic freedom.
The NSA’s supreme self-interest is further exposed in the book. NSA officials kept the agency’s closest so-called “partner” in the dark about the source of the leaks, allowing GCHQ to find out the name of the source the same time the rest of us not employed by the NSA found out.
Kerbaj reports that the US-UK intelligence relationship was further strained when the head of the NSA, Gen Keith Alexander, failed to inform Lobban that the Americans had identified Snowden, a Hawaii-based government contractor, as the source of the stories, leaving the British agency investigating its own ranks in the search for the leaker. GCHQ did not discover Snowden’s identity until he went public in a Guardian interview.
Yikes. Apparently, the NSA thought this was the best solution to its own problem. Making matters worse, Ed Snowden’s outing of himself further enraged GCHQ officials, who could not believe a mere government contractor (rather than an official NSA employee) had access to this wealth of classified information.
Despite their differences, the spy agencies remain united. They both agree the public shouldn’t know any more than they’re willing to officially release about spy programs that inadvertently or deliberately target citizens. They will both continue to go on joint fishing expeditions, pulling communications and data from offshore cables to remain out of reach of local laws. And presumably, they both still agree Snowden is the actual villain here, no matter how often they’ve ignored rights and regulations to engage in spying. But hopefully they both realize history will ultimately vindicate Snowden while the jury remains out on the effectiveness of counterterrorism programs that involve dragnet collections.