Headlines like ‘Snowden leaks: France summons US envoy over NSA surveillance claims: Prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault ‘shocked’ at Le Monde’s claims that US intercepts French phone calls on ‘massive scale’ may make good copy for online clicks and Tweet-rage, but on this one, and the revelations over NSA spying in Mexico, we might need to differentiate what is for public consumption, and what is actual outrage.
You’ve no doubt read that Le Monde, in partnership with Glenn Greenwald, has shown, via graphs, slides, and charts:
‘Amongst the thousands of documents extracted from the NSA by its ex-employee there is a graph which describes the extent of telephone monitoring and tapping (DNR – Dial Number Recognition) carried out in France. It can be seen that over a period of thirty days – from 10 December 2012 to 8 January 2013, 70,3 million recordings of French citizens’ telephone data were made by the NSA. This agency has several methods of data collection. According to the elements obtained by Le Monde, when a telephone number is used in France, it activates a signal which automatically triggers the recording of the call. Apparently this surveillance system also picks up SMS messages and their content using key words. Finally, the NSA apparently stores the history of the connections of each target – or the meta-data.’ [snip]
The techniques used for these interceptions appear under the codenames ‘DRTBOX’ and ‘WHITEBOX’. [snip] But they give sufficient explanation to lead us to think that the NSA targets concerned both people suspected of association with terrorist activities as well as people targeted simply because they belong to the worlds of business, politics or French state administration. ‘
‘DRTBOX’ cracked me up; it’s British for ‘kitty litter pan’.
(Through NSA program ‘Boundless Informant): ‘One of the documents which Le Monde was able to consult notes that between 8 February and 8 March 2013, the NSA collected, throughout the world, 124,8 billion telephone data items and 97,1 billion computer data items.’
And the news via der Spiegel on Sunday that the NSA hacked into the email accounts of both the past President of Mexico, Felipe Calderone, and the current President, Enrique Pena Nieto, the outrage was a bit hollow, given that Mexico and the US partner so closely in the drug wars.
‘The NSA has been systematically eavesdropping on the Mexican government for years. It hacked into the president’s public email account and gained deep insight into policymaking and the political system. The news is likely to hurt ties between the US and Mexico.’
Spying on the Presidents’ emails seem to have been new revelations, though.
‘The National Security Agency (NSA) has a division for particularly difficult missions. Called “Tailored Access Operations” (TAO), this department devises special methods for special targets.
That category includes surveillance of neighboring Mexico, and in May 2010, the division reported its mission accomplished. A report classified as “top secret” said: “TAO successfully exploited a key mail server in the Mexican Presidencia domain within the Mexican Presidential network to gain first-ever access to President Felipe Calderon’s public email account.”
According to the NSA, this email domain was also used by cabinet members, and contained “diplomatic, economic and leadership communications which continue to provide insight into Mexico’s political system and internal stability.” The president’s office, the NSA reported, was now “a lucrative source.”
Der Spiegel believes that it will strain US/Mexican relations, but Mexico has been relatively moderate in its reaction; neither they nor Francois Hollande or French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius have even mentioned their sovereign rights having been abrogated. Hmmm.
While looking for an English version of this new story two days ago, I ran into this piece at Le Monde from April that may prove embarrassing for French officials playing for the citizens in expressing their outrage: ‘Revelations of French Big Brother’:
‘If the revelations about the American espionage program Prism set off a chorus of indignation in Europe, France itself protested only weakly. For two excellent reasons: Paris already knew about it – and it’s doing exactly the same thing. Le Monde is able to disclose that the General Directorate of External Security (the DGSE, or special services) systematically collects the electromagnetic signals emitted by computers and telephones in France, and the flow of signals between France and countries abroad: the entirety of our communications are being spied on. All of our email messages, SMS messages, itemised phone bills and connections to FaceBook and Twitter are then stored for years.
If this immense data base was used just by the DGSE, which operates only outside French borders, it would already be illegal. But the six other intelligence services – among them the Central Directorate of Internal Intelligence, the customs service and the Tracfin anti-money-laundering service – delve into this base daily for the data of interest to them. This takes place discreetly, on the margins of legality and beyond any serious control. Politicians are perfectly aware of it, but secrecy is the rule.’
Indeed, the article quotes parliamentary intelligence records on the subject of mutualization infrastructure (the massive data base) among the security agencies, and even quotes speeches by the technical director of the DGSE. The probably intentional vagueness of the wording that can lead to successful access to the metadata can lead to ‘identify(ing) the entourage of politicians at the highest level of the state, whatever their position and the nature of the links under surveillance’, according to the author.
Ooops. More ‘shut up or we’ll spill your secrets’ hints?
Ironically, or maybe not, apparently former DNI Dennis Blair had been trying to forge an agreement with France ending their mutual snooping. According to the New York Times, the White House apparently tanked the idea, but claimed that it wasn’t the proximate cause of Blair’s decision to have his resignation accepted. Sorry, Dennis Blair, but it seems your attempts to reign in spying a bit weren’t altogether appreciated. The Times had the ‘France spying on its own’ story by this morning, too.
The AP has some interesting quotes by former CIA spook Bob Baer about France’s spying on both diplomats and business people, even bugging the special seats on the defunct Concorde.
Two other things:
One wag on Twitter, when commenting on General Keith Alexander’s plans to leave his job as Director of the NSA in March said:
“He announced that he was leaving his post because he wanted to spend less time with your family.”
And this is a fun trailer for a soon-to-be-released film, ‘How the Government Tracks You: NSA Surveillance’. Even The Dude weighs in.