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CIA Reportedly Restricts Spying on ‘Friendly Governments’ in Western Europe

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The Associated Press reports the CIA has decided to restrict “spying on friendly governments in Western Europe in response to the furor over a German caught selling secrets to the United States.” The revelations on top secret NSA surveillance from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden have also played a role in the CIA’s decision.

“Current and former US officials,” who were granted anonymity to discuss this development “because it’s illegal to discuss classified material or activities,” informed AP that this “pause” had been “ordered by senior CIA officials through secret cables.”

This stand-down period is apparently occurring so that CIA officers may examine whether they are “being careful enough and to evaluate whether spying on allies is worth running the risk of discovery.”

The world found out that Germans were being recruited by the CIA. According to Der Spiegel, one agent from Germany’s foreign intelligence service sold “documents pertaining to the special parliamentary committee” in Germany that is “investigating spying by the NSA in Germany.” The CIA station chief in Berlin was booted out of the country.

So, without a doubt, no, the CIA was not careful enough. That’s what this secret review, which will likely remain secret for a very, very long time (unless it’s leaked) should conclude. In fact, a review should probably instead examine how reckless CIA agents are being in the field.

To the issue of whether it is worth the risk of discovery, having a “friendly government” discover the US government is spying on their inquiry into US government spying against their government should not be worth the risk. It especially shouldn’t be worth it when President Barack Obama tries to reassure Chancellor Angela Merkel that, as long as he is president, “the chancellor of Germany will not have to worry about this” and then, months later, she has to worry about it again.

Perhaps, the value could be that the US government would know exactly what the German government is upset about and would not have to apologize for espionage activities, which the Germans still weren’t able to uncover. However, Germans would be extra-suspicious when they learned about spying on an investigation into spying because they might recognize there was something the US government was possibly afraid the German government would find out.

According to the AP report:

The “EUR” division, as it is known within the CIA, covers Canada, Western Europe and Turkey. While spying on Western European allies is not a top priority, Turkey is considered a high priority target — an Islamic country that talks to U.S. adversaries such as Iran, while sharing a border with Syria and Iraq. It was not known to what extent the stand-down affected operations in Turkey.

European countries also are used as safe venues to conduct meetings between CIA officers and their sources from the Middle East and other high priority areas. Those meetings have been rerouted to other locales while the pause is in place.

The story notes that in 1996 the CIA faced “blowback” when “an operation to uncover French positions on world trade talks was unraveled by French authorities because of poor CIA tactics.”

Ever since details related to spying on world leaders surfaced, thanks to Snowden, there has been this repeated banal justification for spying. As articulated by state-identified Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, “Everybody does this kind of thing. The US, through the NSA, does it more aggressively because it’s just better at it. It’s got more capabilities.”

Imagine justifying torture with, well, everybody does this thing. They all harshly interrogate people sometimes. America just does it more aggressively. Or, imagine justifying poor efforts to combat climate change by curbing fossil fuel emissions by saying every country has carbon pollution. Or, what if government deflected criticism about secret government by saying all governments in the world have lots of secrets?

The Los Angeles Times editorial board put it this way:

Is there any meaningful difference between bugging your own citizens and bugging someone else’s? (Under American law, the U.S. has more leeway to bug other countries’ citizens than its own.) Is there a difference between a spy stealing secrets from an ally — like Jonathan Pollard, who has spent more than 25 years in prison for stealing American secrets on behalf of Israel — and a surveillance program that targets the secrets of an entire nation? Is privacy a luxury of the past? Should we all assume our conversations are being overheard, if not by our government then by someone else’s?

Citizens aren’t likely to ever find out the result of this review. The way the AP frames it focuses attention on the possibility that the CIA will miss something critical in the fight against extremists flocking to join ISIS and fight in Iraq and Syria. But a more significant point is that the CIA is conducting this review to ensure that it can continue to do the same kind of espionage it did pre-Snowden.

If it thought it needed the information before this latest scandal in Germany, it will still feel compelled to go after the same type of information again. It just has to figure out how to navigate this new normal, where all friendly governments are more openly on edge about being spied upon by US intelligence. That reality will be treated as a challenge, not a deterrent.

*

One brief aside: people in government talking to the press about what they are doing is to be encouraged yet officials having conversations with reporters is something the Obama administration has worked aggressively to discourage by threatening prosecution or firing.

AP’s Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee has put together a list of ways the Obama administration is blocking journalists from finding out information needed to cover the news. Read about Most Transparent Administration Ever™ here.

Image by Tony Fischer under creative commons license

CommunityFDL Main BlogThe Dissenter

CIA Reportedly Restricts Spying on ‘Friendly Governments’ in Western Europe

Paused

The Associated Press reports the CIA has decided to restrict “spying on friendly governments in Western Europe in response to the furor over a German caught selling secrets to the United States.” The revelations on top secret NSA surveillance from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden have also played a role in the CIA’s decision.

“Current and former US officials,” who were granted anonymity to discuss this development “because it’s illegal to discuss classified material or activities,” informed AP that this “pause” had been “ordered by senior CIA officials through secret cables.”

This stand-down period is apparently occurring so that CIA officers may examine whether they are “being careful enough and to evaluate whether spying on allies is worth running the risk of discovery.”

The world found out that Germans were being recruited by the CIA. According to Der Spiegel, one agent from Germany’s foreign intelligence service sold “documents pertaining to the special parliamentary committee” in Germany that is “investigating spying by the NSA in Germany.” The CIA station chief in Berlin was booted out of the country.

So, without a doubt, no, the CIA was not careful enough. That’s what this secret review, which will likely remain secret for a very, very long time (unless it’s leaked) should conclude. In fact, a review should probably instead examine how reckless CIA agents are being in the field.

To the issue of whether it is worth the risk of discovery, having a “friendly government” discover the US government is spying on their inquiry into US government spying against their government should not be worth the risk. It especially shouldn’t be worth it when President Barack Obama tries to reassure Chancellor Angela Merkel that, as long as he is president, “the chancellor of Germany will not have to worry about this” and then, months later, she has to worry about it again.

Perhaps, the value could be that the US government would know exactly what the German government is upset about and would not have to apologize for espionage activities, which the Germans still weren’t able to uncover. However, Germans would be extra-suspicious when they learned about spying on an investigation into spying because they might recognize there was something they were possibly afraid the German government would find out.

According to the AP report: (more…)

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CIA Reportedly Restricts Spying on 'Friendly Governments' in Western Europe

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

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