For Allies, Tangled Web of Shared Intelligence ; Outrage at U.S. Spying Is Tempered in Countries Thought to Be Complicit

By Eddy, Melissa | International Herald Tribune, July 11, 2013 | Go to article overview

For Allies, Tangled Web of Shared Intelligence ; Outrage at U.S. Spying Is Tempered in Countries Thought to Be Complicit


Eddy, Melissa, International Herald Tribune


Recent allegations of U.S. spying reflect the complicated nature of the relationship between the intelligence services of the United States and its allies.

When Edward J. Snowden disclosed the extent of U.S. data-mining operations in Germany, monitoring as many as 60 million of the country's telephone and Internet connections, politicians here, like others in Europe, were by turns appalled and indignant. But like the French before them, this week they found themselves backpedaling.

In an interview released this week, Mr. Snowden said that Germany's intelligence services were "in bed" with the National Security Agency, "the same as with most other Western countries." The assertion has added to fresh scrutiny in the European news media of Berlin and other European governments that may have benefited from the enormous U.S. snooping program known as Prism, or conducted wide-ranging surveillance operations of their own.

The outrage of European leaders notwithstanding, intelligence experts and historians say the most recent disclosures reflect the complicated nature of the relationship between the intelligence services of the United States and its allies, which have long quietly swapped information on each others' citizens.

"The other services don't ask us where our information is from, and we don't ask them," Mr. Snowden said in the interview, conducted by the documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras and Jacob Appelbaum, a computer security researcher, and published this week in the German magazine Der Spiegel. "This way they can protect their political leaders from backlash, if it should become public how massively the private spheres of people around the globe are being violated."

Britain, which has the closest intelligence relationship with the United States of any European country, has been implicated in several of the data operations described by Mr. Snowden, including claims that Britain's agencies had access to the Prism computer network, which monitors data from a range of Internet companies in the United States. Such sharing would have allowed British intelligence agencies to sidestep British legal restrictions on electronic snooping. Prime Minister David Cameron has insisted that its intelligence services operate within the law.

Another allegation, reported by The Guardian, a British newspaper, is that the Government Communications Headquarters, the British surveillance center, tapped fiber optic cables carrying international telephone and Internet traffic, then shared the information with the N.S.A. This program, known as Tempora, involved attaching intercept probes to trans-Atlantic cables when they land on British shores from North America, the report said.

President Francois Hollande of France was among the first European leaders to express outrage at the revelations of U.S. spying, and especially at accusations that the Americans had spied on French diplomatic posts in Washington and New York.

There is no evidence to date that French intelligence services were granted access to information from the N.S.A. However, Le Monde reported last week that France's external intelligence agency maintained a broad telecommunications data collection system of its own, amassing metadata on most, if not all, telephone calls, e- mails and Internet activity coming in and out of France.

Mr. Hollande and other officials have been notably less vocal regarding the claims advanced by Le Monde, which the authorities in France have neither confirmed nor denied.

Given their grim experiences with domestic spying, first under the Nazis and then with the East German secret police, Germans are sensitive when it comes to issues of personal privacy and protection of their personal data. …

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