By now everyone who has a brain in their skull knows who Edward Snowden is. In case you have never heard of him, and I am not even going to ask why, Snowden is not some Eskimo.
Snowden, as he is now mononymously known, is a former Dell and CIA employee who also worked at the dreaded NSA as a contractor. It was during his time as a contractor that he somehow harvested gazillions of classified documents which he later leaked and revealed to two journalists.
Predictably the material found its way into the public domain, fueling much debate about mass surveillance by the United States in the name of national security, talks of oversight and the importance of online security. Mr Snowden, a hero to some and a villain to some, now resides in some secret Russian den as an asylum seeker.
Despite all the controversies that the Snowden leaks have generated about Privacy, (American) National Security, Oversight etc; one thing has hardly been touched on: The fact that the United States has basically been spying on every nation under the sun under the guise of protecting its own national security. Sure people have been outraged by the disclosure that the US has been spying on even its own closest allies like the German Chancellor.
The reaction to the appalling fact that the United States and its Five Eyes buddies had been wantonly spying on the United Nations and European Union diplomats has been met with muted criticism. That is in comparison to the noise about the fact that they spied on American citizens.
For some reason, most of the western press seems to see the latter as the greatest crime despite the fact that there are no gun totting “terrorists” at the United Nations or the European Union meetings some people still think this is as fair play. Somehow the US Constitution trumps international law and is more inalienable that the sanctity of the United Nations? I don’t think the U.S. Congress has even debated the legality of this!
Then the Dancing Panda/Legion Amethyst happened. These are the American code names for Chinese cyber spying operations on top US officials. This intrusion on private email accounts of Obama administration officials and their lackeys simply referred to in the NSA briefing as “national security” figures, was first detected in April of 2010 and is still active.
The intrusion allows the intruders, who are suspected (rather than proven) to be Chinese cyber spies, to read the private emails of these top U.S. officials and boy are the Americans furious about it. They have called China on this several times in a classic case of the kettle calling the pot black. Google has also been breached at least once as part of this alleged China plot.
Beijing for its part has been vehement in their denials. They have categorically denied ever spying on the Americans and since they do not have an Edward Snowden of their own to out them and prove once and for all that they have mass surveillance technology of their own, even though everyone knows about the Great Firewall of China. They have not hesitated to point out the fact that it is indeed the Americans who have been proven to be spying on “everybody.”
It is important to note that the Dancing Panda is just one of about 30 “intrusions” that have been attributed to the Chinese.
The Russians, America’s Cold War foe, were not about to be left out of this race. Even though it has never been revealed that the Americans have been spying on the Russians ( that would be the mother of all platitudes) it would be foolish to assume otherwise. The Russians however, have been cyber-spying on the Americans. It has also been recently revealed that Russia successfully launched “a sophisticated attack” on the Pentagon’s unclassified email system which has since been taken offline in the wake of this discovery.
In all these revelations, the United States has been shamelessly parading itself as some innocent victim of cyber spying. Nothing can be further from the truth. A cursory Google search will tell you about Stuxnet and other similar sabotage programs, talk of the backdoor that they have denied having in companies like Google and Facebook which despite all the denials by the parties involved they probably had. After all it’s not as if they are going to say otherwise. The intelligence world is not famed for its truth telling. In any case, there is always Monsieur Snowden and his nasty can of worms.
The truth is, just like with the Nuclear arms race, all the big dogs are doing it. Their disingenuous denials do not change that fact at all. And instead of some asinine calls by the foolish FBI director for the US government to pass legislation and directives that will deliberately make weak encryption so as to allow law enforcement to access people’s data we should be doing the opposite.
Even David Cameron is not happy his GHCQ goons cannot read people’s WhatsApp messages.He wants the platform banned or to weaken its encryption so as to “protect” people from the threat of Terrorism. This is akin to requiring people to leave their doors open or to use “weak” keys so as to allow law enforcement agents to enter their houses easily. For some reason, criminals are just supposed to ignore these unlocked doors!
The thing is cyber-spying is a slippery slope, and much like nuclear proliferation, needs to stop. Sure the big nations will always play with their toys just like they continue to do with their nuclear weapons whose value nowadays I have always questioned, but there need to be clear boundaries, treaties and laws against international cyber-spying or all hell is going to break loose.
Rogue states like North Korea are going to want a piece of that action too. They are already linked to the Sony Hack and several hacks on South Korea. As new nations join the foray it is going to be like the chaotic wild west as people take wild shots at each other.
Sure every nation wants to protect its national interests, but who are we kidding? Does anyone really believe for a second that during the act of protecting its national interests if, say the Chinese, happen to come upon data about the B2 Spirit they would just ignore it and not pass it to their own industries? Would the Americans also just ignore a secret Chinese technology?
The human mind is, to my knowledge, unhackable and unreadable yet we have managed to fight crime without the need to read it.
There is even the Fifth Amendment in America that prevents people from being compelled to incriminate themselves and it is considered inviolable. If you are going to argue that America’s founding fathers were not privy to the world of terrorism when they passed such a law, then if we are changing laws, why let us change the precious second amendment too in the wake of all those school shootings which they were also not privy to.
Unrestrained cyber-spying is evil no matter who is doing it. The way Americans feel when Russia and China are spying on them is the way we feel when the Americans do it to everyone including us. But I guess the Americans just do not like the taste of their own medicine.
Image credit: comicvine.com