Privacy & Security

The Secret Reason Germany Wants to Join the NSA “Spy Club”

For me, one of the most ironic aspects of the Edward Snowden spy scandal is watching the reaction of foreign governments to it.

Top-secret documents Snowden leaked to the press reveal that the US National Security Agency monitors phone calls, e-mail messages, and other electronic data in many countries. These countries include such US “allies” as Spain, Germany, Japan, and Brazil.

These countries all claim to be “outraged” by the surveillance, including one of the closest US allies, Germany.

In fact, at one point it got so serious that Merkel called President Obama personally to supposedly object to the surveillance.

(Only in diplomatic circles could a phone call be considered “serious,” but I digress.)

What really happened on that call…

I don’t know what Angela Merkel and Barack Obama discussed in their phone call. But I don’t think Merkel was protesting the surveillance.

She knew perfectly well the NSA was listening to her cell phone conversations. She said so herself months before Snowden started feeding NSA secrets to the media.

So the question is, what did Obama and Merkel really talk about?

I think Merkel asked Obama for Germany to be admitted to the “Club.”

The “Club” is a top-secret intelligence-sharing alliance first formed in 1946, whereby all members agree to share nearly all intelligence they collect with one another.

The Club’s first members were the UK and the USA. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand joined later to form what we now know as the “Five Eyes.”

Although the existence of Five Eyes was revealed almost 30 years ago by investigative journalist James Bamford, (in his expose on the NSA called The Puzzle Palace), it wasn’t until 2010 that US and UK authorities officially admitted it existed.

The original (1946) goal was simple: to construct the world’s most sophisticated eavesdropping network in order to gather intelligence from the former Soviet Union, and later, the People's Republic of China.

But, when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, this surveillance network wasn't disbanded. It kept growing and became a key component of industrial espionage on behalf of politically connected companies. It grew further as part of the “War on Terror.”

Surveillance to protect civil liberties?

Now that the Club’s existence is no longer secret, Germany has to come up with a politically expedient reason to justify joining the world’s largest and most powerful urveillance alliance. Naturally, the official rationale is to “protect civil liberties.”

I’m not kidding.

Within the UK-USA agreement is a clause that makes clear that each member agrees not to spy on citizens of another member without permission from that other member. German officials are telling the media that’s why the country wants to become part of the Club.

They say that as part of the club, this clause will protect the US from spying on German citizens in the future.

Amazingly, the media’s buying in to this explanation. But I’m not.

What’s really going to happen…

That’s because Germany’s official reason for wanting to join the Club ignores a nifty tool inserted into the UK-USA agreement.

Basically, Country A asks Country B to spy on Country A and then share the results. This way, both countries avoid violating the no-spy pledge.

For instance, if the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), the Canadian agency responsible for such things, wants to listen in on domestic telephone calls in Canada, it simply refers the matter to the NSA. Then, under the agreement, the NSA simply hands the contents of its surveillance over to the CSE. This has been confirmed by former CSE officials.

Isn’t that cool? I think this is why Germany wants in on the action. Angela Merkel knows the NSA routinely monitors German communication networks. If Germany becomes part of the club, she could use the agreement to direct NSA spying against domestic political enemies.

All in the name of protecting civil liberties, of course.

Will the all English-speaking Club make Germany a member? We’ll see…

But, what does this mean to all of us in the US?

Quite simply, if Germany is thinking about using the club to more effectively spy on its own people, would it not be reasonable to think the existing partners are doing the same thing for each other at this very moment?

In other words, while the NSA may not be spying on Americans as aggressively as they could, who’s to say the Brits, Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders aren’t doing it for them?

Now that’s a scary thought indeed.

Mark Nestmann

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