According to the Guardian “a total of 850,000 NSA employees and US private contractors with top secret clearance had access to GCHQ databases”; presumably a few others also have access to NSA databases.
Then there are very many others who have access to programs such as Prism or Tempora let alone Echelon, Ghostnet, Frenchelon and MTI or their equivalents in many other countries beyond the Five Eyes (The USA, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). If you add up all those with access you are clearly talking about millions of people and it doesn’t stop at your electronic communications (phone calls, texts, emails, faxes and other electronic messages); your entire activity on the web such as searches, on line shopping, gaming, dating, chatting or purportedly private Facebook and other social network entries are vulnerable.
There are 176 countries that are currently United Nation members and depending upon one’s definition about 242 countries in all. Many of the smaller ones probably allow other larger “friendly” countries to help them harvest data and doubtless the larger countries harvest that data too. Many others probably go it alone or work in concert with others (you watch our citizens and we’ll watch your’s). Given that the USA and UK represent not much more than 5% of the world population it makes sense that there are probably several million people worldwide with some sort of access to all the data being harvested without consent all over the world. No wonder that few countries have openly criticised the USA or UK for harvesting data from all around the world.
Are all those who can access harvested data beyond corruption? Have they all been thoroughly vetted? Are they all living in countries free from corruption? “Obviously not” would be a satisfactory answer to all those questions.
Even if the Guardian’s number is wrong by as much as 50% this underscores our fears as expressed in our first ever news article to be published on this website: “Ever-increasing cyberspace risks” on 17th February 2012.
The article (still on our website) dealt in general terms with our concerns about unlawful and corrupt interception of all electronic communications and explained in broad terms what happened. It did not explain anything that wasn’t already in the public domain or which could have helped criminals or terrorists et al understand or detect if they were under surveillance. In any event, the inhabitants of cyberspace knew or should have known that there was surveillance going on from all over the world unless they were either myopic or brain dead as it had been in the public domain for years by then.
Our concerns were that anyone who was corrupt (including “plants” from organised criminal gangs or terrorist organisations) who could access this data was in a position to pervert the course of justice, extort or blackmail others etc let alone circumvent detection of their own criminal acts. As was the case with Edward Snowden some people always slip through the net of checks on people’s backgrounds particularly if millions are being vetted in different ways.
As we and many others have commented, it was clear from information released by the NSA that had they had proper procedures to vet potential “trouble makers” Snowden would have quickly appeared on their radar screens. Furthermore, the fact that the NSA uses sub-contractors for high risk responsible roles such as system administrators is beyond belief.
Just how many of the millions who can see the emails or listen in to the telephone calls use that information illegally will never be known. But don’t forget they can eaves drop on anyone – law enforcement agencies, spies, bankers or even lawyers talking about their strategies for clients in high profile and/or high value cases. Although you may be able to detect interception you won’t know what happens next. For example, that every email or call you make is being sold to the “other side” whether it is a competitor, your take-over target, your known enemies, the plaintiff’s or defendant’s’ solicitors or even a bookie, banker or spread better.
We have pulled out of assignments and/or spread disinformation when we have detected or suspected corrupt or undesirable interception was going on. The point is that it is going on and while for most of us what we are doing doesn’t matter that much to others for some of us it does. A communication with your doctor about an embarrassing matter won’t be focused on unless you are really powerful or famous but a chat about the sale of the listed company you are a director of might be as might a law enforcement officer communicating about when to arrest someone under surveillance for money laundering in connection with illegal arms and drugs dealings.
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and all the world seems interested in today apart from “bunga bunga parties” is Snowden’s next entrance or exit. Incidentally, as The Burlington Files may show, just because you are not on your assigned seat on a plane doesn’t mean you weren’t on board! Notwithstanding that tangent, there are much more serious issues at stake.
Every citizen in the world who cares should be asking questions such as what’s going on in my country and why … if they have the requisite courage to do so. It would be sobering were Snowden to publish what other countries do so that those lucky enough to live in the USA or UK could use their political clout to start sympathising with others really at risk of abuse instead of moaning about matters such as civil liberties others might envy or purportedly treasonous acts by a citizen who for some absurd reason was not even employed by the US Government. The US Department of Justice has not charged Snowden with treason but the charges made as explained in this useful article look like they may be difficult to defend.
In future if it’s metaphorically raining and you are on holiday in some supposed sunshine country (eg the UK in June) or on business stuck in some obscure airport (eg Heathrow) make sure you choose your words with care whether talking, texting, emailing, chatting or simply posting a blog on a social network. One day not so far away you could be apprehended for crimes against the state you were in at the time.
Listening to John Kerry and others today one might be forgiven for thinking the USA was part of North Korea. Snowden may well be guilty of the charges levied against him but the pre-emption of justice is not laudable from an experienced politician acting as Secretary of State. Luckily freedom of speech is still built into the US constitution and other well known US voices with opinions diametrically opposed to Kerry, Clapper and co can be heard in what should be an interesting ongoing debate. How Snowden can have a fair trial of any kind in the USA is open to debate if it ever comes to that.
Maybe Amnesty International as a neutral player should have the last word in this international saga. A spokesperson commented this evening that “No one should be charged under any law for disclosing information of human rights violations by the US government.” The statement seems to apply to everyone even if their US passports have been revoked including Snowden who admitted to the South China Morning Post that he took on the job at a lower salary than he was accustomed to in order to deliberately access specific secret data. If ever there was a guilty plea that sounds like one if true.
This article was first published on 24th June 2013 pursuant to other articles published by Faire Sans Dire and listed in the News Section of its website.