We’re not sure exactly which section of the U.S. Constitution protects the privacy rights of foreign leaders, but Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden appear to believe it’s in there somewhere. The tandem crusaders for the Fourth Amendment have once again extended their reach beyond what was intended to be their mutual goal of igniting a debate in the United States about the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s surveillance operations, and, instead, opted to reveal that, yes, the U.S. spies on foreign leaders. Shocking, I know.
Specifically, on the Globo television show “Fantastico” in Brazil, Greenwald described a July, 2012 document stolen from NSA by Snowden, which describes how NSA had intercepted communications made by the president of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto, as well as Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff. (Incidentally, the Globo article contains 13 corporate trackers or “web bugs.”)
The goal of revealing this information is clear. Greenwald and Snowden have successfully exploited the “sparking a debate” motive as a Trojan Horse for injecting unrelated information into public view as a means of vindictively damaging the operations of U.S. and U.K. intelligence communities, not to mention the reputation of the United States as a whole, while also pushing the unrealistic message that surveillance is generally impermissible. Yes, we already knew that nations spy on other nations, but to publicly disclose specific instances of international spying — while on the soil of one of the nations being surveilled — confirms these suspicions and sorely embarrasses everyone involved.
Naturally, the governments of Brazil and Mexico aren’t happy. One Rousseff aide referred to the allegations as “an emergency.” But it’s reasonable to speculate that part of the anger stems from an unspoken concern that such revelations could also expose the surveillance operations conducted by Brazil and Mexico against the U.S. Indeed, what Greenwald and Snowden won’t tell you, because Greenwald’s litigator style precludes the use of contravening details, is that both Mexico and Brazil have foreign intelligence gathering agencies involved with surveillance and signals intelligence, among other things.
In Brazil, it’s called the Agência Brasileira de Inteligência (ABIN or the Brazilian Intelligence Agency). It deals with external and domestic intelligence gathering: collection and analysis of information that’s intercepted via both signals (SIGINT collects email, phone calls and so forth) and human resources.
In Mexico, it’s called S-2. Like ABIN or NSA, S-2 also collects SIGINT on foreign targets, with a special focus on the military operations of foreign governments. Along with its counterpart, the Centro de Información de Seguridad Nacional (Center for Research on National Security or CISIN), S-2 is tasked with counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism operations.
Has anyone overheard Greenwald mention, even in passing, either of these agencies? Likely not, and don’t hold your breath waiting for Greenwald to attack Brazil’s intelligence community, even knowing that it wiretapped its own Senate and Supreme Court several years ago. Along those lines, we don’t know exactly whether these agencies have attempted to spy on any of our presidents or government officials, but wouldn’t Greenwald, as a U.S. citizen and resident of Brazil, want to find out using the same “Glennzilla” tenacity he’s employed while exposing U.S. spying? If his crusade now involves universal privacy, wouldn’t that include violations by the Brazilian government, especially knowing that Greenwald lives in Rio de Janeiro?
Anyway, it’s naive to think other national security services aren’t surveilling various members of our government. And that’s what makes Greenwald’s reporting so simultaneously insufferable and dangerous. Much in the same way recent articles about NSA errors were presented without context, he’s offering up an incomplete view of what’s really happening in a global sense by singling out the U.S. and U.K. as the only nations engaging in surveillance. The end result is a damaging blow to America’s national security apparatus while emboldening and immunizing other nations that are, to some degree, doing the exact same thing.
How else do you think Germany and France (not to mention the U.S. and U.K.) confirmed that the Syrian government used sarin gas to murder its own people? They did it by spying on the Syrian government and its military, of course. Since the beginning of human civilization, governments have spied on other governments (I can’t believe we have to write this, but there it is). Not only does it prevent wars, but in a more specific sense, it provides a better understanding of what friendly and hostile nations alike are up to behind-the-scenes. It seems as though Greenwald and Snowden would rather the United States operate blindly on the world stage, while every other industrialized nation, friend or foe, is fully tapped into what our government is doing. Regardless of where you stand on the issue of reforming NSA, this has to be viewed as nothing short of ridiculous.
Coupled with the fact that Snowden nabbed the Black Budget and, with it, information so damaging to American interests that reporter Barton Gellman opted not to publish it, along with what Greenwald described as a “dead man switch” in which seriously damaging documents would be released if Snowden is ever harmed, any delusions about a Benevolent and Heroic Snowden ought to be summarily abandoned. This guy, along with his media flack Greenwald, have repeatedly verified that Snowden stole highly dangerous information about the United States and the United Kingdom. And this new revelation is further evidence that Greenwald is unafraid to publish it, even if it has nothing to do with a liminal debate about the Fourth Amendment.
UPDATE: Joshua Foust has more details about the Brazilian and Mexican surveillance operations, including the existence of Brazil’s version of NSA’s PRISM database system. Foust links to the following article:
The federal government of Brazil may indeed have access to private data that citizens may have provided to any private company. More than that, a state agency may get information that was cleared by another entity in the state with different purpose. […]
We identified two main ways in which the state has systematic access to data from the private sector.
By Anatel, which deals with real-time access to data from mobile operators, is technically able to know who called whom and how long each call lasted.
And by means of agreements between public entities such as the federal police and prosecutors, and companies like Facebook and Google. This type of agreement is intended to accelerate processes.