NSA and British Signals Intelligence Spy on German Tech Companies


Former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden responded, in an interview with the German weekly Der Spiegel, to criticisms related to the embarrassing revelation via Mark Snowdon of NSA spying on the phone calls of Prime Minister Angela Merkel. Additional documents leaked by Snowdon have become the basis for allegations that the NSA and British signals intelligence spy on German tech companies. According to the documents, the targeting of server information, email lists, customer lists, and specifically of particular engineers, was to produced detailed knowledge of German teleports.

These ground stations operated by the companies IABG, Stellar and Cetel, have fields of towers, connections to the fastest European broadband infrastructure, and access leased satellites. They can can beam internet and telephone access virtually anywhere on the globe. The allegations that the NSA and British signals intelligence spy on German tech companies has made it to the central court in Karlsruhe that will consider whether there is probable cause to pursue criminal prosecution of the NSA.  In addition the question of whether a trial is in the German national interest will be considered, as is always the process in considering to pursuit of prosecution of espionage cases.

Carried out from intelligence listening stations operated jointly by NSA and GCHQ (British signals intelligence), in Cornwall in the south of England. The focus of their electronic surveillance is the internet exchange points at the companies’ ground stations.  Surveillance targeting Stellar focused on 16 email addresses including that of the CEO Christian Steffen and the servers.

There are many contexts in which the NSA monitors the data of specific countries.  FISA, the special US court that grants permission for legal processes before undertaking surveillance, provided the NSA with permission to undertake research in Germany in 2013.   Other countries for whom similar surveillance was  granted including a number in South and Central America, Middle East and North Africa, as well as China, Russia and Bosnia.  In practice the NSA uses this permission to monitor both individuals and telecommunications.

In the interview with Der Spiegel, the German weekly magazine, the director of the NSA from 1999 to 2005 and director of the CIA from 2006 to 2009 Hayden explained, “Free people, free ideas and free trade” are not what countries like China, Iran,  Russia and Saudi Arabia want.  They can attack the US notion of a “unitary Internet” on the grounds that America likes it because it makes it easier to spy on them.  Establishing and maintaining dominance in cyberspace means the US controlling it for its own use, while keeping the others from being able to use it. American security experts when asked said what they fear most in cyberspace is China, while for a plurality in the world, what they fear is America.

In response to questions about the hypocrisy of elements of the NSA position to monitor Putin and sensitive tech companies he responded: “Look, we spy. We’re really good at it.”  Quite likely the NSA and British signals intelligence do spy on German Tech Companies.  Even though the NSA collects customer lists and penetrates companies through clandestine means, the intentions are not for industrial espionage.  Russian, Chinese and Vietnamese governments, with their repression of human rights and dissent, spy and use cyber warfare and government-backed surveillance against Western companies, journalists and networks as much as they can.

Commentary by Lawrence Shapiro

Der Spiegel
Der Spiegel

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