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Former NSA contractor warns of “murky” interception arrangements

satellite-debris-2011

By Simon Davies

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Update: Sunday June 30, 2013. 17.03 GMT

Following a rather turbulent sequence of events in the reporting of this blog by the Observer and Guardian newspapers, coverage can now be found in the Guardian story here.

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A former contractor to the US National Security Agency (NSA) has told the Privacy Surgeon that communications intelligence arrangements between the US and Europe are much more “complex, murky and far reaching” than the public has been led to believe.

wayne-madsenWayne Madsen, formerly a lieutenant with the US Navy, first started working for the NSA in 1985, and over twelve years held a number of sensitive contract positions that exposed him to technical and operational aspects of the agency. He maintains a close relationship with the intelligence community.

Madsen spoke to the Privacy Surgeon yesterday to express his concern about the “half story” being conveyed by EU politicians about the extent of NSA activities in the region.

He was particularly concerned about the “sanctimonious outcry” of political leaders who were “feigning shock” about recently disclosed spying operations such as PRISM while staying silent about their own role in global interception arrangements with the United States.

“I can’t understand how Angela Merkel can keep a straight face – demanding assurances from Obama and the UK – while Germany has entered into those exact relationships”

“She’s acting like inspector Reynaud in Casablanca: ‘I’m shocked – shocked – to find gambling going on here’”

I can’t understand how Angela Merkel can keep a straight face – demanding assurances from Obama and the UK – while Germany has entered into those exact relationships

Unlike the UK – which has expressed a mixed response to its government’s involvement with US security – allegations of collusion with the NSA are likely to spark widespread anxiety and disbelief in Germany. However the writing was on the wall in the final report of a 2000 inquiry by the European Parliament that investigated global signals intelligence, recommendation 21 of which states: “Germany and the United Kingdom are called upon to make the authorisation of further communications interception operations by US intelligence services on their territory conditional on their compliance with the ECHR…”

German political parties at the time of the EP inquiry had fiercely lobbied against claims that their country had colluded with the NSA, forcing a minority EP finding that bluntly stated: “The report by the Temporary Committee confirms the existence of the Echelon interception system which is administered by various countries, including the United Kingdom, a Member State of the European Union, with the cooperation of Germany.”

The Finnish communications minister has likewise denounced the NSA’s intelligence gathering, despite evidence that Finland routinely supplies signals intelligence data to the NSA through its own listening station outside Helsinki. Indeed across Europe political leaders have sought to reassure their citizens that the NSA’s activities are intolerable, while staying mute about their own involvement in those operations.

Only the UK – historically the NSA’s closest operational ally – has defended the global system, arguing that the activity complies with all legal requirements. Madsen believes the US and the UK are almost inseparable in national security activities.

Madsen asserted that the NSA has become more secretive and more powerful over the past few years – a view reinforced by former NSA and CIA director General Michael Hayden

In view of the current practice of targeting the messenger instead of the message, I’ll get one matter out of the way before we go any further. Some of Madsen’s views have been – to put it mildly – controversial. His articles and books sometimes talk of clandestine arrangements at the highest levels of government. But those claims are old news – and are irrelevant to the question being addressed in this article.

Madsen’s disclosures in the realm of SIGINT have however have been persistently correct – often expressed years before they were confirmed through official publication. Madsen warned of ECHELON long before that system was confirmed, just as he warned of widespread unchecked NSA activity years before the emergence of PRISM. He has also been at the forefront of disclosures about specific NSA pograms such as the media intelligence operation FIRSTFRUIT, which covertly monitors journalists.

Madsen asserted that the NSA has become more secretive and more powerful over the past few years – a view reinforced by former NSA and CIA director General Michael Hayden during an interview with the Privacy Surgeon earlier this year:

“The FISA act – the one we’re alleged to have walked all over – was amended in 2008, and the changes made to the FISA act in 2008 were far more dramatic – far more far-reaching – than anything President Bush authorised me to do under his article 2 commander-in-chief authorities,” said General Hayden.

Madsen named seven EU countries that have been substantially engaged in communications intelligence gathering alongside the US. These are Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy. Those seven countries have formal second and third party status under the NSA’s signals intelligence agreements, and are contractually bound to the US.

Under international intelligence agreements – most of which remain secret – nations are categorised according to their trust level. In the western world the US is defined as First Party while the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are Second Party (trusted relationships). All others are third party (less trusted) or fourth party (secret) relationships.   http://www.nsa.gov/public_info/declass/ukusa.shtml

Madsen named seven EU countries that have been substantially engaged in communications intelligence gathering alongside the US. These are Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy.

Madsen warned that the public were being intentionally confused by the utterances of politicians. “Spain and Germany had the same deal as GCHQ and NSA at [the spy station] Bude, Cornwall with their Project TEMPORA, tapping the TAT14 cable between Denmark and Germany, Netherlands, France, UK and US.”

He outlined the “significant extent” of signals intelligence operations in Europe, cautioning that the public needed to be made aware of the scale of these activities.

“The Danes have an NSA listening post at Aflandshage, outside Copenhagen and the Finns provide 4th Party feed to NSA from the Santahamina facility outside Helsinki. The Swedish FRA also sends 4th Party SIGINT [signals intelligence] to NSA and has done so since the Cold War.”

“Bundesnachrictendienst (BND) and Spanish CESID jointly operated an undersea cable tapping station at Conil called Operation Delikatesse. The station tapped the cables linking Spain to the Canaries, other Mediterranean nations, Africa, and BND turned over operation of the station to CESID in1992 but like all these arrangements, German intelligence personnel likely remained for support.”

“NSA did the same with its Turkish SIGINT stations, turning over operation of Sinop on the Black Sea, for example, to Turkey’s MIT intelligence organization. The tapping facility, on “Camino de los Militares” in Conil is near the Telefonica satellite ground station.”

Some of this activity was mentioned during the 2000 EP inquiry, but the specific contractual relationships with the NSA were not made clear.

The European Parliament’s inquiry was triggered by revelations that the NSA was conducting a global SIGINT operation known as ECHELON. Despite finding that the spying activity across Europe was vast and persistent, no further action was taken by the parliament.

Governments have chosen to keep the public in the dark about it. They don’t understand that the days when they could get away with a conspiracy of silence are over.

However Madsen’s reference to Turkey as a country that conducts SIGINT was not raised in the EP inquiry report. The possibility that Turkey has been covertly engaged in interception operations – possibly against European countries – could place additional pressure on Turkey’s already strained candidature to the EU.

“A lot of this information isn’t secret, nor is it new” commented Madsen. “It’s just that governments have chosen to keep the public in the dark about it. They don’t understand that the days when they could get away with a conspiracy of silence are over.”

Madsen’s criticism applies with particular relevance to the UK government, which for decades denied the existence of a web of SIGINT bases in Britain, instead describing them as “defence facilities” subject to full accountability.

Madsen also expressed anger over the NSA’s hypocrisy over Edward Snowden.

“Snowden is being roundly condemned by many who say he had no authority or right to provide the public with details of NSA snooping. But what right or authority did NSA director, General Keith Alexander, have to provide information on NSA surveillance at five meetings of the global Bilderberg Conference – two in Virginia and one meeting each in Greece, Spain and Switzerland?”

“Alexander claims he is protecting the American people from a constantly changing number of terrorist attacks. In fact, he is providing information to elites on the methods NSA uses to spy on labor, student, religious and progressive organizations.”

“When Alexander leaks to the elites, he’s thanked. When Snowden does it, he’s called a traitor and a coward.”

While much of Madsen’s material is already known – particularly among intelligence observers – his commentary will be a sobering reminder to the intelligence agencies that there are thousands of contractors out there who are capable by degrees of exposing much of the entire SIGINT apparatus. The more the agencies obfuscate and personalise, the greater the likelihood that other contractors will come forward.

“It’s time for the disinfectant of sunshine”, he added.