Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

Espionage Envy: Germany, Other Nations Covet US’ Spying Powers

Posted by Phoenix Woman on July 3, 2013

One of the saddest things about the whole Snowden affair is that we in the US lost the chance to have a discussion about the Surveillance State once the US’s surveillance of other countries was mentioned. Especially since the very countries complaining the most have been doing lots of spying themselves:

The truth is that the Germans would love to be able to engage in more online espionage. Until now, the only thing missing has been the means to do so. Consequently, an outraged reaction from Berlin would have seemed fairly hypocritical.

Roughly half a dozen countries maintain intelligence agencies like the NSA that operate on a global scale. In addition to the Americans, this includes the Russians, Chinese, British, French and — to a lesser extent — Israelis and Germans. They have all placed the Internet at the heart of their surveillance operations. The vision of a wildly proliferating, grassroots, democratic Internet with totally secluded niches has long since become a thing of the past. Tomorrow’s world is a digital habitat where even the most far-flung corners are exposed to outside eyes, and where everything can be stored for posterity — and actually is stored, as with Prism.

What is surprising about the NSA’s program is its size and professionalism. The objective here is also shared by agencies in other countries, above all the BND, Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, which is currently significantly extending its capabilities. Last year, BND head Gerhard Schindler told the Confidential Committee of the German parliament, the Bundestag, about a secret program that, in his opinion, would make his agency a major international player. Schindler said the BND wanted to invest €100 million ($133 million) over the coming five years. The money is to finance up to 100 new jobs in the technical surveillance department, along with enhanced computing capacities. This may sound like a pauper’s version of the Prism program, but it represents one of the most ambitious modernization projects in the BND’s history, and has been given the ambitious German name Technikaufwuchsprogramm (literally “Technological Coming-of-Age Program”).

Espionage envy, in other words. Which is why making the overseas spying revelations actually hurt Snowden’s cause where it mattered most: In America, with Americans.

As I said in the comments of Charles’ NSA piece yesterday, Snowden may have talked all the time about how he didn’t fear his impending martyrdom, but that’s because he really didn’t expect to be a martyr. His entire strategy was based on Ecuador’s giving him asylum after he got to Russia. That’s why he said and did things that would doom him in any US court of law — things like boasting that he took the Booz contract job with the intent to collect data and then leak it. (See also: ) He never expected to face a US court of law.

Except, with Ecuador saying “no” to his asylum request, suddenly his plan fell apart, and with the conditions Putin has set for him, it looks very much like Snowden will be stuck in the airport no-man’s-land until either he or Putin tire of the situation and arrange for the US to come fetch him. My guess is that he will be handed over to the US Embassy in Moscow before the end of July, at which point he will be flown back to the US to await trial.

And the great national conversation about domestic snooping, a conversation which two weeks ago it looks like he could have started, won’t happen after all.


6 Responses to “Espionage Envy: Germany, Other Nations Covet US’ Spying Powers”

  1. Charles II said

    I’ll take the other side of your guess.

    I think he has more arrows to his string.

  2. (Semispamming one of my own comments over here since this is the proper thread for it anyway)

    The Russians sound like they’re getting ready to cough up Snowden:

    I repeat: Looks like Snowden’s planning hinged on getting Ecuador to grant him asylum, and when they refused (yeah, technically, they said they’ll consider it if he somehow makes it to the doorstep of their embassy, but we all know that ain’t happening), he didn’t have a backup plan. So he’s coming back to the US, almost certainly before the month is out and likely by this time next week.

    • Hold the phone — looks like he might evade a US court room after all (maybe):

      Now, Iceland has an extradition treaty with the US, so Snowden would probably not be going to Iceland. He could, however, be issued an Icelandic passport, which would allow him to walk up the steps of the Ecuadorean Embassy in Moscow and call their bluff on the whole “we’ll consider your asylum request but only if you physically enter our embassy” thing.

      We’ll soon find out.

      • Charles II said

        If you’re cross-spamming, so will I:

        There’s a concerted campaign to make it sound as if Snowden is a trapped rat who has nothing left to do but surrender to the hounds.

        I don’t think that Russia wants to look like it can be pushed around by the US. If nothing else, Cuba would probably accept Snowden, if only to p–s off the United States.

        You may remember a gentleman named Philip Agee?

        I really don’t think Russia wants to look as though it’s caving. They will find a way.

      • Charles II said

        And, with Venezuela’s decision to give Snowden asylum, I think I can claim my bet.

        That’s not to say he’s home free; far from. The US may well attempt to seize him or assassinate him. But he was never a cornered rat. That was just the US trying to make it seem as if the Empire’s victory was inevitable.

  3. PW said

    Remember the Icelandic-citizenship gambit being attempted on Snowden’s behalf? On further review it looks like this won’t go anywhere before the Althing adjournment:

    Yes, it’s the Pirate Party backing this.

    Not sure if the people pushing this have studied extradition law all that well. They think that granting citizenship means he can’t be extradited yet the whole reason Snowden wants asylum from Ecuador and Venezuela and Bolivia is because while Russia doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the US, these countries all do.

    The only thing I can see that Icelandic citizenship would do that would be immediately useful to Snowden would be to possibly let him have an Icelandic passport, which would possibly allow him to go to the Ecuadorian Embassy and formally request asylum. But there is no guarantee that the Ecuadorian government would grant him asylum.

    In any event, back when Snowden was still in Hong Kong, the Icelandic citizenship gambit was discussed and found wanting for various reasons (one being that Iceland’s new leadership is unlikely to OK it):

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