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Issue #1618      November 13, 2013

Spying revelations

Partners in crime

The fallout from recent revelations of US spying operations on its “friends” in Europe continues. The US’s European allies are embarrassed by revelations of the personal mobiles of government leaders being violated and are questioning whether US agencies can be trusted with shared intelligence. India and several other countries are looking at setting up their own internet systems to avoid their communications passing through the US, as they do at present. Indonesia is joining Brazil and Germany in asking the UN General Assembly to pass a resolution calling on all countries to respect the right of privacy under international law.

The leaks by former National Security Agency (NSA) analyst Edward Snowden and US army private Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning with the assistance of WikiLeaks, have not only embarrassed the US and British authorities, but reflect badly on Australia which has been exposed as a partner in crime.

It is no secret that spooks spy on the affairs of their own people and those of other nations. That Pine Gap in Central Australia spies on our neighbours. Nor was it unknown that diplomatic corps in foreign countries include intelligence agents. The existence of the US Echelon system and the signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection and analysis network operated by the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom – Five Eyes – was in the public domain before Edward Snowden’s revelations.

In the past the US and other governments could always rely on the media to black out or play down reports of espionage, especially when they came from peace activists. The Australia government used the “neither confirm nor deny” approach and got away with it.

We now have the actual evidence, the release of telling diplomatic cables and video material. It is out there in the social media and the all-pervasive nature of surveillance is mindboggling. It cannot be simply swept under the carpet; it has to be dealt with or at least seen to be dealt with publicly.

Edward Snowden revealed the US has surveillance facilities at 90 diplomatic missions around the world, some of them joint operations with Australia’s top secret Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) which uses facilities at Geraldton in Western Australia.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel accused the United States of an unacceptable breach of trust following allegations that the US bugged her personal mobile phone, and suggested data-sharing agreements with Washington may need revising.

She told US President Barack Obama: “spying among friends – it cannot be.” The British embassy in Berlin has also been implicated in the spying on Merkel and the German government. The German Foreign Minister called in the US and British ambassadors seeking an explanation.

Some German politicians have suggested that negotiations over an EU-US free-trade agreement should be suspended. US authorities are doing all they can to dampen down reactions and move on as though it is not a big deal.

The question of trust, of the reliability of the NSA to handle highly sensitive material without leaks is a very real issue for the US’s allies. The US may well find that it no longer has the same level of access to data from its allies. After all, intelligence co-operation is dependent on the ability of others to keep secrets, and the US has failed that test.

The leaks have certainly struck a blow at US imperialism and exposed for the world to see aspects of the shameless, illegal and unacceptable operations of imperialist powers – not just directed against their “enemies”, but also exposing inter-imperialist rivalries and unprincipled lack of loyalty between “friends”.

Past claims about US spying facilities such as at Pine Gap or Menwith Hill and Fylingdale in the UK have tended to concentrate on the military and political side of US spying.

However, business information is a main target for intelligence organisations. Companies often provide employment and cover for spy operatives. Governments use the information to assist their transnational corporations in winning overseas contracts, making investments, changing government regulations, and in negotiating free trade agreements. NGOs and media outlets also provide cover.

Last week there was a report that the DSD was involved in an NSA operation using the cover of Kevin Rudd at the Bali climate change conference in 2007. It was used to listen in to the mobile phones of key Indonesian figures. One can speculate what else it may have been used for, e.g. to evesdrop on delegations under pressure to let industrialised nations off their responsibilities under the Kyoto Protocol.

According to Snowden’s leak, all signatories of the “Five Eyes” agreement, including Australia have played a role in the gathering of data on our neighbours and elsewhere for the US and Britain.

Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA had hacked the computer network of Brazil’s state-run oil company as well as capturing data from emails and telephone calls. Other countries that have objected to the NSA’s operations include Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, France and Russia.

Australia’s ambassador has been called into the Indonesian Ministry for a talk and also summonsed by the Malaysian government in protest over the spying allegations.

“As a neighbouring country and friend, the reported actions do not reflect the spirit of existing friendship,” the Indonesian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “It cannot be accepted by the government.”

Adding insult to injury, the Abbott government arrogantly, in true colonial style, attempted to return a boatload of asylum seekers last week. Indonesia stood its ground, asserted its sovereign rights, and the Australian government was forced to back down. The poor asylum seekers were then illegally transported to Christmas Island for indefinite detention.

East Timor’s Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao spoke out last week about powerful countries that “shamelessly violate the civic rights” of other countries” using electronic surveillance. “Either we are in the presence of extreme distrust … or we are witnessing the fraudulent use of technology to obtain economic advantage over others, which is even more immoral when those others are weak and small.”

Philip Dorling, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, quotes a former Australian Secret Intelligence Service officer: “We gave market information [to] major companies like BHP which were helpful to us, and officers at overseas stations would trade snippets with some of their commercial contacts … BHP knew we were giving them secret intelligence. They lapped it up.” (“Spy agency passed trade secrets to BHP”, 07-11-2013)

US cables published in 2011 by Fairfax media revealed former BHP Billiton CEO Marius Kloppers privately offered “to trade confidences” with US officials about China.

Zhu Feng, Professor of international relations at Peking University, said that the spying revelations “badly undermine Chinese respect” for Australia. “Australia follows the US without principle and unconditionally.

“Australia doesn’t even deserve to be called ‘deputy sheriff’; they are more like a subordinate.”

Australia’s blind subservience to US military and intelligence agencies is only harming Australia’ security, in both military and economic terms. What the media haven’t reported on is that the US also spies on Australia.

The cables leaked by US army private Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning and published by WikiLeaks shook the US authorities. Manning was imprisoned under conditions that the US special rapporteur on torture described as inhumane and cruel. WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange remains holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, avoiding the same fate as Manning.

There is no evidence that these leaks posed a security risk to the US or its allies. Meanwhile, the real criminals, the real terrorists, remain in power attempting to restore their image amongst their allies and the public.

It is time to review Australia’s foreign policy and relations with the US. If Australia is to develop good relations with its neighbours, regain international respect, and strengthen regional security, then it should end the US Alliance and immediately close down all US military bases and other facilities. To do so is in Australia’s interests.   

Next article – Editorial – Farmers hit by global agribusiness

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