The frothy hyperbole lathered up around the detailed revelations by Edward Snowden, after numerous earlier dissidents and reporters were largely ignored, omits the obvious. From the start of the Internet and the arrival of e-mail for global communications, the NATO countries’ cyber-espionage operations has always intercepted e-mails to and from targeted people. What has happened over the last twenty years is that the scale of the targeting has grown exponentially to become truly global.
After internet and mobile phone technology came to be widely used, but before free software became relatively user friendly, towards the end of the 1990s, Microsoft Windows and Apple virtually monopolized general office and home computer use. Free software, especially the various Linux distributions, gave some measure of accessible security independence to computer users willing to experiment. But unencrypted e-mail and internet use has always been highly vulnerable to interception whatever the operating system.
Before the internet, anyone active on politically sensitive issues especially to do with foreign affairs would find their mail tampered with and their phone calls monitored. Those espionage measures were routine in all NATO countries. Mobile phone technology and the internet meant that those old-fashioned governmental surveillance habits got incorporated into sophisticated modern cyber-espionage. So anyone accustomed to illegitimate surveillance by their respective NATO country intelligence services before the advent of e-mail and mobile phones ought to have fully expected to find their electronic communications intervened as well.
The same is true of any business company or institution with reason to treat their communications as sensitive. A huge information technology and communications security industry exists to meet those legitimate concerns. Among those concerns are not just the question of communications surveillance but also that of tampering with communications to modify content.
The most obvious example of this is when whole web sites are hacked or in the vicious effects of viruses and other malware not just on web sites but on stored information of all kinds, everywhere. Political activists should take it for granted that their computers will be periodically swept by one or other of the NATO governments’ cyber warfare agencies. The most likely culprits will be the governments participating in the well-documented ECHELON global surveillance system, the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. But other countries, for example France, also invest huge resources in cyber warfare.
The United States has now officially institutionalized cyber warfare, after engaging in it constantly since the start of the Internet, itself a child of NATO country military oriented technological research. Just as NATO country intelligence services have always exploited the global narcotics and money laundering industries, so too, as Edward Snowden’s revelations partially confirm, they are certainly active in similarly illegal or disreputable information technology activities. That consideration takes the issue far beyond the stated human rights concerns of individuals like Edward Snowden and the mini-industry evolving around his carefully managed revelations.
One may reasonably ask why that tampering aspect of the latest spying scandal has been almost completely ignored in favour of its monitoring aspect. Potential tampering is almost certainly the aspect that has provoked the most angry responses from governments around the world, like that of Brazil. They reason correctly that if their countries’ diplomatic and commercial communications are comprehensively monitored by sophisticated electronic interception, then they can also be altered. They fear, rightly, that US cyber warfare specialists may attack them just as the US has certainly attacked Russia and China and also, more aggressively with Israel, Iran.
It is indeed puzzling why so much coverage has been given to the scale of NATO country electronic communications interception and so little to what that interception may actually do. Few people politically active against the imperialist foreign policies of the NATO country governments will not have experienced at some time strange events in their e-mail communications. Among many other examples, replies may arrive betraying altered text of the original message, or those original messages may inexplicably fail to arrive. Most glitches may well be genuine : others may equally well indicate hostile enemy action.
Beyond people active politically, Asian, Latin American and African industrial, commercial and financial companies stand to suffer very significant losses through hostile action favouring US or European competitors. In the early 19th century, the Rothschild family built up its banking empire by intercepting mail from competitors and ruthlessly exploiting the information they obtained. So it makes a lot of sense that the Snowden controversy is driven by individuals and media from networks funded by global financier George Soros and his associates and backers.
As Jorge Capelán has noted, “One may well ask whether global mega-banks like JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs or the Quantum Group of George Soros would take with equanimity the existence of an espionage agency with the ability to know more about them than they know themselves.” Both this inter-elite conflict in relation to communications espionage and also the issue of communications tampering – as opposed to surveillance – merit much more serious investigation than the soft, generalized human rights focus applied to date by NATO country corporate media.
Reflections on the category “journalism” and the revelations by Edward Snowden
Snowden: Behind NATO’s propaganda outlet for progressives – the Guardian’s board members
Inculcating Stupidity: Syria and Edward Snowden
ECHELON: Exposing the NSA’s Global Spy Network