What the Spy State Missed About Edward Snowden

William Blum
The Anti-Empire Report

by William Blum: The
Insanity of War Flags Over Graves

In the course
of his professional life in the world of national security Edward
Snowden must have gone through numerous probing interviews, lie
detector examinations, and exceedingly detailed background checks,
as well as filling out endless forms carefully designed to catch
any kind of falsehood or inconsistency. The Washington Post
(June 10) reported that “several officials said the CIA will
now undoubtedly begin reviewing the process by which Snowden may
have been hired, seeking to determine whether there were any missed
signs that he might one day betray national secrets.”

Yes, there
was a sign they missed — Edward Snowden had something inside
him shaped like a conscience, just waiting for a cause.

It was the
same with me. I went to work at the State Department, planning to
become a Foreign Service Officer, with the best — the most
patriotic — of intentions, going to do my best to slay the
beast of the International Communist Conspiracy. But then the horror,
on a daily basis, of what the United States was doing to the people
of Vietnam was brought home to me in every form of media; it was
making me sick at heart. My conscience had found its cause, and
nothing that I could have been asked in a pre-employment interview
would have alerted my interrogators of the possible danger I posed
because I didn’t know of the danger myself. No questioning
of my friends and relatives could have turned up the slightest hint
of the radical anti-war activist I was to become. My friends and
relatives were to be as surprised as I was to be. There was simply
no way for the State Department security office to know that I should
not be hired and given a Secret Clearance. 1

So what is
a poor National Security State to do? Well, they might consider
behaving themselves. Stop doing all the terrible things that grieve
people like me and Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning and so many
others. Stop the bombings, the invasions, the endless wars, the
torture, the sanctions, the overthrows, the support of dictatorships,
the unmitigated support of Israel; stop all the things that make
the United States so hated, that create all the anti-American terrorists,
that compel the National Security State — in pure self defense
— to spy on the entire world.

on the planet

The above is
the title of an essay that I wrote in 2000 that appeared as a chapter
in my book Rogue
State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower
. Here
are some excerpts that may help to put the current revelations surrounding
Edward Snowden into perspective …

Can people
in the 21st century imagine a greater invasion of privacy on all
of earth, in all of history? If so, they merely have to wait for
technology to catch up with their imagination.

Like a mammoth
vacuum cleaner in the sky, the National Security Agency (NSA) sucks
it all up: home phone, office phone, cellular phone, email, fax,
telex … satellite transmissions, fiber-optic communications
traffic, microwave links … voice, text, images … captured
by satellites continuously orbiting the earth, then processed by
high-powered computers … if it runs on electromagnetic energy,
NSA is there, with high high tech. Twenty-four hours a day. Perhaps
billions of messages sucked up each day. No one escapes. Not presidents,
prime ministers, the UN Secretary-General, the pope, the Queen of
England, embassies, transnational corporation CEOs, friend, foe,
your Aunt Lena … if God has a phone, it’s being monitored
… maybe your dog isn’t being tapped. The oceans will
not protect you. American submarines have been attaching tapping
pods to deep underwater cables for decades.

Under a system
codenamed ECHELON, launched in the 1970s, the NSA and its junior
partners in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada operate
a network of massive, highly automated interception stations, covering
the globe amongst them. Any of the partners can ask any of the others
to intercept its own domestic communications. It can then truthfully
say it does not spy on its own citizens.

Apart from
specifically-targeted individuals and institutions, the ECHELON
system works by indiscriminately intercepting huge quantities of
communications and using computers to identify and extract messages
of interest from the mass of unwanted ones. Every intercepted message
— all the embassy cables, the business deals, the sex talk,
the birthday greetings — is searched for keywords, which could
be anything the searchers think might be of interest. All it takes
to flag a communication is for one of the parties to use a couple
or so of the key words in the ECHELON “dictionary” —
“He lives in a lovely old white house on
Bush Street, right near me. I can shoot
over there in two minutes.” Within limitations, computers
can “listen” to telephone calls and recognize when keywords
are spoken. Those calls are extracted and recorded separately, to
be listened to in full by humans. The list of specific targets at
any given time is undoubtedly wide ranging, at one point including
the likes of Amnesty International and Christian Aid.

carried out without official acknowledgment of its existence, let
alone any democratic oversight or public or legislative debate as
to whether it serves a decent purpose. The extensiveness of the
ECHELON global network is a product of decades of intense Cold War
activity. Yet with the end of the Cold War, its budget — far
from being greatly reduced — was increased, and the network
has grown in both power and reach; yet another piece of evidence
that the Cold War was not a battle against something called “the
international communist conspiracy”.

The European
Parliament in the late 1990s began to wake up to this intrusion
into the continent’s affairs. The parliament’s Civil
Liberties Committee commissioned a report, which appeared in 1998
and recommended a variety of measures for dealing with the increasing
power of the technologies of surveillance. It bluntly advised: “The
European Parliament should reject proposals from the United States
for making private messages via the global communications network
[Internet] accessible to US intelligence agencies.” The report
denounced Britain’s role as a double-agent, spying on its
own European partners.

Despite these
concerns the US has continued to expand ECHELON surveillance in
Europe, partly because of heightened interest in commercial espionage
— to uncover industrial information that would provide American
corporations with an advantage over foreign rivals.

German security
experts discovered several years ago that ECHELON was engaged in
heavy commercial spying in Europe. Victims included such German
firms as the wind generator manufacturer Enercon. In 1998, Enercon
developed what it thought was a secret invention, enabling it to
generate electricity from wind power at a far cheaper rate than
before. However, when the company tried to market its invention
in the United States, it was confronted by its American rival, Kenetech,
which announced that it had already patented a near-identical development.
Kenetech then brought a court order against Enercon to ban the sale
of its equipment in the US. In a rare public disclosure, an NSA
employee, who refused to be named, agreed to appear in silhouette
on German television to reveal how he had stolen Enercon’s
secrets by tapping the telephone and computer link lines that ran
between Enercon’s research laboratory and its production unit
some 12 miles away. Detailed plans of the company’s invention
were then passed on to Kenetech.

In 1994, Thomson
S.A., located in Paris, and Airbus Industrie, based in Blagnac Cedex,
France, also lost lucrative contracts, snatched away by American
rivals aided by information covertly collected by NSA and CIA. The
same agencies also eavesdropped on Japanese representatives during
negotiations with the United States in 1995 over auto parts trade.

German industry
has complained that it is in a particularly vulnerable position
because the government forbids its security services from conducting
similar industrial espionage. “German politicians still support
the rather naive idea that political allies should not spy on each
other’s businesses. The Americans and the British do not have
such illusions,” said journalist Udo Ulfkotte, a specialist
in European industrial espionage, in 1999.

That same year,
Germany demanded that the United States recall three CIA operatives
for their activities in Germany involving economic espionage. The
news report stated that the Germans “have long been suspicious
of the eavesdropping capabilities of the enormous U.S. radar and
communications complex at Bad Aibling, near Munich”, which
is in fact an NSA intercept station. “The Americans tell us
it is used solely to monitor communications by potential enemies,
but how can we be entirely sure that they are not picking up pieces
of information that we think should remain completely secret?”
asked a senior German official. Japanese officials most likely have
been told a similar story by Washington about the more than a dozen
signals intelligence bases which Japan has allowed to be located
on its territory.

In their quest
to gain access to more and more private information, the NSA, the
FBI, and other components of the US national security establishment
have been engaged for years in a campaign to require American telecommunications
manufacturers and carriers to design their equipment and networks
to optimize the authorities’ wiretapping ability. Some industry
insiders say they believe that some US machines approved for export
contain NSA “back doors” (also called “trap doors”).

The United
States has been trying to persuade European Union countries as well
to allow it “back-door” access to encryption programs,
claiming that this was to serve the needs of law-enforcement agencies.
However, a report released by the European Parliament in May 1999
asserted that Washington’s plans for controlling encryption
software in Europe had nothing to do with law enforcement and everything
to do with US industrial espionage. The NSA has also dispatched
FBI agents on break-in missions to snatch code books from foreign
facilities in the United States, and CIA officers to recruit foreign
communications clerks abroad and buy their code secrets, according
to veteran intelligence officials.

For decades,
beginning in the 1950s, the Swiss company Crypto AG sold the world’s
most sophisticated and secure encryption technology. The firm staked
its reputation and the security concerns of its clients on its neutrality
in the Cold War or any other war. The purchasing nations, some 120
of them — including prime US intelligence targets such as
Iran, Iraq, Libya and Yugoslavia — confident that their communications
were protected, sent messages from their capitals to their embassies,
military missions, trade offices, and espionage dens around the
world, via telex, radio, and fax. And all the while, because of
a secret agreement between the company and NSA, these governments
might as well have been hand delivering the messages to Washington,
uncoded. For their Crypto AG machines had been rigged before being
sold to them, so that when they used them the random encryption
key could be automatically and clandestinely transmitted along with
the enciphered message. NSA analysts could read the messages as
easily as they could the morning newspaper.

In 1986, because
of US public statements concerning the La Belle disco bombing in
West Berlin, the Libyans began to suspect that something was rotten
with Crypto AG’s machines and switched to another Swiss firm,
Gretag Data Systems AG. But it appears that NSA had that base covered
as well. In 1992, after a series of suspicious circumstances over
the previous few years, Iran came to a conclusion similar to Libya’s,
and arrested a Crypto AG employee who was in Iran on a business
trip. He was eventually ransomed, but the incident became well known
and the scam began to unravel in earnest.

In September
1999 it was revealed that NSA had arranged with Microsoft to insert
special “keys” into Windows software, in all versions
from 95-OSR2 onwards. An American computer scientist, Andrew Fernandez
of Cryptonym in North Carolina, had disassembled parts of the Windows
instruction code and found the smoking gun — Microsoft’s
developers had failed to remove the debugging symbols used to test
this software before they released it. Inside the code were the
labels for two keys. One was called “KEY”. The other
was called “NSAKEY”. Fernandez presented his finding
at a conference at which some Windows developers were also in attendance.
The developers did not deny that the NSA key was built into their
software, but they refused to talk about what the key did, or why
it had been put there without users’ knowledge. Fernandez
says that NSA’s “back door” in the world’s
most commonly used operating system makes it “orders of magnitude
easier for the US government to access your computer.”

In February
2000, it was disclosed that the Strategic Affairs Delegation (DAS),
the intelligence arm of the French Defense Ministry, had prepared
a report in 1999 which also asserted that NSA had helped to install
secret programs in Microsoft software. According to the DAS report,
“it would seem that the creation of Microsoft was largely
supported, not least financially, by the NSA, and that IBM was made
to accept the [Microsoft] MS-DOS operating system by the same administration.”
The report stated that there had been a “strong suspicion
of a lack of security fed by insistent rumors about the existence
of spy programs on Microsoft, and by the presence of NSA personnel
in Bill Gates’ development teams.” The Pentagon, said
the report, was Microsoft’s biggest client in the world.

Recent years
have seen disclosures that in the countdown to their invasion of
Iraq in 2003, the United States had listened in on UN Secretary-General
Kofi Annan, UN weapons inspectors in Iraq, and all the members of
the UN Security Council during a period when they were deliberating
about what action to take in Iraq.

as if the American national security establishment feels that it
has an inalienable right to listen in; as if there had
been a constitutional amendment, applicable to the entire world,
stating that “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom
of the government to intercept the personal communications of anyone.”
And the Fourth Amendment had been changed to read: “Persons
shall be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against
unreasonable searches and seizures, except in cases of national
security, real or alleged.” 2

The leading
whistleblower of all time: Philip Agee

Before there
was Edward Snowden, William Binney and Thomas Drake … before
there was Bradley Manning, Sibel Edmonds and Jesselyn Radack …
there was Philip Agee. What Agee revealed is still the most startling
and important information about US foreign policy that any American
government whistleblower has ever revealed.

Philip Agee
spent 12 years (1957-69) as a CIA case officer, most of it in Latin
America. His first book, Inside
the Company: CIA Diary
, published in 1974 — a pioneering
work on the Agency’s methods and their devastating consequences
— appeared in about 30 languages around the world and was
a best seller in many countries; it included a 23-page appendix
with the names of hundreds of undercover Agency operatives and organizations.

Under CIA manipulation,
direction and, usually, their payroll, were past and present presidents
of Mexico, Colombia, Uruguay, and Costa Rica, “our minister
of labor”, “our vice-president”, “my police”,
journalists, labor leaders, student leaders, diplomats, and many
others. If the Agency wished to disseminate anti-communist propaganda,
cause dissension in leftist ranks, or have Communist embassy personnel
expelled, it need only prepare some phoney documents, present them
to the appropriate government ministers and journalists, and —
presto! — instant scandal.

goal in naming all these individuals, quite simply, was to make
it as difficult as he could for the CIA to continue doing its dirty

A common Agency
tactic was writing editorials and phoney news stories to be knowingly
published by Latin American media with no indication of the CIA
authorship or CIA payment to the media. The propaganda value of
such a “news” item might be multiplied by being picked
up by other CIA stations in Latin America who would disseminate
it through a CIA-owned news agency or a CIA-owned radio station.
Some of these stories made their way back to the United States to
be read or heard by unknowing North Americans.

Wooing the
working class came in for special treatment. Labor organizations
by the dozen, sometimes hardly more than names on stationery, were
created, altered, combined, liquidated, and new ones created again,
in an almost frenzied attempt to find the right combination to compete
with existing left-oriented unions and take national leadership
away from them.

In 1975 these
revelations were new and shocking; for many readers it was the first
hint that American foreign policy was not quite what their high-school
textbooks had told them nor what the New York Times had

“As complete
an account of spy work as is likely to be published anywhere, an
authentic account of how an ordinary American or British ‘case
officer’ operates … All of it … presented with
deadly accuracy,” wrote Miles Copeland, a former CIA station
chief, and ardent foe of Agee. (There’s no former CIA officer
more hated by members of the intelligence establishment than Agee;
no one’s even close; due in part to his traveling to Cuba
and having long-term contact with Cuban intelligence.)

In contrast
to Agee, WikiLeaks withheld the names of hundreds of informants
from the nearly 400,000 Iraq war documents it released.

In 1969, Agee
resigned from the CIA (and colleagues who “long ago ceased
to believe in what they are doing”).

While on the
run from the CIA as he was writing Inside the Company
at times literally running for his life — Agee was expelled
from, or refused admittance to, Italy, Britain, France, West Germany,
the Netherlands, and Norway. (West Germany eventually gave him asylum
because his wife was a leading ballerina in the country.) Agee’s
account of his period on the run can be found detailed in his book
the Run
(1987). It’s an exciting read.


  1. To read
    about my State Department and other adventures, see my book West-Bloc
    Dissident: A Cold War Memoir (2002)
  2. See Rogue
    State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower
    , chapter
    21, for the notes for the above.

27, 2013

Blum [send him mail] is the
author of
Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II
State: a guide to the World’s Only Super Power
, West-Bloc
Dissident: a Cold War Political Memoir
, and Freeing
the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire

© 2013
William Blum

This article originally appeared on: Lew Rockwell