World / US and Canada

America's Global Surveillance Record

(Internet Media Research Center) Updated: 2014-05-26 15:17

I. America conducts widespread secret surveillance across the globe

1. America spies on world leaders

At the end of 2013, The Guardian reported that as many as 35 leaders were on the NSA surveillance list, including United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

On March 29 this year, the German news magazine Der Spiegel, citing a secret document from Snowden, revealed that 122 world leaders were under NSA surveillance in 2009, and the agency maintained a secret database on world leaders which included 300 files on Merkel. The list is in alphabetical order by first name, starting from "A”, with the then prime minister of Malaysia Abdullah Badawi heading the list and Merkel sitting at the 9th spot in the "A” zone. The last on the list was Yulia Tymoshenko, who was prime minister of Ukraine at the time.

According to Spiegel Online, the NSA spied on UN headquarters and the EU mission to the UN. The surveillance covers politics, the economy and commerce.

In the summer of 2012, the NSA succeeded in breaking into the UN video conferencing system and cracking its coding system. "The data traffic gives us internal video teleconferences of the United Nations," Der Spiegel quoted one document as saying.

According to the New York Times, in May 2010, when the United Nations Security Council was weighing sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, several members were undecided about how they would vote. The then American ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, asked the NSA for help "so that she could develop a strategy.” The NSA went to work swiftly, drawing up the paperwork to obtain legal approval for spying on the diplomats of four Security Council members.

According to documents leaked by Snowden, the NSA has spied on the missions and embassies of Brazil, Bulgaria, Columbia, the European Union, France, Georgia, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Venezuela and Vietnam, among others.

Apart from the UN Headquarters, the information technology infrastructure and servers of the EU and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have also been targeted by US intelligence. When the EU moved its UN office, the US relocated its bugs.

A document released by Snowden to the Guardian reveals that American spies based in North Yorkshire in the UK intercepted the top-secret communications of then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at the 2009 G20 Summit. This was just hours after Obama and Medvedev reached a consensus to build mutual trust during their talks.

A classified document dated June 2012 shows that then Mexican presidential candidate Enrique Pena Nieto's emails about naming some cabinet members were being read by the NSA. The US secret service also monitored the communications of Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, and used a special software to track her emails and online chat.

Australian spy agency the Defence Signals Directorate worked alongside the NSA in mounting a massive surveillance operation on Indonesia during the UN climate change conference in Bali in 2007.

In June 2010, during the G20 Summit in Toronto, the NSA ran a six-day spying operation out of the US embassy in Canada.

Leaked documents show that Japan, Brazil and Iraq are key intelligence targets of US eavesdroppers for their "economic stability and impact” mission. For the "emerging strategic technologies” mission, Russia is a focus, along with India, Germany, France, South Korea, Israel, Singapore, Sweden and Japan. China, Germany, France, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Japan and another 10 countries, plus the UN, are listed as key targets of the "foreign policy” mission.

The New York Times concluded that the NSA "spies routinely on friends as well as foes” to achieve "diplomatic advantage over such allies as France and Germany” and "economic advantage over Japan and Brazil.”

2. America spies on the public all over the world

The US surveillance on the Internet is so massive that it is able to monitor nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet. According to the Guardian, American intelligence uses a secret surveillance system known as XKeyscore, comprising 500 servers distributed around the world, to mine intelligence from the Internet. Leaked documents boast that XKeyscore is the NSA's "widest reaching" system covering "nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet."

Documents released by Snowden show that the NSA gathers around 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cell phones and these records comprise a vast database of information about the locations of hundreds of millions of devices. Also, the NSA collected about 2 billion cell phone text messages each day from around the world.

Some US media have remarked that intercepting suspects' telephones to obtain information is nothing new, but collecting such vast amounts of intelligence overseas is astonishing.

The Washington Post reported that the NSA secretly broke into the main communication links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world. By tapping these links, the agency positioned itself to collect data at will from hundreds of millions of user accounts. By analyzing the data, the NSA can discover who sent or received emails, when and where, as well as email contents, including audio and video as well as text.

According to the Brazilian website Fantastico, the NSA has carried out so-called Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attacks using fake security certificates to pose as a legitimate web service, bypass browser security settings, and intercept data that unsuspecting persons are attempting to send to that service. Google is among the services the NSA has impersonated.

The Guardian has revealed that the NSA routinely shares raw intelligence data with Israel without first sifting it to remove information about US citizens. This is despite earlier promises by the Obama administration to rigorously protect the privacy of innocent US citizens caught in the dragnet.

On Dec. 31, 2013, the German news magazine Der Spiegel quoted NSA papers describing how the agency collected sensitive data from Sea-Me-We 4, the key undersea telecommunications cable system linking Europe and Asia, as well as its plans to continue eavesdropping on other undersea cables.

The French daily Le Monde reported that the US spy agency tapped more than 70.3 million phone calls made in France between December 10, 2012, and January 8, 2013.

In an internal NSA document, smart phone operating systems such as iOS and Android are described as the "gold nugget of data resources”. The NSA and the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have been collaborating on mobile phone surveillance since 2007, when the budget of the NSA was increased from $204 million to $767 million, allowing the agency to dig even deeper.

The Guardian and the New York Times have reported that the NSA targets smartphone apps to fish for users' personal data including age, nationality and location (based on GPS). The apps under surveillance include the popular game Angry Birds, Google Maps, Facebook, Twitter and the photo-sharing site Flickr.

The NSA has planted backdoor software in around 100,000 computers worldwide since 2008, giving it the capability to monitor them around the clock, as well as launch attacks. The agency can access and control these computers using radio waves even if they are not connected to a network.

Since 2010, the NSA has been snooping on US citizens to analyze their "social connectivity, to identify private information such as the users' associates, their location at a certain point of time, and their traveling companions."

All of the NSA's surveillance activities have been conducted in secret, following a secret US government decision to loosen restrictions on surveillance and bypass deliberation or discussion by the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. A memorandum filed by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2006 warned about the possible abuse of surveillance.

The NSA applies sophisticated analytical techniques to identify what it calls "co-travelers," i.e. unknown associates of known targets. This project allows the NSA to explore the social links of known targets. The location and time of their activities can be extracted in under an hour from a vast database of information. Associates of known targets become the NSA's new targets.

US government officials have argued that these massive surveillance operations are legal and do not target US citizens, but US citizens traveling abroad are nevertheless subject to eavesdropping. US media have also reported that the NSA carried out a pilot project to collect huge amounts of mobile phone location data within the United States during 2010 and 2011.

In April 2013, Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, said in his report to the Human Rights Council that the United States, by renewing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, had empowered the US government to "conduct surveillance of non-American persons located outside the United States including any foreign individual whose communications are hosted by cloud services located in the United States."

Leaked documents show that many countries, including Germany, South Korea and Japan have been targeted by the NSA's eavesdropping, and that the intelligence agencies of the United States and some European countries have joined hands to launch massive network monitoring and phone-tapping operations that severely undermine the network security of all countries.

Norwegian media have reported that Norway is also a target of US surveillance. The NSA collected data from more than 33 million mobile phone calls made in Norway between December 10, 2012, and January 8, 2013.

The Italian weekly L'Espresso has reported that British and US intelligence agencies have been massively bugging Italian telephone communications and network data.

3. Monitoring international companies

The US government does not just target the Internet, but also key industries such as finance, transport, electricity and education.

Documents leaked by Snowden show that the NSA's eavesdropping not only targeted overseas politicians but also international organizations and business leaders.

The German weekly Der Spiegel reported that financial transactions, especially credit card deals, were among the targets of NSA surveillance programs. Visa and the international payments system SWIFT were both monitored.

A surveillance branch known as "Follow the Money," focused on international financial transactions. The NSA claimed that by tracing international financial transfers it could expose terrorist networks. The agency set up a financial database called Tracfin to store information gathered from financial institutions. In 2011, the databank had 180 million entries, 84 percent of which related to credit cards and their users, who were mainly located in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Some information in the database came from SWIFT, which began secretly feeding the United States with details of financial transfers after the 9/11 attacks. When this partnership was exposed in 2006, the European Union asked the United States to ensure the security of bank data and respect the privacy of European citizens. After several rounds of talks, the European Union and the United States reached a deal in 2010 that allowed the latter to monitor European bank transfers to combat terrorism, with the precondition that the use and storage of this financial information was consistent with European data protection laws. But Snowden's latest revelations show that the United States never stopped monitoring SWIFT transfers, meaning that the entire negotiation process between the United States and the European Union was just for show.

On December 29, 2013, Der Spiegel claimed the NSA had broken almost all the security architectures designed by major companies, including those of Cisco, Huawei, Juniper and Dell.

Other media reports have revealed that the United States hacked the computer network of Brazilian oil company, Petrobras.

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