Sunday, August 04, 2013

Snowden gets asylum amid more leaks & terror threats

This last week has brought more revelations about the United States' surveillance on people's online activities. But there were also details released about a possible terror threat aimed at western interests across the Middle East. The news came in the same week that Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower, obtained permission to enter Russia after having applied for asylum.

Surveillance revelations

The Guardian once again published details of operations conducted by the US in which the NSA is said to collect "nearly everything a user does on the Internet" [Guardian].

Details about the top secret program dubbed XKeyscore were the latest in a series of leaks coming from fugitive Edward Snowden who was given temporary asylum in Russia on Thursday. The decision to give Snowden was hailed by the Russian press [BBC]. However, across the pond in Washington, the news was not so welcome and there were hints that the US might pull out of an upcoming summit.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the Obama administration was "evaluating the utility" of a scheduled summit with President Putin in Moscow in September in advance of a G20 meeting in St Petersburg.

"We are extremely disappointed that the Russian government would take this step despite our very clear and lawful requests in public and private that Mr. Snowden be expelled and returned to the United States," Carney told reporters [Telegraph / Reuters / FT].


Snowden left the territory of Sheremetyevo airport for an undisclosed location after receiving the visa which was issued on Wednesday. The 30-year-old had been living in a transit zone at the airport since he arrived in late June on a flight from Hong Kong.

Snowden has claimed he released details about America's surveillance programs because he saw such operations as being a threat to people's personal freedom and privacy. His cause has been championed by some newspapers such as the Guardian, and in particular the journalist Glen Greenwald.

However, while there is undoubtedly a concern amongst ordinary citizens that they are being 'watched' by the NSA, there are many who are pragmatic given the constant and ongoing threat from terrorism.

"Significant threat"

In a post 9/11 world governments around the world and particularly in the west are fearful of another major attack. And in it's War on Terror surveillance is an important tool.

The importance of such surveillance were made clear this weekend when the US and Interpol released warnings of possible imminent Al Qaeda attacks aimed at western interests.

Whilst the US State Department have not revealed how it unveiled the plot, it said "intercepted Al Qaeda messages" had tipped them off to a "significant threat" of attack.

General Martin Dempsey, the 18th and current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told ABC News that the "intent seems clear … to attack western, not just US interests".

Al Qaeda affiliates

The rare decision by the US State Department to close more than a dozen embassies across the Muslim world on Sunday [4th August] followed the discovery of a serious threat from a branch of Al Qaeda known as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or AQAP.

AQAP is seen as one of the most dangerous affiliates to Al Qaeda, especially in the Middle East where the US and many European countries have significant interests [Telegraph].

The threat was however also connected to mass prison breakouts across the Middle East which saw some 1,500 prisoners freed [Daily Mail / Guardian].

Gathering intelligence

The way the intelligence was obtained about the latest threat has not been divulged, but it may well have been as a result of the intensive surveillance operations that the US conducts on the Internet including PRISM and XKeyscore.

If indeed the case it further reinforces the case for such operations. Moreover, the fact that such operations could be undermined by their being public make Snowden's whistleblowing all the more treacherous. Indeed, as well as as being labelled as 'spy' he could easily be charged with aiding and abetting the enemy, whether or not that was his intention.

Questionable motives

His motives have already been called into question as he proclaims he stands for "freedom" and "privacy" whilst seeking sanctuary in China and Russia, countries that have appalling human rights records, restrictions on free speech and with respect to China almost constant surveillance on its citizens.

There maybe some, such as the likes of Alex Jones, who will see the announcement of this weekend's terror threat as no coincidence, and indeed a false flag or deliberate attempt to discredit Snowden. Indeed within hours of the terror threat being made public Alex Jones' website Infowars launched a critical opinion based article. The report was cynical of both the timing and the fact that the threat assessment appeared to reinforce the justification for surveillance operations.

New threats, new methods

While it is important to remain vigilant and defend the freedoms and rights to privacy that have been hard fought for in western democracies, it must also be recognised that there are threats from both terrorists and nation states. These can and do come in the form of cyberattacks and real attacks. To discover and thwart threats the US and its allies need to step over uncomfortable lines.

In the past, surveillance was relatively low tech. The security services might attempt infiltration, placing moles inside the ranks of terrorist groups such as the IRA. Mail might have been opened and telephone lines tapped, and indeed individuals might have been put under physical surveillance or had bugs placed in their homes, cars or places of work. While such methods still have a place, as communications shift into cyberspace the rules of engagement have also changed for the security services. To keep both citizens and countries safe it is arguably necessary to use extreme methods revealed by the likes of Snowden. To not do so could leave us open to another 9/11 or worse.

tvnewswatch, Kunming, Yunnan, China

No comments: