WSJ: In snooping among allies, key is not to get caught

Stephen Fidler - Wall Street Journal - July 2, 2013

[J4JP]: Note the very short list of 1 (Jonathan Pollard) sentenced to life for spying for an ally. In the print edition of the WSJ this article appeared with a photo of Jonathan Pollard.

BRUSSELS-It isn't the first time the U.S. has found itself in the center of a storm about spying on allies. The allegations that the National Security Agency spied on European Union institutions and friendly countries in continental Europe and further afield echo a furor of more than a decade ago.

Then, European politicians were scandalized by disclosures about a U.S. signals intelligence project supposedly called Echelon, said to be able to capture and analyze electronic signals-phone calls, faxes, emails and more-around the world.

Like the Echelon claims, the latest allegations, presumably from the computer of former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, suggest espionage not for national-security reasons but for possible commercial advantage. The EU is the largest trading bloc in the world, and Jonathan Eyal of the Royal United Services Institute think tank in London, says it "would be naive to think it wouldn't be subject to interception."

But there are important differences. The first is the detailed nature of the allegations, far more specific than in the Echelon controversy. The other is the scale of the operations.

Mr. Eyal says the allegations suggest the devotion of U.S. intelligence to so-called big data: vacuuming up details of electronic communications from around the world. But there is a drawback: "Big data mean big leaks."

The U.S. intelligence services, criticized for "stove-piping" information before 9/11, now seem to be sharing too much.

The fierceness of the reaction is especially evident in Germany, where there is huge sensitivity to invasions of privacy because of the pervasive spying on individuals in East Germany and under the Nazis. However, former intelligence specialists suspect some theater in the shocked condemnations from European politicians.

Former NSA director Michael Hayden told CBS television on Sunday that the U.S. Fourth Amendment that is held to protect the privacy of Americans isn't an international treaty. He added: "Any European who wants to go out and rend their garments with regard to international espionage should look first and find out what their own governments are doing."

Indeed, espionage isn't forbidden under international law and it is more pervasive than ever. Whereas 60 years ago the world had two-dozen intelligence services of any importance, now most countries have some capacity, specialists say.

Intelligence services are constrained by their capabilities-and whether the expected benefits of an operation outweigh the risks. "The reality," one former spy said, "is that friends do spy on friends," but it is important not to get caught.

In one high-profile American case, Jonathan Pollard, a former civilian intelligence analyst, was sentenced in 1987 to life in prison for passing classified information to Israel.

The latest allegations throw light on another feature of international intelligence: the very close relationship of the five English-speaking allies, the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, particularly in sharing of signals intelligence. This alliance is based on the proposition that its members won't engage in covert action against one another.

It has long been an irritant in relations between continental Europe and "Anglo-Saxon" countries that flares when there are new disclosures, such as those this week.

There could be consequences.The allegations may sour negotiations over a free-trade accord between the U.S. and EU. The increasingly powerful European Parliament-and national regulators-also have the ability to throw sand in the machine of data sharing with the U.S., for example on air passengers and financial transactions.

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