When the government spies on citizens, we usually don’t find out until years later, if at all. In 2013, whistleblower Edward Snowden famously pulled back the curtains to reveal the size and scope of the US National Security Agency spy apparatus.
Society spent years digesting the news and considering the implications of an institution with so much power and access to eavesdrop on its own citizens. Therefore, it might be surprising to learn that the NSA spy apparatus was even more far-reaching than it appears.
Spying on European Leaders, Sharing with Europe
Governments aren’t supposed to spy on their citizens, and they definitely aren’t supposed to eavesdrop on politicians and residents of allied countries, either. Yet, a recent report lays out how the NSA collaborated with the Armed Forces Intelligence (FE) to use Danish internet cables to spy on important heads of state, top politicians, and high-ranking officials in Germany, Sweden, Norway, and France.
A 2015 internal investigation known as Operation Dunhammer revealed the extent of the spying and the nature of the collaboration between the two agencies, which took place between 2012-2014. Using a secret computer called XKeyscore, the US searches, analyzes, and collects global Internet data continually.
If foreign governments spying on their own citizens and world leaders wasn’t bad enough, the NSA has shared data gathered by XKeyscore with other intelligence agencies from New Zealand, Canada, Australia, the UK, Japan, and even Germany.
Denmark’s Defence Minister, Trine Bramsen, told the Danish public service broadcaster that “systematic wiretapping of close allies is unacceptable.” Actually, espionage is widespread and, in practice, accepted all the time, so long as it’s accompanied by a public condemnation once it’s made known.
That the NSA spied on Germany and shared intelligence data with them highlights how give-and-take international spying really is. How can a country object to such data gathering when used against them while actively collaborating with the same intelligence service?
Angela Merkel is among Europe’s most powerful leaders, and not even she was immune from having her text messages and phone calls intercepted. Indeed, the more valuable your communications are, the more likely they are to get targeted.
Not Just World Leaders
The NSA eavesdropping on politicians and world leaders inevitably ensnares ordinary people, some of whom have excellent reasons for requiring privacy. Politicians need to communicate with a cross-section of the public, so, with the help of FE, the NSA intercepted conversations with people who contact politicians from a range of backgrounds.
What if a person is illegally hiding because they’re persecuted in their home country? What if a journalist needs to discuss sensitive issues? It could be political activists, opposition politicians from foreign countries, and countless others.
Indeed, the NSA engages in such widespread wiretapping to maximize the communications intercepted. Relying on encrypted cell phone communication is the only way citizens and even high-ranking politicians can stay above the fray and ensure their messages, emails, and phone conversations don’t get intercepted.
Fallout Since the Scandal
In June 2021, France’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune spoke to France Info radio about the fallout since the Operation Dunhammer scandal became public. “It’s extremely serious,” he said.
“We need to see if our partners in the EU, the Danes, have committed errors or faults in their cooperation with American services…between allies, there must be trust, a minimal cooperation, so these potential facts are serious.” Notice, the objection expressed is not over spying in general, but the levels of cooperation and trust in espionage.
It’s not clear if the Danes knew the US was using their cables for spying on neighbouring countries. Other allegations need to be verified, and officials from Germany and other European nations offered measured statements stressing the need to figure out precisely what happened while condemning what appears to have occurred.
Everybody knows that countries spy. American politicians may worry about the diplomatic consequences between allied nations after having been caught. But the US has had a broad wiretapping service in place for years and even tapped Merkel’s mobile phone. If the Danish-US spying story is confirmed, the NSA carried out its spy program before and after Snowden blew the whistle on it.
It’s essential to take a slow and sober look at this story and determine what exactly occurred. But there’s nothing encouraging here for ordinary people with fears over privacy concerns.
The NSA does not appear like it’s about to reverse course, let alone slow down its spy program, and France and the other European countries will likely resume their relationship with the US as if nothing happened once the headlines die down.
Amid all the very pressing international news concerning COVID-19 and conflicts, Operation Dunhammer wasn’t exactly the main story on the newspaper’s first page. However, the story itself is a new revelation about spying that took place years ago, and maybe it would have got more traction had the events themselves been new.
One person whose notice it didn’t escape is Edward Snowden himself, who pointed out on Twitter that: “Biden is well-prepared to answer for this when he soon visits Europe, since, of course, he was deeply involved in this scandal the first time around.”
If these politicians were using ChatMail device encryption on a hardened phone, they would have been safe against the NSA and other hackers or international spy agencies. It’s impossible to discover that you need this level of security until it’s too late. If even allied nations spy on their friends, who exactly is safe?
Please read this encryption guide to understand how Myntex products use military-grade encryption that can’t be decrypted and several secondary security features to fill any potential vulnerabilities. Foreign intelligence services don’t have a pressing need to intercept your phone records. Still, they eavesdrop on countless ordinary people every day, and even people with a dedicated service of bodyguards don’t have secure communications. So take care of your online privacy now because, by the time you realize it’s necessary, it’ll be too late.