UN: You bet we’ll be in touch with US over NSA spying

posted at 3:21 pm on August 26, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

And so the latest exercise in shock, shock! that nations collect intelligence on international relations continues, this time in the pages of Der Spiegel.  The German news magazine published heretofore-classified material which details the efforts by the NSA to fulfill its well-known official mission of collecting signals intelligence (SIGINT) abroad.  Guess what?  They’re pretty good at it:

Obama’s public appearance was aimed at reassuring his critics. At the same time, he made a commitment. He gave assurances that the NSA is a clean agency that isn’t involved in any dirty work. Obama has given his word on this matter. The only problem is that, if internal NSA documents are to be believed, it isn’t true.

The classified documents, which SPIEGEL has seen, demonstrate how systematically the Americans target other countries and institutions like the EU, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna and the UN. They show how the NSA infiltrated the Europeans’ internal computer network between New York and Washington, used US embassies abroad to intercept communications and eavesdropped on video conferences of UN diplomats. The surveillance is intensive and well-organized — and it has little or nothing to do with counter-terrorism.

Excuse me for lapsing into technical jargon here, but … duh. Der Speigel is conflating two different issues here.  The NSA under the Bush and Obama administrations (and Congresses under control of both political parties) justified the use of expanded powers to surveil domestic communications on the basis of counter-terrorism.  That justification has nothing to do with the collection of foreign SIGINT, nor has anyone pretended otherwise.  Counter-terrorism is actually a relative latecomer to the NSA’s purview; its original purpose was to keep tabs on the Soviet Union, its satellites, and its activities everywhere in the world.

Furthermore, everyone already knows this. How an editor let this pass through is an utter mystery:

He gave assurances that the NSA is a clean agency that isn’t involved in any dirty work. Obama has given his word on this matter.

“Dirty work”? Do they mean spying? First, Obama never said that the NSA doesn’t spy, because it clearly does, and does it well.  As mentioned above, his “word” on this matter relates to its domestic activities.  Anyone who thought that the NSA was somehow renouncing espionage needs to explain just what they thought the NSA would do with its time from now on; perhaps choreographing Miley Cyrus’ stage act?

Der Speigel seems unaware of this, and is shocked, shocked to find that the NSA might want to know what happens at the most significant nexus of multilateral diplomacy:

The NSA has its own team stationed at the UN, with each of the specialists disguised as diplomats. A secret crew from Washington regularly comes to town to bolster the team’s ranks before each session of the General Assembly.

But the Americans also eavesdrop wherever possible during the day-to-day — and they have been particularly successful at it for quite some time, as the corresponding department proudly reported in June 2012. In a status report they wrote that they had gained “a new access to internal United Nations communication.”

Furthermore, NSA technicians working for the Blarney program have managed to decrypt the UN’s internal video teleconferencing (VTC) system. The combination of this new access to the UN and the cracked encryption code have led to “a dramatic improvement in VTC data quality and (the) ability to decrypt the VTC traffic,” the NSA agents noted with great satisfaction: “This traffic is getting us internal UN VTCs (yay!).” Within just under three weeks, the number of decrypted communications increased from 12 to 458.

Occasionally this espionage verges on the absurd in a manner that would fit in perfectly with a John le Carré novel. According to an internal report, the NSA caught the Chinese spying on the UN in 2011. The NSA succeeded in penetrating their adversary’s defenses and “tap into Chinese SIGINT (signals intelligence) collection,” as it says in a document that describes how spies were spying on spies. Based on this source, the NSA has allegedly gained access to three reports on “high interest, high profile current events.”

The only real news here is the track record of success the NSA has enjoyed until now.  That’s more of an indictment of the UN’s security systems than it is of the NSA. This is what SIGINT collection looks like.  It’s not a newspaper clipping service.

Nevertheless, the cardinal rule of espionage is not to get caught at it.  Thanks to Edward Snowden, these secrets and others that have no relation to the legitimate issue of domestic surveillance are now out in the open.  That means everyone else has to react to them with requisite outrage, and the UN followed up on cue today:

The United Nations said on Monday it plans to contact the United States over a report that the U.S. National Security Agency bugged its New York headquarters and warned that countries are expected to respect the world body’s diplomatic inviolability.

Citing secret U.S. documents obtained by fugitive former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, Germany’s Der Spiegel reported on Sunday that the United States succeeded in gaining access to the internal U.N. video conferencing system in 2012.

“We’re aware of the reports and we intend to be in touch with the relevant authorities on this,” U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters.

He said well established international law, like the 1961 Vienna Convention governing diplomatic relations, protected functions of the United Nations, diplomatic missions and other international organizations.

“Therefore member states are expected to act accordingly to protect the inviolability of diplomatic missions,” Haq said.

Piercing the “inviolability of diplomatic missions” is the basic job of every nation’s intelligence services.  They may as well ask everyone to breathe water for the next month to offset carbon emissions.  (Maybe I shouldn’t give them any ideas.)


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Can’t they just kick us out?

nobar on August 26, 2013 at 3:22 PM

Worst thing the UN can do is give us a paper cut.

44Magnum on August 26, 2013 at 3:24 PM

Are they going to write a sternly written letter about how angry they are?

Is Hans Blix going to deliver it in person?

Defenestratus on August 26, 2013 at 3:25 PM

What Bark’s NSA is doing is considered good and proper spying, you might even call it healthy, while Dubya’s NSA was evil and corrupt.

Hope and Change, global village, this is Hope and Change.

Bishop on August 26, 2013 at 3:34 PM

Probably you guys should pack up and leave town in protest.

NotCoach on August 26, 2013 at 3:34 PM

Can’t they just not cash our checks?

Oil Can on August 26, 2013 at 3:34 PM

F off UN!!! We paid for these microphones!!!

Besides, they’re really just afraid that their secret little boy and girl raping locations will be outed….

ScottG on August 26, 2013 at 3:35 PM

As part of their massive, illegal spying operation on the American people, the OBOZO/NSA criminals accidentally spied on some foreigners. OMG!!! No doubt, OBOZO will correct that mistake immediately – after all, friends don’t spy on friends.

TeaPartyNation on August 26, 2013 at 3:42 PM

We’re paying for it, we can snoop on it.

novaculus on August 26, 2013 at 3:45 PM

Anybody notice how spying on the UN resulted in nothing. Zero policy changes.

But spying on Americans has actually changed quite a bit.

Americans with belief in the Constitution and “states rights” are now considers a threat by DOD and other agencies.

Good times.

tetriskid on August 26, 2013 at 3:46 PM

NSA could easily redeem itself…easily.

They can merely make public a ton of reports dealing with the graft, corruption, nepotism, and obscenely large salaries and expenses, payola and extortion, as well, on the part of UN officials in NYC and abroad…and publicize the reporting regarding UN missions overseas wherein rape of young girls is commonplace, where the UN is the enemy to the very locals the UN was allegedly sent to help and how the UN missions reap a good sum of “dash” from a number of third-world governments to look the other way, lest the host government be seen in a bad light.

Just think of Rwanda and all that could have been avoided had the UN “command” not decided that keeping the flow going was more important than to expose the atrocities, or back up their Canadian commander on the ground…because they needed to study the issue in more depth…

When the UN encourages rogue nations and despots in charge of Human Rights, or refugees, or any other assortment of noble causes to look the other way or merely trumpet that the United States is the bad guy…well…sounds more like a hostile power operating in NYC than some sort of benign Friday night Kumbaya session on the Hudson.

Just release the info garnered over the years…that is all NSA has to do to redeem itself in the eyes of the American public.

Insofar as the rest of the world…well, they can bugger off.

For example, Germany, home of Der Spiegel, has been involved in sketchy SIGINT programs aimed at its own people for decades. Sure, they were a key player (“Partner One” was the euphemism at the time) during the Cold War…albeit penetrated to the core by East Germany’s Markus Wolf…so seems typically hypocritical for the Germans to be all up in arms about the NSA today. The German government gets a good sum of cash each year and a select shared product now and then from NSA facilities within Germany, even today.

Snowden was either the most inept whistle blower of our times or the most brazen spy of our times…the jury is still out on that one…but would ANY of this domestic surveillance by a US military organization against the citizens of the United States ever have come out had he not decided to make such public?

Let’s not be too keen to kill the messenger on this one.

When any US organization acts with impunity, and disregard for the Constitution, then let the chips fall…

coldwarrior on August 26, 2013 at 3:48 PM

Start charging the UN Rent, have them pay their parking tickets, and then close the building down and throw them all out.

portlandon on August 26, 2013 at 3:55 PM

For all the public huffing and puffing, behind the scene the UN will be asking ” Whatcha got on …”

Jabberwock on August 26, 2013 at 3:57 PM

Start charging the UN Rent, have them pay their parking tickets, and then close the building down and throw them all out.

portlandon on August 26, 2013 at 3:55 PM

I’m more a fan of the theater climax scene of Inglorius Basterds, if you catch my drift.

Murphy9 on August 26, 2013 at 3:59 PM

Maybe Der Spiegel is confused. because Obama said the NSA does not spy domestically they believed that since the UN is in NYC it would not be spied on. Anyway how far back does this electronic sigint go? The 1921 Washington Naval Conference where Herbert Yardley’s Black Chamber broke the Japanese and UK diplomatic codes and knew each nation’s bottom line if the structuring of limits on capital ships. This is where the 5-5-3 ratio emerged. Our negotiators knew the UK and japs would accept those ratios so we never moved off them. Interestingly, then Sec State Henry Stimson demanded Yardley close down because “Gentlemen do not read other gentlemen’s mail.”

xkaydet65 on August 26, 2013 at 4:00 PM

UN: You bet we’ll be in touch with US over NSA spying

Well, you know how to reach us: Our address is printed on all those checks that pay your bills.

Fabozz on August 26, 2013 at 4:01 PM

The only real news here is the track record of success the NSA has enjoyed until now. That’s more of an indictment of the UN’s security systems than it is of the NSA. This is what SIGINT collection looks like. It’s not a newspaper clipping service.

And you can say this because of your extensive knowledge of both UN’s and the NSA’s capabilities?

Thanks to Edward Snowden, these secrets and others that have no relation to the legitimate issue of domestic surveillance are now out in the open.

So are we believing Snowden now? I get whiplash trying to keep up with the disinformation campaign against him.

Smiles on August 26, 2013 at 4:06 PM

Piss off Obama, maybe he will cut your budget and still spy on you.

people really do not think the NSA is also doing this to our politicians? LOL, SUCKERS or ENABLERS or INSIDERS? One or the other.

astonerii on August 26, 2013 at 4:13 PM

“Dirty work”? Do they mean spying? First, Obama never said that the NSA doesn’t spy, because it clearly does, and does it well. As mentioned above, his “word” on this matter relates to its domestic activities. Anyone who thought that the NSA was somehow renouncing espionage needs to explain just what they thought the NSA would do with its time from now on; perhaps choreographing Miley Cyrus’ stage act?
======

LOL!!

canopfor on August 26, 2013 at 4:26 PM

Just wondering. Are the people who are outraged about the U.S. spying on the UN believe that Russia and/or China don’t spy on the UN? If they found out that Russia and/or China was spying on the UN, would they care?

J.S.K. on August 26, 2013 at 4:27 PM

Maybe the NSA can figure out what the UN is doing with all our money. The UN won’t tell us.

And if the UN doesn’t like the NSA spying on them, they’re free to take their act somewhere less inhospitable. But, of course, they won’t do that. More likely they will use this as an excuse to demand yet more money from us.

Socratease on August 26, 2013 at 4:39 PM

Get the US out of the UN.

Then kick that bunch of overpaid, overfed, scofflaw, verminous one-world spies off of these glorious shores…

JohnGalt23 on August 26, 2013 at 4:45 PM

Everybody happy? After all, the US is getting what it deserved by daring to spy, right?

Edward Snowden, hero. Heh.

unclesmrgol on August 26, 2013 at 5:54 PM

still wondering what snowden has told us that we didn’t already know besides a specific program name. the practices they were doing to us with that program we knew about.

dmacleo on August 26, 2013 at 6:00 PM

Gee I hope they don’t punish us with a sternly worded letter.

Oldnuke on August 26, 2013 at 6:17 PM

I think the UN should relocate outside the US. That will make them feel safer

disa on August 26, 2013 at 9:11 PM

then Sec State Henry Stimson demanded Yardley close down because “Gentlemen do not read other gentlemen’s mail.”

xkaydet65 on August 26, 2013 at 4:00 PM

Guess it’s a good thing no gentlemen were involved.

AesopFan on August 26, 2013 at 10:52 PM