111 510 510 libonline@riphah.edu.pk Contact

Spying on ‘friends’

Prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Manmohan Singh had talks in a New York hotel last week and no doubt every word was recorded by the US National Security Agency (NSA). There is no doubt about it, because it has been revealed that the US spies on India’s embassy in Washington and its offices in New York, and, anyway, the crafty antics of listening spooks have been obvious for years.

The US and its patsies invaded Iraq in April 2003. Before that shambolic disaster I wrote a piece in the web journal Counterpunch of January 28 casting doubt on Washington’s claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). I noted the lack of evidence and pointed out that “US agencies (and their colleagues in Israel, the UK and Australia) can listen to every telephone and radio conversation in the world. They can examine every fax and email, assess Airbus production facilities and similar anti-American activities (the French found out about this economic spying but can’t do anything about it), analyse the defences of friend and foe alike, and are in general an Olympic-class nosy parker.”

The listeners couldn’t produce anything about Iraq’s supposed WMDs, because there weren’t any WMDs, but their snooping has increased amazingly since then, as proved by a brave American who has destroyed his life by bringing attention to what is going on. Although it had been obvious that there was intercept jiggery-pokery by the NSA, it was confirmed without doubt that the stronghold of freedom whose ideals of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ we so admire has become a grubby caricature of the shining city on a hill we imagined it to be. They listen to everyone, and it doesn’t matter if, as in India’s case, they are what President Obama calls “an indispensable partner”.

Obama declared Dr Manmohan Singh to be “a great friend…to the United States and to me personally”, but, as reported by The Hindu on September 25, two days before their clasp-happy meeting, “the NSA selected India’s UN office and the embassy as ‘location target’ for infiltrating their computers and telephones with hi-tech bugs.”

Does anyone imagine that Obama does not know that his spooks record everything said and written in the Indian embassy just across Dupont Circle from the White House? And can Dr Singh be unaware that all deliberations of his nation’s leaders and diplomats are reported by the tittering techno-dweebs of the NSA?

And if this is what they’re doing to India, just what is the effort against Pakistan?

As The Hindu recorded: “According to the 2010 Comint (communication intelligence) document about ‘Close Access SIGADs’, the offices of Indian diplomats and high-ranking military officials stationed at these important posts were targets of four kinds of electronic snooping devices: Lifesaver, which facilitates imaging of the hard drive of computers; Highlands, which makes digital collection from implants; Vagrant, which collects data of open computer screens; and Magnetic, which is a collection of digital signals.

“All the Indian ‘targets’ in the list are marked with an asterisk…The NSA document doesn’t say when and how the bugs were implanted or how much data was lifted from Indian offices, but all of them were on the ‘target’ list for more than one type of data collection bugs.”

It’s gutter-stuff, but naturally the US is joined by Britain in all the hi-tech fun and games. As I wrote elsewhere, “if you are a member of a delegation of a Commonwealth country (or Nato or the G20 or any other grouping, in fact) attending a meeting with the Brits, then you had better be on your guard. The grubby techno-dweebs of [Government Communications Headquarters, the British interceptors], defiling and dishonouring the Crown – and boasting about their repugnant antics in their next Power Point presentations – will be listening to you saying goodnight to your family.”

As I’ve written before, it has been forgotten that a British cabinet minister stated on February 26, 2004 that her country was spying on the UN secretary general. This admission of grotty delinquency was only a five-minute wonder, but it’s no less remarkable for that. The minister, Clare Short, was questioned on the BBC about the squalid deceit that led to the war on Iraq and asked if pressure had been brought to bear on nations and individuals to fall in with US-UK war plans.

Part of her reply was “The UK in this time was also getting spies on [UN Secretary General] Kofi Annan’s office and getting reports from him about what was going on…These things are done and in the case of Kofi’s office, it was being done for some time…Well, I know – I’ve seen transcripts of Kofi Annan’s conversations.”

Startled by this admission of Britain’s contempt for everything the UN was supposed to stand for, the interviewer said, “So in other words British spies – let’s be very clear about this in case I’m misunderstanding you – British spies have been instructed to carry out operations inside the United Nations on people like Kofi Annan?” She answered, “Yes, absolutely.”

So Britain, which signed the UN Charter almost 70 years ago, affirming “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person,” demonstrated its concern for dignity and worth by planting listening devices in the office of the secretary general (and many other people). Washington is in all this up to its earphones, of course, by also listening to every country in the world. And nobody imagines for a moment that details of international commercial negotiations are not passed to worthy recipients. (France and India are aware that their parleys about the Rafale fighter aircraft contract are being accessed.)

The Washington Post reported on September 3 that “Pakistan appears at the top of charts listing critical US intelligence gaps. It is named as a target of newly formed analytic cells.” Not only that, but documents “reveal a more expansive effort to gather intelligence on Pakistan than US officials have disclosed.”

So be careful next time you tap a keyboard or chat on the phone. And watch for chip-planting. If the US spies so aggressively on “a great friend and partner” like India, and the Brits snoop on the UN secretary general, heaven knows what they’re getting up to in Pakistan.

The writer is a South Asian affairs analyst. Website: www.beecluff.com

Brian Cloughley, "Spying on ‘friends’," The News. 2013-10-07.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political process , International media , International issues , Diplomacy-India , PM Nawaz Sharif , PM Manmohan , President Obama , Kofi Annan , Pakistan , United States , Washington , India , Iraq , NSA , NATO , BBC