NSA’s Global Economic Intelligence Net

When information began to surface in the post-Cold War years of the early 1990s that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), responding to changes in the global politico-military realities, was re-focusing some of its signals intelligence (SIGINT) capabilities to the gathering of economic intelligence, a number of NSA senior officials stated that such notions were ridiculous. They maintained that NSA’s goals were purely based on national security concerns, not giving U.S. corporations a leg up on their international competition.

The NSA documents released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has finally put to rest NSA’s long-held public policy that it does not engage in massive economic intelligence gathering. In fact, NSA, along with its global SIGINT partners, known as «Five Eyes» or FVEY, are targeting communications in order to amass economic intelligence that benefits large multinational corporations that are based in, but owe no real loyalty to, the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

After the end of the Cold War, there was no «peace dividend» in the world of Western intelligence agencies. The threat of «amorphous» terrorism simply replaced the so-called threat of «communism». In the eyes of the Western national security planners, a bogeyman is always required to maintain bloated budgets and privacy-invasive surveillance systems. Almost overnight, the «bogeymen» of Marx, Lenin, and Mao were replaced by Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and Mullah Omar. Rather than scale back their massive intelligence infrastructures in the absence of an overly-hyped Cold War threat, the five power UK-USA SIGINT alliance began to modernize its intelligence network and expanding its coverage to include the burgeoning Internet.

The NSA expanded its SIGINT «campus», which is more like a city, at Fort Meade, Maryland. The agency also added to its global surveillance network expanded regional SIGINT facilities in San Antonio, Texas; Fort Gordon, Georgia; Kunia, Hawaii; Aurora, Colorado, and Menwith Hill, England. Soon, a massive new data center, capable of storing a mind-boggling yottabyte (1 septillion bytes) of data, was on the drawing boards for Bluffdale, Utah and a new supercomputer center was slated for Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Not to be outdone by their SIGINT masters at Fort Meade, Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) completed a new circular headquarters in Cheltenham, England. Called the «Doughnut» by local residents and GCHQ employees, the 1.1 million square foot building looks like a giant eye from the air. Among the data being collected by GCHQ is a stream of metadata from taps on fiber optic cables, including the TEMPORA tap of the transatlantic cable land terminal at Bude, Cornwall.

NSA’s northern partner, the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) is building a new 72,000 square foot headquarters at its present location at Canadian Forces Station Leitrim, southeast of Ottawa. CSEC’s capabilities to eavesdrop of Latin American communications will be greatly expanded.

Australia’s Defense Signals Directorate (DSD), which has proposed changing its name to the Australian Signals Directorate, maintains a 20-year old headquarters, called Russell Hill, in Canberra. It is also called «The Factory» by locals. DSD has also opened a large new facility at Canberra International Airport and construction is almost completed on a massive data and communications center, known officially as the HMAS Harman Communications Facility Project, at the Harman military base near Canberra. The data center, a smaller version of the NSA’s massive data center in Utah, is expected to store massive amounts of data intercepted from the Five Eyes PRISM, XKEYSCORE, PINWALE, and MARINA metadata collection programs. DSD specializes in collecting communications from geosynchronous satellites over East Asia and the Indian Ocean, as well as taps on communications of foreign embassies in Canberra.

New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) is ensconced in a new headquarters in Wellington. GCSB primarily monitors satellite communications in the Western Pacific. All the communications of the small South Pacific island nations, over which GCSB has been given surveillance authority by NSA, are monitored and forwarded to NSA for storage.

It was President George H. W. Bush who first ordered NSA to alter its SIGINT priorities and ensure economic intelligence gathering was near the top of its priority list. When Bill Clinton became president, his national security adviser, Anthony Lake, took a personal interest in NSA and ensured that the agency’s shift to economic intelligence gathering was a permanent one. Selective NSA intelligence was provided in sanitized form to U.S. companies via the Department of Commerce’s Office of Executive Support.

Clinton ordered NSA, using the assets of the joint NSA-CIA Special Collection Service (SCS(), headquartered in Beltsville, Maryland, to bug the hotel rooms of visiting world leaders and delegates at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Seattle in 1993 and the Summit of the Americas in Miami in 1995. Both actions violated U.S. laws prohibiting such CIA and NSA operations on U.S. soil. Not only were phone calls and email intercepted but in a few cases world leaders were overheard by SCS eavesdroppers engaging in heterosexual and homosexual acts with prostitutes. That information was later used by the Clinton administration to blackmail the government officials involved.

NSA’s English-speaking partners followed suit. CSEC, then known simply as CSC, began monitoring the communications of selected Canadian resource-based companies, particularly those involved in the gold and diamond mining business. Vancouver-based operations of Canadian mining companies were of immediate interest to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Her one-time male suitor was Maurice Tempelsman, a Belgian-born tycoon active in the African diamond mining sector.

DSD installed a SIGINT “outstation” on the tip of Cape York in northern Queensland at Bamaga. One of the station’s main purposes is to listen to the radio transmissions of the BRA [Bougainville Revolutionary Army] and its battle for independence against the central Papua New Guinea government in Port Moresby. In reality, DSD was collecting communications that would help Papua New Guinea defeat the BRA and allow the large mining company RTZ [Rio Tinto Zinc, Inc.] to resume its lucrative copper mining operations in Bougainville.

On March 12, 1999, this writer was interviewed by Australia’s Channel 9 Sunday News program on NSA economic intelligence gathering. The following excerpt is as germane now as it was in 1999: «Economic intelligence right now is king. It is the number one priority . . . The people at NSA and other intelligence agencies have been quite open with the fact that they say that if we find something that could benefit a U.S. company we would have no problem in passing it along. But they usually confine that to Fortune 500 firms. We will only deal with the big guys . . . there’s many different programs being introduced to help economic intelligence gathering along. The most important of which is the plan or program to restrict the use of cryptography around the world to make it easier for intelligence agencies to listen in on sensitive business type information that may be encrypted».

Recent revelations by Snowden have revealed that NSA and its partners have worked with software and Internet Service Providers to provide back doors into encrypted communications. GCHQ’s ROYALNET program is designed to bypass encryption and provide plain text content to the Five Eyes.

The interview continued with the following specific example:

«Based on NSA intelligence, intercepts of Indonesian communications, it was discovered that Indonesia was going to award that contract to the Japanese firm NEC. Now the U.S. telecommunications company AT & T was also bidding on that same contract. This prompted President Bush to contact General Suharto and Bush kind of mildly reminded the old General about the support the U.S. had given Indonesia over the years, militarily, economic, support for East Timor and I think Suharto got the message because eventually it was announced that Indonesia was going to split the award 50/50».



In 1994, when NSA overheard a potential bribe being discussed between a Brazilian Cabinet minister and officials of the French firm Thomson-CSF for a $1.3 billion Amazon basin surveillance system called SIVAM, the information was passed to Raytheon. Pressure forced Brazil to award the project to Raytheon, a major NSA contractor, which returned the favor by establishing surveillance points in Brazil that have enabled NSA to listen in on the private phone calls and e-mails, through classified programs known as SILVERZEPHYR, SCIMITAR, BLACKPEARL, and MAINWAY, of President Dilma Rousseff and her Minister of Mines and Energy, among others at the Petrobras state oil company and other parastatal firms. Also in 1994, the interception by NSA of similar bribes to Saudi officials by executives of Airbus Industries, resulted in a $6 billion warplane Saudi contract to Boeing and McDonnell-Douglas.

And on the issue of the grab for the world’s dwindling supply of raw materials, the following quote from the Channel 9 interview is germane: «This is the big international race now, to see which countries and companies can gain access to all these vast natural resources and mostly in developing countries».

The interview’s conclusion: «Well, I think all countries have to re-examine their traditional relationships because in the world of economic competitiveness countries no longer have allies they only have interests».

One major question remains. Who will benefit from the massive data surveillance being conducted by the Five Eyes «Second Parties» of the UK-USA alliance and the «Third Party» partners of Germany, France, Denmark, Japan, South Korea, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Turkey, Israel, and Thailand? GCHQ’s motto in SIGINT collection is «Collect It All». In the 1980s, NSA stated its goal for «total hearability».

A classified NSA slide released by Snowden reveals the United States cannot determine whether the following countries are «friends, enemies, or problems». Included on the NSA list are BrazilEgypt, India, Iran, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Turkey, and Yemen. As has been seen in the past, when it comes to spying on economic secrets, NSA only sees American «interests», not allies or friends, even among its Five Eyes partners…


Wayne MADSEN | Strategic Culture Foundation




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