23rd Mar 2018

Unreported NSA spy systems revealed

A speaker invited to a European Parliament hearing into the large surveillance programme by the US intelligence agency NSA has revealed two previously unreported systems used to spy on people.

Jacob Appelbaum, an American investigative reporter who accepted the German Whistle-blower Prize on the behalf of former NSA agent Edward Snowden in Berlin in late August, told the civil liberties committee that the full details of the systems would be revealed “in good time.”

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  • Guardian editor in chief says the West needs to protect whistleblowers, not jail them (Photo: *n3wjack's world in pixels)

Appelbaum, who is also a software developer and computer security researcher, said he is aware of one NSA programme which specifically targets types of software to sweep up data from people who are not terrorists.

Another system sends NSA agents into urban areas to penetrate people’s home wireless networks.

“To break into your house is the kind of stuff you would see in a Cold era war movie and they have training slides in fact doing exactly that electronically when they can’t get in in another way,” he said.

Another revelation at the hearing came from investigative reporter and forensic expert Duncan Campbell who said Sweden's National Defence Radio Establisment (FRA) is partnered with the NSA and the British intelligence service GCHQ.

Campbell said Sweden is the biggest collaborating partner, outside the English speaking countries, with the GCHQ.

"The global surveillance system is, if not curtailed, spreading through the EU with the participation of not only my country, the United Kingdom, but with the very active and collaborative participation of a second member state, Sweden," said Campbell.

Deputies called the hearing as part of a greater effort to understand the extent and scope of the NSA’s Prism programme on EU citizens, first revealed by The Guardian after former NSA whistler blower Edward Snowden approached Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald in mid-May.

Guardian’s editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger, speaking live via video feed from London, says the paper ran with the stories to reveal the level of espionage conducted through partnerships between the state and corporations.

“The mass harvesting of information of entire populations, anybody who is using digital equipment is being put under some form of surveillance, and that seems to be something that cannot happen without consent, it cannot happen without the consent of the population, and that consent cannot be given without information,” he said.

Rusbridger says government attempts to stop newspapers from publishing the revelations while also announcing they want to hold a debate on the scandal at the same time is not possible.

The UK government, for it is part, made a threat of injunction against the paper unless it destroyed hard drives containing the Snowden files.

It also used an obscure terror law to detain David Miranda, Greenwald’s partner, at Heathrow airport. Miranda is an integral part of the team working on the files, says Rusbridger.

Senior officials in the UK government have also told him to stop releasing the stories.

“To me it is not for the state to be telling journalists when to stop,” he said.

He added: “I’ve had to sit there and listen to people lecture to me about security where the only people who have so far leaked the material are the agencies that are supposed to keep this material safe.”

Rusbridger said he voluntarily destroyed the hard drives in order to avoid the legal implications found in UK’s prior-restraint laws that prevent journalists from publishing.

He said such laws are “chilling for journalism” but do not exist to the same extent as in the US.

“This is why we are now in collaboration with our American partners because the American laws, the First Amendment in particular, offer a more robust protection for this kind of reporting than exists certainly in Britain but I would guess in much of Europe,” he noted.

He said Europe’s version of the US amendment, listed as Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, fails to offer the same standard protection for journalists.

“Article 10 doesn’t have the same weight as the First Amendment of the American constitution does and I think it would be a common feeling among European journalists that we don’t have the same protection against prior-restraint and in favour of freedom of expression that exist in the United States,” he added

The parliament hearing is the first of 12 meetings scheduled this year. The deputies are set to issue a report at the end of the year on their findings into the impact of the US-led spying programmes on EU citizens.

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