Calls in France to offer asylum, citizenship, to Snowden and Assange

Assange and SnowdenLeaders from all sides of the French political spectrum urged the French government on Thursday to offer political asylum, and even French citizenship, to the American defector Edward Snowden and to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The calls were made in response to news earlier this week that the United States National Security Agency spied on the personal communications of three French presidents from the 1990s to at least 2012. The files were published on Tuesday by the international whistleblower website WikiLeaks. They consist of what the website described as “top secret intelligence reports and technical documents”, which detail NSA spying operations against the French presidency, as well as espionage directed at several French government ministers and at France’s ambassador to the US. As intelNews predicted on Wednesday, the French government’s response to the revelations has been relatively muted. But many French politicians, including one minister in the government of French President Francois Hollande, called for Paris to extend offers of political asylum, and even French citizenship, to Assange and Snowden.

The initial call was issued by Laurent Joffrin, the influential managing editor of Libération, the Paris-based newspaper that partnered with WikiLeaks to release the NSA documents earlier this week. In a leading editorial published in the paper on Thursday, Joffrin said that French protests against NSA spying “have no more effect than scolding a rude toddler”, and added that by offering asylum to Snowden, France would “stand up [to America] and send a clear and effective message to Washington”.

Shortly after Joffrin’s editorial, Jean-Christophe Lagarde, president of the centrist Union of Democrats and Independents in the French Parliament, said that France should have given Snowden political asylum back in 2013, when he originally requested it. Lagarde was quoted in the French press as saying that “the French nation has already been dishonored by refusing to accept Edward Snowden’s request for political asylum when he asked for it in 2013”. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leftist member of the European Parliament, agreed with Lagarde, adding that Assange and Snowden must not only receive political asylum in France, but also be given “the French nationality”.

On Thursday afternoon, Jean-Pierre Mignard, a close friend and longtime political advisor to President Hollande, said that “given the service they have rendered to the cause of human freedom, France could accommodate a request for asylum from Assange and Snowden, should they request it”. Mignard added that “French law allows the Republic to grant asylum to any foreign subject who faces persecution for taking action in favor of human freedom”.

When asked by BFM TV, France’s most popular news channel, whether political asylum could be extended to Snowden and Assange, France’s Justice Minister Christiane Taubira said that she was “absolutely shocked by the idea”, because such a course of action would drive a powerful wedge between France and the US, two countries with deep historical ties. But she added that such a move would constitute a strong “symbolic gesture” against espionage, and thus remained on the table as a possible policy maneuver to be adopted by the government of France.

Late on Thursday, however, France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls indicated that any discussion of an offer of asylum to Assange and Snowden by the government of France was premature. Speaking at a hastily organized press conference to discuss the NSA espionage revelations during an official visit to Colombia, Valls told reporters that the question of offering asylum to the two men “did not arise” during internal government talks. “And in any case”, said Valls, such an initiative “would not address the issue at hand”, namely American espionage against the French presidency. France’s goal is to extract guarantees from Washington that all espionage against French officials would stop, noted the French prime minister. If France offered asylum to Assange and Snowden, American espionage against French targets would likely reach unprecedented levels, he added.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 June 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/06/26/01-1723/

French president calls crisis meeting to discuss US spy revelations

France Hollande ObamaThe president of France has convened an emergency meeting of the country’s highest national security forum in response to revelations that the United States spied on three French presidents. The Conseil de la Défense is to convene in Paris on Wednesday to discuss the emergence of documents that appear to implicate the US National Security Agency (NSA) in spying on Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy, who ruled France from 1995 to 2012. The documents further indicate that the NSA may have also targeted the personal communications of Francois Hollande, France’s current head of state.

The files were published on Tuesday by the international whistleblower website WikiLeaks. They consist of what WikiLeaks described as “top secret intelligence reports and technical documents”, which detail NSA spying operations against the French presidency, as well as espionage directed at several French government ministers and at France’s ambassador to the US. WikiLeaks would not indicate whether it acquired the documents from American defector Edward Snowden, who is currently living in Russia. But it said that “French readers can expect more timely and important revelations in the near future”.

The material –termed “Espionnage Élysée” by WikiLeaks– features a list of “selectors”, which includes French government telephone numbers targeted for interception. One of the numbers is identified as belonging to the president of France. The document collection also includes a handful of intelligence briefs, which are presumably based on intercepted communications from the telephone lines listed among the “selectors”. They detail the thoughts and diplomatic maneuvers by French presidents and other senior officials on subjects such as the Greek economic crisis, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and the United Nations.

French newspaper Liberation, which partnered with WikiLeaks to release the NSA material, said on Tuesday that the revelation should not surprise anyone in the post-Snowden era, but that it was still likely to cause a significant rift in French-American relations. In 2014, Germany expelled the station chief of the Central Intelligence Agency in Berlin –essentially the highest-ranking American intelligence officer in the country– over revelations that the US spied on the personal communications of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Liberation contacted the NSA but was told by its spokesman, Ned Price, that the Agency was “not going to comment on specific intelligence allegations”. A spokesman from the Élysée Palace told the paper that an official statement would be issued following the Conseil de la Défense meeting on Wednesday.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 June 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/06/24/01-1721/

Belgium launches official probe into alleged German-US espionage

BelgacomThe Belgian government has announced the start of an official investigation into allegations that the country’s tele- communications networks were spied on by a consortium of German and American intelligence agencies. A press release issued Friday by the Belgian Ministry of Justice said the minister, Koen Geens, had authorized an examination of claims of espionage by the United States National Security Agency and Germany’s Bundesnach-richtendienst (BND). The statement was referring to EIKONAL, an alleged collaboration between the NSA and the BND, which was revealed last month by Austrian politician Peter Pilz. Pilz told a press conference in Bern, Switzerland, that EIKONAL had targeted European telecommunications carriers for at least four years, from 2005 to 2008. The governments of Switzerland and the Netherlands have already launched their own investigations into EIKONAL.

After speaking with Pilz, Belgian politician Stefaan Van Hecke told Belgian media last month that the BND-NSA consortium had penetrated the network of Proximus, the mobile subsidiary of Belgacom, Belgium’s national telecommunications carrier. Speaking anonymously about the investigation, a Belgian official told the country’s largest French-language newspaper, Sud Presse, that if the alleged espionage is confirmed, it would have “not only legal implications, but will also affect relations between Belgium, Germany and the US”. A Justice Ministry spokeswoman said on Friday that if the allegations of espionage were confirmed “the government would take appropriate action”, but she refused to elaborate.

IntelNews regulars will remember the last time Belgacom surfaced in the news: in 2013, we reported that the company’s technicians had detected an “unidentified virus” that had infected several dozen mainframe computers. The virus specifically targeted telecommunications traffic carried by Belgacom’s international subsidiaries in Africa and the Middle East. Belgium’s Federal Prosecutor’s Office said at the time that the malware’s complexity, coupled with its grand scale, “pointed towards international state-sponsored cyber espionage”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 8 June 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/06/08/01-1710/

Switzerland to probe claims it was spied on by US, German agencies

SwisscomThe office of the Swiss Federal Prosecutor has launched an investigation into claims that the country’s largest telecommunications provider was spied on by a consortium of German and American intelligence agencies. The spy project was reportedly a secret collaboration between Germany’s BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst) and America’s National Security Agency (NSA). According to Austrian politician Peter Pilz, who made the allegations on Wednesday, the BND-NSA collaboration was codenamed EIKONAL and was active from 2005 to 2008. Speaking during a press conference in Bern, Switzerland, Pilz said many European phone carriers and Internet service providers were targeted by the two agencies.

Among EIKONAL’s targets, said Pilz, was Swisscom AG, Switzerland’s largest telecommunications provider and one of the successor companies to the country’s national carrier, the PTT (short for Post, Telegraph, Telephone). The government of Switzerland still retains a majority of Swisscom shares, which makes the Bern-based company the closest thing Switzerland has to a national telecommunications carrier. Under the EIKONAL agreement, the BND accessed Swisscom traffic through an interception center based in Frankfurt, Germany. From there, said Pilz, the intercepted data was transferred to a BND facility in Bad Aibling to be entered into NSA’s systems. Pilz shared numerous documents at the press conference, among them a list of key transmission lines that included nine Swisscom lines originating from Zurich and Geneva.

Switzerland’s Office of the Federal Prosecutor said on Wednesday that a criminal investigation was already underway into Peter Pilz’s claims, and that the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service was in contact with Swisscom and other actors targeted by EIKONAL. Meanwhile, Pilz refused to answer questions about where he got the documents about the alleged spy operation. He said, however, that he did not think Swisscom was aware of the BND-NSA actions against it. The company issued a statement on Wednesday saying it had “no agreements with the NSA, the BND, or any other foreign intelligence agency that permit eavesdropping” on company lines.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 28 May 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/05/28/01-1705/

France approves sweeping spy bill in response to Islamist attacks

Attack on Charlie HebdoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Lawmakers in the French National Assembly have overwhelmingly approved a new bill giving the country’s intelligence services unprecedented domestic spy capabilities. The bill, which is dismissed by critics as France’s version of the United States’ PATRIOT Act, was drafted by the ruling Socialist Party just days after a group of armed Islamists attacked several targets in Paris. The attacks were primarily directed against France’s popular satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo (see photo). A dozen members of the magazine’s staff, including several internationally-known cartoonists, were killed at the magazine’s headquarters in the French capital on January 7 of this year.

The newly approved bill provides blanket-approval for the wholesale interception and storage of communications metadata, which include information about the location and size of Internet-based communications exchanges. They also include information on the identities of those sending or receiving electronic messages. The legislation also includes a provision for the establishment of a new supervisory body called the National Commission for Control of Intelligence Techniques. Its mission will be to supervise the use of surveillance powers by France’s six intelligence agencies, as well as to handle complaints relating to communications interception from members of the public.

As the bill progressed through France’s houses of parliament, the French government and its supporters argued that the country needed national legislation that would take into consideration the rapid technical changes in digital telecommunications. But critics, which included most of France’s Internet service providers, claimed that the new law would give intelligence agencies unreasonably broad surveillance powers and would hamper online commerce. These claims, however, failed to convince lawmakers; the bill was thus approved by 438 votes for to 86 against. Most parliamentarians from France’s three main parties —the Socialist Party, the rightwing Union for a Popular Movement, and the centrist Union of Democrats and Independents— voted in favor of the bill. Observers noted with surprise that most lawmakers from the Radical Party of the Left also voted in favor of the bill. In contrast, the communist-led Left Front, as well as the Greens, voted overwhelmingly against the bill.

Colombian ex-spy head sent to prison over wiretapping scandal

Maria del Pilar HurtadoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The former director of Colombia’s intelligence service, who recently surrendered after being on the run for five years, has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for organizing an illegal wiretapping campaign against politicians, judges and other high-profile personalities. María del Pilar Hurtado directed the highly disreputable Administrative Department for Security (DAS) from 2007 to 2009. But on October 31, 2010, she left Colombia, apparently unobstructed, despite being a prime subject in a high-level investigation into political spying by DAS. She later surfaced in Panama, where she formally requested political asylum. The latter was granted to her in November 2010, causing the amazement of public prosecutors in Bogota, who accused the Panamanian government of subverting Colombian justice.

Hurtado is among 18 senior officials facing charges for criminal activities during the administration of Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe. His critics accuse him of authorizing a massive program of political surveillance, which targeted former presidents, Supreme Court judges, prominent journalists, union leaders, human rights campaigners, and even European politicians. Last summer, after consistent diplomatic pressure from the Colombian government, Panama’s Supreme Court to ruled that Hurtado’s asylum had been granted to her in violation of the Panamanian constitution. Eventually, Hurtado’s asylum was revoked; but by that time the fugitive former spy director had once again disappeared. Her whereabouts remained unknown until September 30 of this year, when Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for her capture. That same evening, Hurtado appeared at the Colombian embassy in Panama and promptly identified herself, stating that she was turning herself in.

In reporting on Hurtado’s sentencing, the Reuters news agency noted on Thursday that approximately “two-thirds of Uribe’s closest political allies during his presidency […] have been convicted, sanctioned or investigated for crimes”. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports that several senior Colombian justice officials have called for a wider investigation of Uribe himself and several of his top aides, for their role in the DAS wiretapping program.

Declassified report points to flaws in post-9/11 NSA wiretapping

NSA's Utah Data CenterBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A lengthy United States government report into the post-9/11 communications interception program by the National Security Agency says it was limited in both usefulness and effectiveness. The report examines the controversial NSA program codenamed STELLAR WIND, initiated in the wake of 9/11 on direct orders by the then-President George W. Bush. It instructed the NSA to launch an extensive program of data mining of American citizens’ information, as well as monitor their telephone conversations, Internet activity and financial transactions. The existence of STELLAR WIND was revealed in 2005 by The New York Times, based on allegations by a US government whistleblower, who three years later identified himself as US Justice Department official Thomas M. Tamm. By that time, Congress had stepped in to formally legalize the program, which many criticized as unconstitutional.

Last Friday, The New York Times received an internal report on STELLAR WIND that was produced jointly in 2009 by the inspectors general of five American law enforcement and intelligence agencies. A short, unclassified summary of the document had been published by the Department of Justice when the report had first came out. But The Times have now received a complete —albeit redacted— version of the report, following a Freedom of Information lawsuit it filed last year. According to the paper, the report includes “several paragraphs” describing “success” cases that ensured from the information derived from STELLAR WIND. However, these are all redacted. But the report also points out that the program’s secrecy made it extremely obscure even within the US Intelligence Community and thus it “hampered its effectiveness” by making it less useful. It appears that only a small, select group of Central Intelligence Agency analysts even knew of the program’s existence, while Federal Bureau of Investigation analysts and agents were effectively unable to use the program due to its “highly classified status”.

The report also states that, as of 2009, senior American intelligence officials “struggled to identify any specific terrorist attacks that had been thwarted” by STELLAR WIND. Additionally, it appears that none of the counterterrorist leads derived from the program between August 2004 and January 2006 proved useful in FBI investigations.