Bolivian president's jet rerouted amid suspicions Edward Snowden on board
France and Portugal accused of refusing entry to their airspace, while plane lands in Vienna with no sign of Snowden
Dan Roberts in Washington and agencies
The Guardian, Wednesday 3 July 2013
Link to video: Bolivian president's plane grounded in Viennahttp://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2013/jul/03/evo-morales-video
Bolivia reacted with fury after a plane carrying the country's president home from Russia was diverted to Vienna amid suspicions that it was carrying the surveillance whistleblower, Edward Snowden.
France and Portugal were accused of withdrawing permission for the plane, carrying the president, Evo Morales, from energy talks in Moscow, to pass through their airspace.
Officials in both Austria and Bolivia said Snowden was not on the plane. The Bolivian foreign minister, David Choquehuanca, said: "We don't know who invented this lie. We want to denounce to the international community this injustice with the plane of President Evo Morales."
In a midnight press conference, Bolivian vice-president Alvaro Garcia said Italy and Spain were also denying the plane permission to fly through their airspace. He described Morales as being "kidnapped by imperialism" in Europe.
"The ambassador for Spain in Austria has just informed us that there is no authorisation to fly over Spanish territory and that at 9am Wednesday they would be in contact with us again," defence minister Ruben Saavedra said. The Spanish government had made "revision of the presidential plane" a condition of granting it passage, he said.
Choquehuanca earlier told reporters Portugal and France had abruptly cancelled air permits. "They say it was due to technical issues, but after getting explanations from some authorities we found that there appeared to be some unfounded suspicions that Mr Snowden was on the plane."
Choquehuanca said in a statement that after France and Portugal cancelled authorisation for the flight, Spain's government allowed the plane to be refuelled in its territory. From there the plane flew on to Vienna. He said the decision by France and Portugal "put at risk the life of the president".
Saavedra, who was on the flight, said: "This is a hostile act by the United States State Department which has used various European governments."
Later he said France and Portugal had reconsidered and had agreed to allow Morales' plane to overfly, but Italy and Spain were still refusing.
"Two countries have changed their positions, first France and now Portugal," Saavedra said. "We will patiently seek to resolve the negative position taken by Italy and Spain, according to international norms."
Morales was in Vienna airport early on Wednesday discussing with the plane's crew how to reschedule the plane's return to Bolivia, Saavedra said.
Officials at the White House were not immediately able to comment on whether it had put pressure on western European allies to refuse to allow the plane to enter their airspace.
Officials at Portugal's foreign ministry and National Civil Aviation Authority could not be reached for comment. French government officials reached overnight said they could not confirm whether Morales' plane was denied permission to fly over France.
The precautions may have been prompted by a desire among governments in Paris and Lisbon to avoid entanglement in the affair – especially with public opinion in Europe running strongly against revelations of US spying.
Morales had earlier used a television interview in Moscow to hint strongly that Bolivia would look favourably on an asylum request from Snowden.
As other options began to fade for Snowden, trapped in the transit zone of a Moscow airport, Morales said his country was keen to "shield the denounced".
Speaking in Moscow, Morales said Bolivia had not received a formal application for asylum from Snowden yet, but hinted it would consider any request favourably.
"If there were a request, of course we would be willing to debate and consider the idea," Morales told RT Actualidad, the Spanish-language service of Russian broadcaster RT.
"I know that the empires have an espionage network and are against the so-called developing countries. And in particular, against those which are rich in natural resources," he added.
His comments were echoed by favourable noises from Venezuela, another possible exit route for the former NSA contractor. President Nicolás Maduro said Caracas was also ready to consider Snowden's asylum should he ask for it.
Maduro said Snowden should be given a "humanitarian medal" for revealing details of NSA surveillance programmes on US and foreign citizens. "He did not kill anyone and did not plant a bomb," Maduro told Russia's Interfax news agency. "What he did was tell a great truth in an effort to prevent wars. He deserves protection under international and humanitarian law."
Snowden's father, meanwhile, stepped up the rhetoric in favour of his son's actions on Tuesday, publishing an open letter that compared him to colonial independence fighter Paul Revere. The letter was signed by Lon Snowden and his lawyer, Bruce Fein, who also reported receiving a phone call from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Fein told the Associated Press that Assange, in the phone call on Saturday, delivered what he said was a message from Snowden to his father, asking him to keep quiet.
In the open letter, Lon Snowden wrote in glowing terms about his son.
"You have forced onto the national agenda the question of whether the American people prefer the right to be left alone from government snooping absent probable cause to believe crime is afoot to vassalage," he wrote. "You are a modern day Paul Revere: summoning the American people to confront the growing danger of tyranny and one branch government."
In Washington, the US state department said it was "hopeful" Snowden would be returned to the US to face charges of espionage and theft after a string of other countries said they would not accept Snowden's petition for asylum.
Speaking before the developments in Vienna, state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki rejected claims made by Snowden on Monday the US had bullied other potential hosts such as Ecuador into withdrawing their offer of asylum. "I am not sure what the basis for those claims are," she said.
The US insists it has simply impressed upon possible host countries the seriousness of the crimes that Snowden has been charged with.
Psaki also defended a decision to suspend his passport, an act which has left Snowden unable to the leave the airport transit zone and which he described as "using national identity as a weapon". The state department says such a response is normal when a US citizen attempts to flee arrest in this way.
**********Is Edward Snowden stateless and where can he go?
Even if another state grants Snowden asylum and issues him with a letter of passage, Russia would have to agree to accept it
Owen Bowcott, legal affairs correspondent
The Guardian, Tuesday 2 July 2013 17.34 BST
Is Edward Snowden stateless?
The US whistleblower has accused Washington of revoking his passport, leaving him a stateless person. The Obama administration, however, insists it has only cancelled the validity of Snowden's travel document, not deprived him of citizenship. The US State Department has now offered him a "one-entry travel document" to return home – an option unlikely to tempt Snowden to board a US-bound plane.
Can he be rendered stateless?
Making anybody stateless is formally forbidden by the universal declaration of human rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948. , which declares under article 15 that: "(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality; (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality." Individuals can voluntarily renounce their US citizenship – but they have to turn up in person at a US embassy.
Are airports outside national territory?
States normally retain full control over airside transit areas. Russia appears to be treating Moscow's Sheremetyevo international airport, where Snowden is believed to be hiding, as beyond its control. Gemma Lindfield, a London barrister specialising in extradition and international law, said: "Russia is taking the view that he has not entered Russian territory. It's finding a reason to do what it wants. The authorities have redefined the space of the airport as international."
What documents would Snowden require to leave Moscow?
Ecuador initially provided him with a laissez-passer (from the French for "let pass"), or temporary letter of passage, requesting a country to allow a person without other identity documents to cross international borders. But even with a laissez-passer, Lindfield said, "Russia would have to agree to accept it. It would also come down to whether the airline carrier would be happy to take him."
How long can anyone remain in an airport?
Mehran Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian refugee, lived in the departure lounge of Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris for 18 years. His story, Terminal Man, was later turned into a film, The Terminal. Another Iranian refugee, Zahra Kamalfar, spent 10 months at Sheremetyevo airport before flying on to Canada in 2007. Apart from Julian Assange, who is confined to Ecuador's embassy in London, others trapped in long-term legal limbo have included Archbishop József Mindszenty, the Catholic primate of Hungary, who spent 15 years in the US embassy in Budapest.
What are Snowden's other options?
Formal requests for asylum have been lodged on Snowden's behalf with 21 states. His initial applications were to Ecuador and Iceland. The WikiLeaks activist Sarah Harrison has submitted additional letters to Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Switzerland and Venezuela.
How are those requests progressing?
Snowden has withdrawn his asylum request to Russia because it said he would be welcome only if he stopped "his work aimed at bringing harm" to the US. Norway, Poland, Germany, Austria, Finland, Spain and Switzerland say that asylum requests can only be made on their soil. Ecuador is reported to have revoked the safe passage letter written for Snowden to leave Hong Kong because the president, Rafael Correa, was not informed before it was issued.
Which country should he choose to escape the reach of US justice?
States that do not have extradition treaties with the US are likely to offer the best hope of securing his freedom. But lawyers point out that even the absence of a treaty may not be sufficient protection against extradition. The UK has managed to extradite suspects from Somalia through case-by-case bilateral agreements. In the end his asylum may come down to political will more than international law. "You would do well to choose a country that has historically terrible diplomatic relations with the US," Lindfield suggested.
07/03/2013 09:29 AMStateless in Moscow: Germany Rejects Asylum for Snowden
Germany has rejected NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's application for asylum, joining several other nations that refused to accept him on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Bolivian President Morales was forced to make a stop in Vienna due to rumors the whistleblower was on board his plane.
Germany on Tuesday evening became just the latest country to reject NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's application for asylum, with the Foreign Ministry and Interior Ministry in Berlin issuing a joint statement saying that "the conditions for admittance are not fulfilled."
The decision came just hours before a plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales, on its way from Moscow back to South America, was forced to land in Vienna just after midnight after France and Portugal had closed its airspace to the plane due to rumors that Snowden was on board. Morales had already taken off from Moscow -- where Snowden is currently staying at the Sheremetyevo Airport -- when Bolivian officials were informed that he would not be allowed to pass over France and they re-routed to Vienna.
The suspicions proved incorrect, and South American leaders are furious. Leaders from both Ecuador and Argentina have called for an extraordinary meeting of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) to discuss the incident. The Venezuelan government added that it was a clear violation of the diplomatic immunity that all heads of state enjoy.
Germany's rejection of Snowden's asylum request was not unexpected. The former employee of the National Security Agency (NSA) is wanted by the US for having revealed in recent weeks the country's far-reaching electronic surveillance and spying operations abroad. He applied for asylum in 21 countries on Tuesday morning, including several in Europe. So far, however, he has received only rejections.
Only Venezuela has said that it was willing in principle, though no official decision has been made.
Germany, however, spent much of Tuesday agonizing over his request. It was clear from the outset that European Union rules, which stipulate that those applying for asylum must be on the territory or at the border of the state with which they intend to submit an application, prohibited Berlin from granting political asylum. But many political leaders, particularly from Germany's Green Party, had demanded that Snowden be allowed to come to Germany on humanitarian grounds. Some Green Party leaders also pointed out that Snowden is an important witness in a significant case of espionage involving German interests and should be brought to Germany as a witness.
'Don't Do Anything'
Green Party parliamentarian Hans-Christian Ströbele, for example, said on Tuesday: "With even federal prosecutors investigating possible espionage against Germany, the government shouldn't just offer Snowden asylum, but also -- as with the tax informants in Switzerland -- perhaps even witness protection." Ströbele was referring to CDs obtained by German officials in recent years containing the names and bank account details of people suspected of having evaded German taxes.
The Greens aren't the only party in Germany that has exhibited sympathy for Snowden and his plight. The center-left Social Democrats demanded on Tuesday that his asylum application be carefully examined and the Free Democrats (FDP), Chancellor Angela Merkel's junior coalition partner, also showed no inclination to reject Snowden out of hand. Many FDP leaders have been particularly strident in their criticism of US spying in recent days. Among Merkel's conservatives, several politicians have expressed respect for Snowden.
Top Green Party politicians on Tuesday evening were sharply critical of the decision to reject Snowden's application. "Angela Merkel's rejection of accepting Edward Snowden shows the vast hypocrisy of this government," said Katrin Göring-Eckardt and Jürgen Trittin, the party's top candidates in the campaign, in a joint statement. "They display indignation but don't do anything."
Both center-right and center-left politicians in Germany defended Berlin's decision on Wednesday. Senior Christian Democrat Michael Grosse-Brömer said on public television on Wednesday that the decision was "legally based," adding that Snowden did not fulfill the conditions for asylum.
Social Democrat Dieter Wiefelspütz, the party's domestic policy spokesman, said in an interview with the Mitteldeutschen Zeitung: "I cannot see that the man is being politically persecuted. He likely betrayed state secrets due to reasons of conscience. He is perhaps a hero of freedom. But that doesn't protect him from legal consequences."
***********Angela Merkel: NSA snooping claims 'extremely serious'
German chancellor says fight against terrorism is essential but methods used must be proportionate
Kate Connolly in Berlin
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 3 July 2013 11.01 BST
Angela Merkel has responded angrily to claims of widespread US spying in Europe, calling it "an extremely serious incident", in her first personal comments on the allegations.
In an interview with the Guardian and five other European newspapers, Merkel argued that while the fight against terrorism was essential, the methods used needed to be proportionate.
"If these reports are confirmed in the course of our investigations, we will be looking at an extremely serious incident," she said. "Using bugs to listen in on friends in our embassies and EU representations is not on. The cold war is over. There is no doubt whatsoever that the fight against terrorism is essential, and it needs to harness intelligence about what happens online, but nor is there any doubt that things have to be kept proportionate. That is what guides Germany in talks with our partners."
The German chancellor grew up in communist East Germany, where citizens were the victims of widespread spying by the notorious state secret police, the Stasi. Its sophisticated espionage techniques in the days before the internet or mobile phones included bottling the scents of those suspected of being anti-regime.
Merkel acknowledged that foreign intelligence agents had helped thwart terrorist attacks on German soil. "Like most Germans, I am well aware that other countries' services have helped identify terrorist groups in Germany and prevent their attacks on a number of occasions. That said, the need to protect privacy also has to be respected alongside security interests. There has to be balance between the two."
She said Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the BND, was working closely with its European counterparts to throw light on what was alleged to have taken place. "Our services and our ministries are working at all levels – at the European level too – to clear up what has happened, including the new issues that came to light at the weekend," she said.
European leaders have said the US spying row could delay ambitious free-trade talks between the world's two largest economic powers. Barack Obama has sought to defuse the row, saying US agencies are behaving in the same way as intelligence organisations everywhere.
07/03/2013 12:33 PMNSA Spying in Germany: How Much Did the Chancellor Know?
By Philipp Wittrock
While the Chancellery appears to be outraged by the NSA's spying tactics in Germany, the opposition doubts the revelations came as a surprise to Angela Merkel. Just how much could she have known?
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will have to be pretty clear with US President Barack Obama the next time she has him on the line. At least that's a reasonable assumption, based on the anger she has expressed about American spying operations in the European Union and Germany.
"I demand an explanation, Barack," the chancellor might say. After all, the president eloquently defended the Prism program on his recent visit to Berlin, but the Americans' bugging, electronic eavesdropping and excessive data collection from allied European countries, which came to light this weekend, was not part of the conversation. Merkel is said to be quite rankled.
But others say that the chancellor will probably be friendly to Obama during their next talk, and not because this is what diplomatic conventions call for, even amid tensions. No, it's because there is some question as to whether Berlin's dismay about the espionage by the National Security Agency (NSA) is really as great as it claims. Could some of the indignation be feigned? Did the revelations really shock the chancellor? And if it did come as a surprise, has German counterintelligence failed miserably?
The opposition doesn't believe that Merkel was unaware of the situation. In an editorial for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung this week, Sigmar Gabriel, chairman of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), openly aired the suspicion that Merkel was familiar with at least some of the spying activity. The government has vehemently rejected this accusation as crude campaign bluster. This isn't totally unjust -- the opposition has seized on the opportunity to portray Merkel as a traitor to citizens' freedoms, a strategy that could gain support among a population particularly sensitive to data protection issues.
Who Informs Who?
The election campaign aside, there are good reasons to ask critical questions of not just the Americans, but the German government too. Intelligence expert Erich Schmidt-Eenboom says that Gabriel's suspicion is "at least tendentially" correct. "According to my estimation, the authorities knew about this," he told broadcaster Deutschlandfunk.
That's because the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), which is responsible for protecting government networks, compiles threat analyses for the Interior Ministry. And adversaries include "not only China or Russia, but also the Anglo-Saxon services," Schmidt-Eenboom said. Additionally, Germany's foreign intelligence agency (BND) is familiar with the capacities of allied intelligence agencies, he added. In turn, the BND briefs the Chancellery, or more precisely its chief of staff, Ronald Pofalla, who is responsible for coordinating the intelligence agencies. He then shares this information with the chancellor when he sees fit.
On Wednesday, Pofalla is to sit before the Parliamentary Control Committee of the Bundestag for a question and answer session. The heads of the three German intelligence agencies -- responsible for foreign, domestic and military intelligence -- were also invited to the special session. The questions there will probably follow the same line of logic: How much did the German agencies know about the activities of their American counterparts? How much would they like to know? And could it be that German counterintelligence is not functioning? The SPD, however, cannot hide behind Merkel's conservatives. After all, it was current opposition leader Frank-Walter Steinmeier who occupied Pofalla's post from 1999 to 2005, in the delicate time after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when US intelligence agencies were certainly not idle.
One thing is obvious: No one believed that the NSA was steering clear of Germany. When it comes to the war on terror, Germany has frequently benefited from the work of American spies. The information that led to the 2007 capture of the so-called "Sauerland cell" came from the NSA and CIA, which had intercepted phone calls and emails. Even if the partner services don't normally get to see the raw data, the Germans should have been able to figure out that the Americans could only collect this information through very comprehensive surveillance.
The Wednesday Phone Call
Why ask questions if the cooperation is working? Merkel knows that the US is extremely sensitive when it comes to national security. But she must also know, at least since the Wikileaks revelations three years ago, that the Americans are not here just to search for terrorists. It was then brought to light that the US Embassy was relying on insiders for information about the goverment coalition negotiations in 2009. This wasn't espionage, but it showed that Washington is interested in information from Europe's innermost circles of power.
But the chancellor may have been alarmed to find out that such information can also be obtained through targeted wiretapping, as documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden now reveal in the case of several EU delegations. This also explains why keeping quiet about the NSA scandal is not an option for her, especially given the upcoming election in September.
On Wednesday, Merkel may have the opportunity, as announced, to speak to Obama personally by phone about the espionage allegations. That's when the US president returns from his seven-day Africa trip. There's no doubt that Obama will express polite understanding for the worries of the Germans. But it's highly doubtful that any fundamental changes will be made regarding American intelligence practices.
The US president turned the tables once more on Monday in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: "In European capitals, there are people who are interested in, if not what I had for breakfast, then at least my talking points," said Obama, in reference to the current activities of other countries' intelligence agencies.
In other words, what's all the fuss?
07/02/2013 04:15 PMSpying Scandal: Obama Owes Us an Explanation
By Gregor Peter Schmitz in Washington
Americans tend to be more open-minded than Germans about Big Data -- at least for now. The kind of mass data collection being conducted around the world by the NSA could eventually backfire for President Obama at home, however.
Mick Jagger, 69, might be a father of seven and a grandfather of four, but he can still pull off the role of the eternally youthful rebel. The Rolling Stones recently gave a concert in Washington, just a few kilometers away from the White House. "I don't think President Obama is here, but I'm sure he's listening in," the Stones frontman quipped.
The audience laughed out loud because Barack Obama -- the man who carried so much hope and was long believed to be a very European US president -- has become the butt of jokes. Some view him as the embodiment of the very "Big Brother" once sketched by George Orwell, the dictator who spies on, monitors and controls every citizen without any scruples.
But how much of that is a cliché, and how much truth is there to it? Given the revelations published by SPIEGEL in recent days showing evidence of a US spying program that is directed at European Union institutions, and monitoring an almost inconceivable number of communications connections -- 500 million a month in Germany alone -- you can't blame a person for thinking the worst. Even if Obama has explicitly ensured that Americans needn't fear some kind of "Big Brother," the "3rd Party Partners," as Germany was categorized in top secret NSA documents, are now asking if the same applies to Europeans.
Americans See the Positive in 'Big Data '
In no other country is this question being asked as loudly as in Germany, a country that, through its own painful history during the Nazi era and under communist East Germany, has learned just what an overly curious state and paternalism can lead to. The Germans cherish their privacy and fear absolute control. That's why Facebook's facial recognition software is uncomfortable for us, and the reason that many Germans have had a positively allergic reaction to Google Street View cameras. It's the reason Germans visiting the United States get annoyed when they call a hair salon for an appointment and are asked not only for a telephone number, but an email address and a credit card number too.
Americans have a far more casual attitude about this kind of thing. When it comes to "Big Data," people in the land of think tanks and modern communication tend to think first of the magic and opportunities it presents, rather than the pitfalls. This is particularly true of their president, whose savvy use of data greatly contributed to his re-election in 2012.
Obama recruited the smartest people from Google and Facebook to categorize American voters by up to 500 different personal proclivities. His IT foot soldiers were able to determine their age, gender, education and favorite beer or magazine -- they even data mined their online surfing habits. By hunting voters with algorithms, they were able to create profiles so complex that they could address them in a precisely targeted manner. Obama's election workers knew exactly which doors they needed to knock on in swing states and where canvassing would be pointless. After such a successful election campaign, it is clear that Obama has no qualms about using "Big Data," and that he doesn't perceive it as evil.
Obama Must Speak Openly about Spying
But can Obama really discount our privacy concerns as being merely typically European? Should we just accept the line suggested by some in the US that spying among friends has existed from time immemorial? Will it suffice to clear up these concerns behind the scenes as the first statements made by Obama suggest will be the case?
That would be disastrous. To be sure, we Europeans wouldn't suddenly stop shopping at Amazon, using Facebook to connect or searching the Web via Google. But the scandal nevertheless threatens to create divisions in trans-Atlantic relations. People in Europe already complaining about genetically modified corn from America, for example, may rebel against the planned free trade agreement between Europe and the United States if they also have to fear for their privacy. French President François Hollande is no fan of the treaty and he is already deliberately fuelling such concerns with his sharp criticism of America.
That's unlikely to be Obama's only concern, however. He also needs to be worried about his own "first party partner," the American people. We've already recently seen how the left- and right-wing fringe can come together to demand greater transparency from the White House when it comes to secret drone flights abroad. At the time, they feared that any monitoring apparatus deployed in the short or long-term might eventually be used at home. Similar voices are already being heard this time, and they seem to be further emboldened by the growing anger in Europe.
Influential Time columnist Fareed Zakaria writes that potential abuses of Big Data are "like a scenario from a horrifying sci-fi thriller." "Is that compatible with life in a free society?" he asks.
Obama will have no choice but to speak openly about these programs. The sooner he does it, the better -- for both Europe and America.
*************NSA revelations: why so many are keen to play down the debate
The mass surveillance that Edward Snowden has exposed asks questions not only of government but of telecoms companies too
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 2 July 2013 17.51 BST
Covering the Edward Snowden story has not been straightforward for many in the mainstream media, which is reflected in the disjointed coverage it has received in the UK so far. For the newspapers that campaigned so hard to get the communications data bill thrown out because of the implications for privacy, he should be a hero. But then the brash young American "stole" the material, came to the Guardian with it, and has ended up stranded in Russia, where he may or may not receive asylum with the help of Julian Assange. All of which makes him rather unpalatable to many in Fleet Street – and indeed the House of Commons. For many of them, the easier story to tell was the one about Snowden's girlfriend, who was left bereft in Hawaii.
This week there have been more revelations about the way the US spied on the EU, which followed the Guardian's disclosures about how the British snooped on diplomats from Turkey and South Africa, among others, at the G20 summit in London four years ago. This has caused genuine fury among those targeted, particularly the Germans and the French. But their anger has been met with shoulder-shrugging indignation from former British diplomats and security experts, who say this sort of thing happens all the time.
They would hardly say anything different. In all likelihood, they have either authorised or benefited from such covert intelligence gathering, so the lack of biting analysis was entirely predictable. For those in the media unsure how to deal with Snowden, and rather hoping the complex saga would go away, this was another easy escape route: "No story here, let's move on."
But there is a story. It gets lost, all too conveniently, in the diplomatic rows and the character-assassinations, but ultimately it is the legacy of the Snowden files. The documents have shown that intelligence agencies in the UK and the US are harvesting vast amounts of information about millions of people. This is fact, not fantasy. They are doing this right now, on a scale that could not have been envisaged five years ago, let alone when the laws covering the collection and retention of data were drafted. They are also sharing this treasure trove of intelligence with each other, and other close allies.
In the UK, the same ministers who sign off operations to spy on our allies, are also approving countless warrants to allow GCHQ to siphon off data from cables that carry internet traffic in and out of the country. Emails, conversations on Skype, the details of phone calls – they all go into the intelligence pot ready for analysis and digestion.
The methods that GCHQ has developed may be ingenious. But are they right? Do the laws really legitimise this activity? And can the handful of MPs and commissioners tasked with the scrutinising the agencies really keep on top of all this? Do they have the staff, the expertise? Those are the questions that need proper argument. The reassurances of senior cabinet ministers, such as William Hague, who is responsible for GCHQ, needed to be tested, not just repeated unchallenged.
Those who wail about the leaks affecting national security might consider the words of Bruce Schneier, a security specialist, who wrote in the New York Times: "The argument that exposing these documents helps the terrorists doesn't even pass the laugh test; there's nothing here that changes anything any potential terrorist would do or not do."
And where are the telecoms companies in all this, and the internet service providers? For now, they are still keeping quiet. But at some point they will be asked to explain to their millions of customers what they knew about this industrial-scale snooping. None of this is easy, and ministers and intelligence officials would like nothing more than to shut down the debate. The clues are in their discomfort.