12/20/2013 04:01 PMFriendly Fire: How GCHQ Monitors Germany, Israel and the EU
By Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach and Holger Stark
Documents from the archive of whistleblower and former NSA worker Edward Snowden show that Britain's GCHQ signals intelligence agency has targeted European, German and Israeli politicians for surveillance.
The American spy stayed in northern Cornwall for three weeks. He was delighted with the picturesque setting, with its dramatic cliffs and views of the Atlantic.
In a classified report, the NSA employee also raved about the British signals intelligence agency GCHQ's field of antennas, located high above the Atlantic coast, about 300 kilometers (190 miles) west of London. Her Majesty's agents have been working at the site, where 29 satellite antennas are aimed skyward, for decades. The Cornwall intelligence base, once part of the Echelon global signals intelligence network, was previously known as "Morwenstow." Today the site is known as "GCHQ Bude."
In addition to its geographical conditions, which are ideal for monitoring important communications satellites, Bude has another site-specific advantage: Important undersea cables land at nearby Widemouth Bay. One of the cables, called TAT-14, begins at German telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom's undersea cable terminal in the East Frisia region of northern Germany.
There were suspicions as early as this summer that the British intelligence service in Bude was eavesdropping on German targets. Now documents from the archive of US whistleblower Edward Snowden contain the first concrete evidence to support this suspicion: German telephone numbers. SPIEGEL, Britain's Guardian and the New York Times, as part of a joint effort, were able to view and evaluate the material.
List Includes Embassies, Leaders
According to the documents, the GCHQ Bude station listed phone numbers from the German government network in Berlin in its target base as well as those of German embassies, including the one in Rwanda. That, at least, was the case in 2009, the year the document in question was created. Other documents indicate that the British, at least intermittently, kept tabs on entire country-to-country satellite communication links, like "Germany-Georgia" and "Germany-Turkey," for example, of certain providers.
The name of the European Union's competition commissioner and current European Commission vice president, Joaquin Almunia, also appears in lists as well as email addresses that are listed as belonging to the "Israeli prime minister" and the defense minister of that country.
The details from the British intelligence agency's databases could have political consequences. The British will now face an uncomfortable debate over their activities, which are apparently also directed against partner countries in the EU and the political leaders of those nations. SPIEGEL already reported in September on a GCHQ attack on partly government-owned Belgian telecommunications provider Belgacom.
Possible Headache for Cameron
At a dinner during the Brussels EU summit in late October, two days after SPIEGEL's revelation that Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone had been tapped, French President François Hollande began a debate during the meal over surveillance practices in Europe and called for the establishment of a code of conduct for intelligence agencies.
British Prime Minister David Cameron remained oddly silent during the discussion, in solidarity with his American friends -- but also, presumably, because the GCHQ intelligence service doesn't behave very differently from its big brother, the National Security Agency, and because of their agency's close cooperation with the NSA in the realm of satellite surveillance. If it is confirmed that the British targeted the phones of German government officials and EU Commissioner Almunia, Cameron will have a problem.
The documents do not indicate the intensity and length of any collection of targets. The German numbers are only a small part of a bundle of documents filled with international telephone numbers and corresponding annotations. The documents viewed by SPIEGEL, the Guardian and the New York Times appear to represent only a small cross-section, and they include hundreds of telephone numbers from more than 60 different country codes. The bundle of documents provides the first glimpse of the scope of Britain's surveillance ambitions.
EU Figures, Companies Targeted
The documents also show that the surveillance net cast by GCHQ and its political overseers is remarkably comprehensive. From Bude and other GCHQ sites, the agency appears to be systematically monitoring international country-to-country telephone calls made through satellite connections, as well as email communications (known as "C2C," or computer-to-computer). This is evidenced by, for example, long lists relating to connections between places like Belgium and various African countries.
The entry "EU COMM JOAQUIN ALMUNIA" appears in an "informal" analysis of the communication paths between Belgium and Africa prepared in January 2009. At the time, the peak of the euro crisis, Almunia was still the EU economics and finance commissioner and he already had his own entry and personal identification code in the British target database, with the codename "Broadoak."
It's unlikely that the surveillance interest in him -- at least when it comes to industrial espionage -- has diminished since then. Almunia, now the EU's competition minister, is currently ruling on, among other issues, whether US Internet giant Google is abusing its market power, thereby harming European companies. Almunia recently imposed fines on US pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson, as well as financial companies like Citigroup and J.P. Morgan Chase.
Non-Governmental Organizations Included
The EU commissioner's name also appears in a second document from 2008, which describes a communication path between France and Africa. According to the document, Almunia, or a number assigned to him in the British target database, called a number in Ivory Coast on Oct. 30 or 31, 2008. SPIEGEL was unable to obtain a response from Commissioner Almunia on the incident by the time it went to press.
In addition to many political and "diplomatic targets," the lists contain African leaders, their family members, ambassadors and businesspeople. They also include representatives of international organizations, such as those of United Nations agencies like the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR). A noticeably large number of diplomatic missions to the United Nations in Geneva are also listed.
Even non-governmental organizations like Doctors of the World (Médicins du Monde) appear on the British intelligence agency lists, along with a representative of the Swiss IdeasCentre and others. Individual companies can also be found on the list, especially in the fields of telecommunications and banking. The partly government-owned French defense contractor Thales, along with Paris-based energy giant Total, is also mentioned.
A Continuation of Echelon?
When GCHQ officials were asked about the suspicion arising from the documents that their organization engages in large-scale industrial espionage, they stated that while they were unwilling to address specific details, "one of the purposes for which GCHQ may be authorized to intercept communications is where it is necessary for the purpose of safeguarding the economic well-being of the UK" or state security. "Interception under this purpose is categorically not about industrial espionage," it stated.
The NSA also denied in a statement that it uses its "foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of -- or give intelligence we collect to US companies." In another statement, NSA officials said, "The United States collects foreign intelligence just as many other governments do."
Either way, it appears the British have come relatively close to the goals they state elsewhere in the documents to "exploit global telecommunications" and of "mastering the Internet." The documents that were reviewed also suggest that the satellite dragnet is likely a continuation of the legendary global Echelon surveillance network, which was the subject of an investigation by a committee of the European Parliament in 2000.
In their 2001 final report, the EU politicians presented a wealth of convincing evidence of industrial espionage allegedly committed through Echelon, and also made various demands on the United States. But only a few weeks later, the events of 9/11 pushed the criticism of the EU's partner to the back burner.
A map from the wealth of classified documents obtained by Snowden on the so-called "Fornsat" activities of the technical intelligence cooperation program -- informally known as the Five Eyes -- shows that the system of global satellite surveillance remained in operation.
Bude is referred to by its codename "Carboy" under a heading titled "Primary Fornsat Collection Operations." Another collection point in the alliance that also appears in the documents is the NSA's Sugar Grove listening post in northern Virginia, codenamed "Timberline."
It has been clear since the release of the Echelon report that intelligence services eavesdrop on international communications conducted by satellite -- and Germany's BND foreign intelligence agency is no exception. What is so politically charged about the current revelations is that the names and institutions of European neighbors, including EU representatives and various UN organizations, appear to be listed in the target databases. It would be hard to consider this to be anything less than an intelligence service attack on friends. The question now is whether the names and institutions are also intelligence targets for the NSA.
Israel Spying May Cause Tensions for US
GCHQ and NSA agents work together closely at Bude, which is a jointly operated listening post. Clearly the visitor from the United States who was so enchanted by the scenic Cornwall landscape was far from an isolated case. In fact, there are NSA agents who are permanently assigned to the Cornwall facility. The Guardian reported over the summer, based on information from other documents in the Snowden archive, that the NSA even assumed redevelopment costs of more than $20 million (€14.5 million). According to a secret GCHQ document from 2010, the British were making an effort to at least satisfy the NSA's minimum expectations, but had trouble keeping up with demand from the United States.
The close cooperation between Britain and the United States could prove highly controversial because the intelligence workers in Bude also targeted Israel. At least four Israeli targets are named in GCHQ lists, including an email address named as the "Israeli prime minister." The paper dates from 2009, when Ehud Omert was in office. Another email address is also sensitive. For a time, firstname.lastname@example.org
was central to Israeli foreign and security policy. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his then chief of staff Yoni Koren personally used the mailing list. In its reporting, SPIEGEL learned that Barak coordinated a part of Israel's Iran policies using this account. It wasn't a forum for top-secret operations, but it was one for many internal decision-making processes.
The prime minister and his foreign minister are the two most important men in Israel. Anyone with access to their communications could quickly gain a lot of insights about the inner workings of Israeli politics.
Suggestions Germans Were Also Targeted
The lists of full numbers, names and email addresses certainly offer the potential for fresh political tensions in other places. Just last week, German Chief Federal Prosecutor Harald Range said that from his office's perspective, there is no evidence that the NSA or British intelligence has systematically monitored German telephone and Internet traffic. In a joint appearance before the British House of Commons in November, Britain's three top intelligence chiefs insisted that their work primarily involved counterterrorism operations.
The material viewed does indeed contain many references to possible terror suspects, suspected cases of nuclear proliferation and individuals associated with the taking of hostages. In many instances, the code names of current operations appear next to the listed numbers, including the operations of other British agencies, such as the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) police unit. Still, this doesn't explain the large number of so-called "hits" relating to political, diplomatic and business matters. These individuals, organizations and businesses must, therefore, have been defined as espionage targets.
A key document consisting of a long list of telephone numbers and dated Nov. 27, 2009 suggests that this also applies to German institutions and possibly German individuals. The surveillance operation recorded in the document was apparently focused on targets in crisis-ridden Congo, including members of the family of an African president, as well as senior military officials in the country, a cleric and a former vice-president. Two numbers with relevance to Germany are listed under a line that reads "list of all noted hits in priority order."
Berlin As 'Surveillance Target'
The words "German Emb in Rwanda" -- the German Embassy in the capital Kigali -- are noted next to the number "250-252575141." Further reporting revealed that the telephone number was the main line for the German Embassy in Kigali until 2011.
Five hits farther down the list, a combination of numbers leads directly to the German capital: "49-30-180 German Government Network." Those numbers include the country code for Germany, the area code for Berlin and the prefix for the Federal Government Information Network, to which government ministries in Berlin are connected. Any agency that would include that prefix for German government numbers must have considerable interest in political developments in Berlin.
SPIEGEL contacted several intelligence experts, who expressed the opinion that the list of German numbers under the term hits could only mean that GCHQ essentially declared these numbers to be surveillance targets.
GCHQ: Activities Are 'Authorized'
The documents SPIEGEL was able to examine do not indicate how intensively and during which periods of time the individual targets were actually monitored. However, the example of an African politician shows that even during a surveillance test run, the British intercepted and stored his mobile phone text messages in their entirety.
In response to a detailed list of questions, GCHQ answered that it does not comment on intelligence matters. It did state, however, that its own activities are "authorized, necessary and proportionate," and are conducted under the "rigorous oversight" of various supervisory bodies.
However, it must be assumed that the German Embassy in Rwanda and the number for the Berlin government network aren't the only targets with relevance to Germany. Rather, they were merely the only German numbers acquired during the period and on the specific communication path in question. The fact that the British agents monitor, at least intermittently, the entire signal paths of satellite communications between Germany and other countries means it is certain that significantly more numbers with the German country code, 0049, must appear in the GCHQ databases.
Search for New Targets
Moreover, the intelligence services participating in the satellite surveillance alliance are apparently constantly searching for new eavesdropping opportunities of interest, or at least they were in the period from 2008 to 2009, when the satellite surveillance documents SPIEGEL examined were created.
Some of the longer documents and hit lists are "informal reports" addressing test runs for new, previously unmonitored communication paths intended to "highlight the possible intelligence value." They are generally listed under "Bude Sigint Development," which means they relate to the identification and development of new targets.
According to the documents, most of the tests were conducted over a period of a few days, during which the intercepted numbers were apparently correlated with the target databases to determine whether ongoing monitoring would be worthwhile. The hit lists filled with names and numbers are the results of these tests. Each of the documents ends with a question: "Can this carrier be tasked to the collection system?" In many cases the answer is simply "yes." One such case is a communication path from Europe to Africa from the year 2008, in which EU Commissioner Almunia appears for the first time. In the January 2009 document in which Almunia is mentioned once again, the answer to the question at the end reads: "Not currently due to the data rate of the carriers." It is also noted that "future (…) updates will resolve this issue."
A Revealing Example
A report from August 2009 shows how much information the spies managed to intercept even in these test runs. It also mentions the president of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), who is referred to as "Dr. Chambers" in the material. This appears to be a reference to the Ghanaian diplomat Mohamed Ibn Chambas, who worked for Ecowas in various capacities from 2001 to 2010. In late 2012, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon appointed him as the UN's Joint Special Representative for Darfur.
In 2009, the British apparently intercepted his text messages as part of a test run. The messages are marked in red in one of the documents, which is meant to highlight the potential value of another satellite link between Africa and Europe.
The documents include, among other things, more than a dozen of the complete texts of his messages, and reveal the whereabouts of the Ecowas president, who was in Liberia to receive a prize for his peace efforts. "Am in Liberia to receive a national award during their independence day celebration (sic) tmrow," reads one of the texts intercepted by the British. In another, Chambas recommends a book about Ghana's colonial history. It's "interesting and informative," the message, which is private and mundane like most of the others, informs.
SPIEGEL was unable to obtain a statement from Chambas before this article went to print about surveillance of his text messages.
But when contacted by reporters, Leigh Daynes, the UK executive director of Doctors of the World, said he was "shocked and surprised by these appalling allegations of secret surveillance on our humanitarian operations." He said his relief organization, like others, operates impartially and independently. "There is absolutely no reason for our operations to be secretly monitored," he said.
*****************Latest Snowden revelations spark anger at European commission
Officials say disclosures about targeting of Joaquín Almunia was 'not the type of behaviour that we expect from strategic partners'
Nick Hopkins and Patrick Wintour
The Guardian, Friday 20 December 2013 20.39 GMT
The latest disclosures from the Snowden files provoked exasperation at the European commission, with officials saying they intended to press the British and American governments for answers about the targeting of one its most senior officials.
Reacting shortly after an EU summit had finished in Brussels, the commission said disclosures about the targeting of Joaquín Almunia, a vice-president with responsibility for competition policy, was "not the type of behaviour that we expect from strategic partners, let alone from our own member states".
A spokesman added: "This piece of news follows a series of other revelations which, as we clearly stated in the past, if proven true, are unacceptable and deserve our strongest condemnation."
In Britain, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the chair of the parliamentary committee that provides oversight of GCHQ, said he was "disturbed by these allegations." He added he could be "examining them in due course as part of the intelligence and security committee's wider investigation into the interception of communications."
A prominent German MP, Hans-Christian Ströbele, who met Edward Snowden in Moscow in October, told the Guardian it was becoming "increasingly clear that Britain has been more than the US' stooge in this surveillance scandal". He suggested the snooping by GCHQ on German government buildings and embassies was unacceptable.
"Great Britain is not just any country. It is a country that we are supposed to be in a union with. It's incredible for one member of the European Union to spy on another – it's like members of a family spying on each other. The German government will need to raise this with the British government directly and ask tough questions about the victims, and that is the right word, of this affair."
The Liberal Democrats have been inching towards calling for an independent commission to investigate the activities of Britain's spy agencies and the party president, Tim Farron, said that "spying on friendly governments like this is not only bad politics, it is bad foreign policy".
"These nations are our allies and we should work together on issues from terrorism to Iran and climate change," he said. "But we seem to be spying on them in conjunction with the NSA in what seems like an industrial basis."
In its strongest statement yet on the issue, Labour called for the ISC to be given beefed up powers, with Douglas Alexander, shadow foreign secretary, saying it was time for Britain to follow the lead of the US and start a more vigorous debate about surveillance.
"I think we should also consider whether the ISC should be empowered to subpoena and to compel witnesses to appear before them as is the case for the other parliament select committees," he said.
Nicolas Imboden, head of the Geneva-based Ideas Centre, said he believed his work in Africa had been the reason he was targeted. "It's about cotton," he told Der Spiegel. "That is clearly economic espionage and politically motivated." For the past 10 years his group has advised and represented African countries such as Chad, Mali and Benin in their fight against high cotton subsidies in western countries including the US. "This was clearly about them trying to gain advantages during WTO negotiations by illegal means," Imboden told Der Spiegel.
But the strongest condemnation came from one of the groups named in the documents, Médecins du Monde.
Leigh Daynes, UK executive director of the organisation said: "If substantiated, snooping on aid workers would be a shameful waste of taxpayers' money. Our doctors, nurses and midwives are not a threat to national security. We're an independent health charity with over 30 years' experience in delivering impartial care in some of the world's poorest and most dangerous places.
"Our medical professionals, many of whom are volunteers, risk their lives daily in countries like Mali and Somalia, and in and around Syria. There is absolutely no reason for our operations to be secretly monitored. We are also gravely concerned about any breach of doctor-patient confidentiality, which would be an egregious impingement on medical ethics."
Nick Pickles, Director of Big Brother Watch, said it appeared GCHQ has "become a law unto itself". Eric King, head of research at Privacy International, added: "The targeting of the international actors tasked with caring for the most vulnerable people, particularly children, is one of the most distressing revelations yet."
Downing Street has repeatedly refused to comment on the allegations in any detail saying it is not comment on security issues. The Israeli government said it would not comment on leaks.
***********NSA and GCHQ: snooping because we can
The latest documents reveal more than 1,000 targets of surveillance of whom very few can seriously be seen as threats
Guardian G logo
The Guardian, Friday 20 December 2013 19.09 GMT
The crucial thing about the latest revelations from the secret documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden is their scope. When the Guardian first began publishing Mr Snowden's documents seven months ago, it was immediately apparent that they described secret data-trawling operations by America's NSA and Britain's GCHQ of almost limitless reach. One of the earliest official responses to such claims was that they were simply alarmist. Yes, some officials may have privately conceded, the documents described systems with the theoretical potential to reach deep into everyday civic life and personal communications. But in practice, they insisted, the only people who needed to be worried were terrorists. Haystacks had been built, as the officials put it, but it was the needles within them that mattered. The rest of us could sleep safe, since the watchers were only interested in those who were plotting to do us all harm.
That seemed a dangerously complacent view even then. But it is a wholly discredited argument now that more details have been made public. The latest documents reveal more than 1,000 targets of British and American surveillance of whom very few can seriously be seen as threats of that sort. On the contrary, though the targets include some Israeli, Taliban and Chinese activities, they also include the EU's competition commissioner, who is hardly a threat to this country. Others on the snoopers' hitlist are German government buildings in Berlin, embassies in Africa, and German communications with Turkey and Georgia – revelations likely to cause a fresh storm in Berlin. Elsewhere the target list includes a French diplomat, the oil giant Total, and the French-owned defence group Thales. The United Nations development programme, now headed by the former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, is there too, along with the Unicef children's charity and the UN's institute for disarmament research, the French-based NGO Médecins du Monde, and the head of the economic union of West African states.
These are not, in the main, targets who are plotting to do us all harm. They are foreign governments, NGOs, international bodies and sometimes named individuals. Many of them are allies pursuing objectives and activities that the US and UK governments actively support. There is no way that the attention to these targets can be explained by terror threats. Indeed, there is no obvious explanation of some of their presence on the NSA-GCHQ surveillance list, save one – that the snoopers have the capacity to keep them under surveillance and therefore do so. We are spying not because we need to or should but because we can.
This week, the review board appointed by President Obama to examine the NSA's data mining activities came up with 46 detailed proposals for reform, including the need for restrictions on the scope of NSA activity as well as stronger legislative and legal oversight over its programmes. Mr Obama responded that he was "open to many" of the reforms set out in the report. On Friday he promised changes to international surveillance and "a pretty definitive statement in January." All this is a direct engagement with Mr Snowden's revelations. It is the right course.
Britain should match the American response. Ministers need to take the revelations much more seriously than they have done. The latest documents make the need more urgent than ever. They show UK surveillance of close allies, including France and Germany, and UN bodies. Such actions directly damage Britain's standing in the wider world. Simply to refer such issues to the Westminster intelligence and security committee, which has neither the credibility nor the resources to assess them objectively or adequately, is irresponsible. Major rethinking and repair work are essential. The government must commission a panel of independent experts on the American model without delay.
****************Obama concedes NSA bulk collection of phone data may be unnecessary
• President: 'There may be a better way of skinning the cat'
• 'Potential abuse' of collected data cited as concern
Dan Roberts, Paul Lewis and Spencer Ackerman in Washington
theguardian.com, Friday 20 December 2013 21.43 GMT
President Barack Obama has conceded that mass collection of private data by the US government may be unnecessary and said there were different ways of “skinning the cat”, which could allow intelligence agencies to keep the country safe without compromising privacy.
In an apparent endorsement of a recommendation by a review panel to shift responsibility for the bulk collection of telephone records away from the National Security Agency and on to the phone companies, the president said change was necessary to restore public confidence.
“In light of the disclosures, it is clear that whatever benefits the configuration of this particular programme may have, may be outweighed by the concerns that people have on its potential abuse,” Obama told an end-of-year White House press conference. “If it that’s the case, there may be a better way of skinning the cat.”
Though insisting he will not make a final decision until January, this is the furthest the president has gone in backing calls to dismantle the programme to collect telephone data, a practice the NSA claims has legal foundation under section 215 of the Patriot Act. This week, a federal judge said the program “very likely” violates the US constitution.
“There are ways we can do this potentially that give people greater assurance that there are checks and balances, sufficient oversight and transparency,” Obama added. “Programmes like 215 could be redesigned in ways that give you the same information when you need it without creating these potentials for abuse. That’s exactly what we should be doing: to evaluate things in a very clear specific way and moving forward on changes. And that’s what I intend to do.”
He promised a meaningful response to a review panel that reported earlier this week, which urged more transparency in surveillance activities. “Just because we can do something it doesn’t mean we necessarily should,” he told reporters at the White House.
The president also went further than his review panel in suggesting the US needed to rein in its overseas surveillance activities. “We have got to provide more confidence to the international community. In a virtual world, some of these boundaries don’t matter any more,” he said. “The values that we have got as Americans are ones that we have to be willing to apply beyond our borders, perhaps more systematically than we have done in the past.”
Obama pointedly declined to be drawn into a debate about possible amnesty for Edward Snowden, the whistleblower whose revelations about the NSA have sparked intense internal deliberation about changing US surveillance activities. The president distinguished between Snowden’s leaks and the debate those leaks prompted, which he said was “an important conversation we needed to have”, but left open the question of whether Snowden should still be prosecuted.
“The way in which these disclosures happened has been damaging to the United States and damaging to our intelligence capabilities,” Obama said. “I think that there was a way for us to have this conversation without that damage. As important and as necessary as this debate has been, it’s important to keep in mind this has done unnecessary damage.”
Ben Wizner, Snowden's attorney, told the Guardian: “The president said that we could have had this important debate without Snowden, but no one seriously believes we would have. And now that a federal court and the president’s own review panel have agreed that the NSA’s activities are illegal and unwise, we should be thanking Snowden, not prosecuting him.”
The president would not comment on a suggestion last weekend by Richard Ledgett, the NSA official investigating the Snowden leaks, that an amnesty might be appropriate in exchange for the return of the data Snowden took from the agency.
Obama said he could not comment specifically because Snowden was “under indictment”, something not previously disclosed. While the Justice Department filed a criminal complaint against Snowden on espionage-related charges in June, there has been no public subsequent indictment, although it is possible one exists under gag order.
The Justice Department referred comment on a Snowden indictment to the White House. Caitlin Hayden, the chief spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, clarified that Obama was referring to the criminal complaint against Snowden. It remains unclear if there is an indictment under seal.
Conspicuously, Obama declined to rebut one assessment from his surveillance review group – that the bulk collection of US call data was not essential to stopping a terrorist attack.
Instead, he contended that there had been “no abuse” of the bulk phone data collection. But in 2009, a judge on the secret surveillance court prevented the NSA from searching through its databases of US phone information after discovering “daily violations” resulting from NSA searches of Americans’ phone records without reasonable suspicion of connections to terrorism.
That data was inaccessible to the NSA for almost all of 2009, before the Fisa court was convinced the NSA had sufficient safeguards in place for preventing similar violations.
In another indication of the shifting landscape on surveillance, the telecoms giant AT&T announced on Friday that it will begin publishing a semi-annual report about its complicity with government surveillance requests. AT&T followed its competitor Verizon, which announced a similar move on Thursday.
“We believe clear legal frameworks with accountability and oversight are required to strike the right balance between protecting individual privacy and civil liberties, and protecting the national and personal security, a balance we all desire. We take our responsibility to protect our customers' information and privacy very seriously and pledge to continue to do so to the fullest extent possible,” said AT&T vice-president Wayne Watts.
The first such report is expected for early 2014, Watts said. While technology firms like Yahoo and Google have pushed for greater transparency about providing their customer data to the government, the telecommunications firms – which have cooperated with the NSA since the agency’s 1952 inception – did not join them before the events of the past week.
***************Obama: Snowden leaks caused 'unnecessary damage'
Obama said he could not comment specifically on possible amnesty because Snowden was 'under indictment'
Spencer Ackerman and Dan Roberts in Washington
theguardian.com, Friday 20 December 2013 22.22 GMT
Barack Obama discusses surveillance practices conducted by the National Security Agency in his final press conference of 2013 on Friday
Barack Obama has declined to be drawn into a debate about possible amnesty for Edward Snowden, the whistleblower whose revelations about the NSA have sparked intense internal deliberation about changing US surveillance activities.
In a press conference at the White House, the president distinguished between Snowden’s leaks and the debate those leaks prompted, which he said was “an important conversation we needed to have”, but left open the question of whether he should still be prosecuted.
“The way in which these disclosures happened has been damaging to the United States and damaging to our intelligence capabilities,” he said. “I think that there was a way for us to have this conversation without that damage. As important and as necessary as this debate has been, it’s important to keep in mind this has done unnecessary damage.”
The president would not comment on a suggestion at the weekend by Richard Ledgett, the NSA official investigating the Snowden leaks, that amnesty might be appropriate in exchange for the return of the data Snowden took from the agency.
Obama said he could not comment specifically because Snowden was “under indictment,” something not previously disclosed. While the Justice Department filed a criminal complaint against Snowden on espionage-related charges in June, there has been no public subsequent indictment, although it is possible one exists under gag order.
The Justice Department referred comment on a Snowden indictment to the White House, which did not immediately reply.
Ben Wizner, Snowden's attorney, rejected the president's contention that the debate about the NSA's activities could have taken place without Snowden. "The president said that we could have had this important debate without Snowden, but no one seriously believes we would have," Wizner told the Guardian.
"And now that a federal court and the president’s own review panel have agreed that the NSA’s activities are illegal and unwise, we should be thanking Snowden, not prosecuting him.”