Monday, December 21, 2015

The Philippines as a US spy hub

The Philippines as a US spy hub

The latest fallout by American whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelation pointing to Manila as the listening post of the National Security Agency (NSA) did not really astound people familiar on the double-speak policy of the US. The revelation is not so much on its secret tapping operations, but about the truth that the US appears to have lost its sense of reason and decency why it has to spy on its own people and allies alike, even going straight to hit the jugular vein of wiretapping conversations of heads of state, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone.

The latest is the report by ABC News of Australia showing a map released by Snowden of the existence of US spying facilities in Manila, Djakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Phnom Penh, Bangkok, Yangon, Hong Kong, Taipei, Shanghai, Beijing and other Chinese cities. The list of NSA’s Asian listening posts was leaked to US and British newspapers last June detailing the operations of agency’s PRISM. According to Wikipedia, PRISM is a clandestine mass electronic surveillance data mining program operated by the NSA since 2007. PRISM, it says, is a government code name for a data-collection effort known officially by the SIGAD US-984XN. It collects stored Internet communications.

PRISM began with the passage of the Protect America Act under the Bush Administration. Its existence was leaked by NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who warned that the extent of mass data collection was far greater than what the public knew, and characterized its activities as “dangerous” and “criminal.” Documents indicate that PRISM accounts for 91 percent of the NSA’s Internet traffic acquired under the US Foreign Intelligence Service Act (FISA).

Maybe eavesdropping has prevented terrorism, but it cannot be used on domestic targets without a warrant. According to the British newspaper, The Guardian, the NSA has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants. It has been able to collect materials including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats. The top secret NSA document which The Guardian published was not even allowed distribution to “foreign allies.”

What turned nasty in the unrestrained surveillance of the NSA is that it allowed the targeting of customers of participating firms living outside the US, and those Americans whose communications include people outside the US. The top-secret court order compelling telecoms provider, Verizon, to turn over the telephone records of millions of US customers has put in question the credibility of the US government as well as the integrity of its internet servers to spy on almost everybody.

Google denied having created a government “back door” on its system, while Apple claimed not having heard of the program. Microsoft, on the other hand, being the first internet provider to allow itself to be tapped by NSA’s PRISM, now tries to rebuild its image by coming out with a campaign slogan, “Your privacy is our priority.” The top secret document stated the dates each of the internet provider in the US began their links with PRISM as follows: Microsoft, September 1, 2007; Yahoo, March 12, 2008; Google, January 14, 2009; Facebook, June 3, 2009; PalTalk, December 7, 2009; YouTube, September 24, 2010; Skype, February 6, 2011; AOL, March 31, 2011; and, Apple October 2012. The NSA is also able to obtain data from email, video and voice chat, videos, photos, voice-over-IP (Skype, for example) chats, file transfers, social networking details, and more.

Under the “program,” companies (internet servers) are supposed to comply with the requests for users’ communications under US law, but PRISM is able to reach directly into the servers of the participating companies and obtain both stored communications as well as perform real-time collection on targeted users. That way, PRISM was able to overcome the requirement of a warrant to track down suspected foreign terrorists.

Skepticism continues on why President Obama keeps on zeroing in terrorism when everybody knows that modern-day espionage is not just confined to defense and security, but includes wide range of areas as industrial, minerals, commercial, economy, and even income of foreign corporations and individuals. For instance, the NSA intercepted the phone calls of Princess Diana right until she died in a Paris car crash with Dodi Fayed in 1997. The NSA currently holds 1,056 pages of classified information about Princess Diana; that disclosure will cause “exceptionally grave damage” to the national security of the US. U.S. agents also gathered “detailed biometric information” on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

In the early 1990s, the NSA intercepted the communications between the European aerospace company Airbus and the Saudi Arabian national airline. In 1994, Airbus lost a $6-billion contract with Saudi Arabia after the NSA, acting as a whistleblower, reported that Airbus officials had been bribing Saudi officials to secure the contract. As a result, the American aerospace company McDonnell Douglas (now part of Boeing) won the multi-billion dollar contract. Also, American defense contractor Raytheon won a US$1.3 billion contract with the Government of Brazil to monitor the Amazon rainforest after the CIA, acting as a whistleblower, reported that Raytheon’s French competitor, Thomson-Alcatel, had been paying bribes to get the contract. In order to boost America’s domestic automobile industry, the CIA eavesdropped the conversations of the employees of Toyota and Nissan. It has also been revealed that the NSA has been spying on Brazil’s oil company Petrobras, incurring the ire of President Dilma Rousseff.

For extending open access to foreign intelligence agencies, we practically fleshed out whatever fiber of nationalism we have in us. We compromised everything from defense to corporate income of local companies, and taxes paid by our citizens. For that, we stand as the only country in the world that need not be spied on because we have opened everything for all of them to see and know. It is for this why it behooves us to hear from Press Secretary Herminio Coloma saying he would not comment on that report in the usual tone of having no knowledge his country is being used as spy hub of the US in Asia.

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