Tag Archives: spying

Spying on Allies

According to a new report by the Wall Street Journal, the National Security Agency was listening in on the communications of Israeli leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during the Iranian nuclear program talks. It had been known that the United States was monitoring Netanyahu’s telephone calls, but the report contends that the surveillance was much broader than initially suspected, and included communications between Netanyahu and members of the US Congress.

The US government believed Netanyahu was actively trying to undermine the conclusion of any agreement between the United States and Iran. According to Netanyahu, the agreement, which was concluded in July, would undermine Israeli national security by creating a pathway for Iran to expand its nuclear weapons program. The United States and its allies—the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, Germany, and the European Union—contended that the agreement would slow Iran’s nuclear progress and included measures to re-impose sanctions if Iran was found to be in violation of the agreement.

In response to the Wall Street Journal report, Israel’s Minister of Intelligence, Yisrael Katz, issued a statement claiming that “Israel does not spy on the US., and we expect that our great friend the US will treat us in similar fashion.” Members of Congress have not yet response to the report., suggesting they may have been aware of the NSA’s activities.

What do you think? Was the United States justified in listening in on the communications of Israeli leaders during the Iranian nuclear negotiations? Under what conditions would such action be justified? When would it not be justified? Why?

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Spy Games

A British investigation into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, a fugitive Russian secret agent who had been granted asylum in the United Kingdom, concluded that the Russian government was likely responsible for Litvinenko’s death. The report confirmed earlier findings by medical investigators who concluded that Litvinenko died after consuming a lethal dose of Polonium 210, a radioactive substance that caused acute radiation poisoning and led to his death. Investigators believe that two Russian agents likely introduced the substance into Litvinenko’s tea at a meeting in October 2006. The agents have refused to cooperate with British authorities and have been extended diplomatic protection by Russian authorities.

While Litvinenko’s widow greeted the news with gratitude, it is not clear what options the British government may choose to pursue in response to the findings. Russia is already subject to economic sanctions as a result of their involvement in Ukraine, and European Union officials are hesitant to expand those sanctions for fear that they may adversely affect the EU economy.

What do you think? How might the British government respond to developments in the Litvinenko case?

Intelligence, Surveillance and Diplomacy in the Digital Age

AP_angela_merkel_cell_phone_spying_jt_131024_16x9_992The governments of Germany and Brazil on Friday asked the United Nations General Assembly to adopt a draft resolution establishing a right to privacy in the digital age. The draft resolution would declare that United Nations is “deeply concerned at human rights violations and abuses that may result from the conduct of any surveillance of communications,” explicitly including “extraterritorial surveillance of communications, their interception, as well as the collection of personal data, in particular massive surveillance, interception and data collection.”

Because it would be passed by the General Assembly, the resolution would not represent a binding commitment. Instead, it expresses the sentiment of the international community. Its strength would thus depend on the ability of Brazil and Germany to garner consensus among the 193 United Nations Member States on the resolution.

The decision of the German and Brazilian governments to introduce the resolution was driven by expanding accusations of widespread US surveillance abroad, including accusations that it had eavesdropped on the cell phone communications of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. According to one source, such surveillance has been underway for a decade, but President Barack Obama claims he was unaware of the program. Other governments have also weighed in. Spain last week warned of a breakdown in trust as a result of the operations, and the government of France cautioned that such operations could hinder international cooperation on the war on terror.