WikiLeaks Reveals List of German Officials Spied Upon by NSA, Confirms Merkel Had Calls Intercepted

WikiLeaks designed this graphic for its release of documents showing US spying on German officials
WikiLeaks designed this graphic for its release of documents showing US spying on German officials

WikiLeaks has revealed more details of political and economic espionage against German government officials by the National Security Agency.

The media organization published a list of 69 telephone numbers in the German government that were “high-priority” targets for the NSA. The targets include people who were officials when President Bill Clinton was still in office and confirm the NSA intercepted communications Chancellor Angela Merkel had with German government officials.

On June 12, German prosecutors closed an investigation into the NSA’s spying on Merkel’s cellphone, which was spurred by disclosures made by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Prosecutors claimed the documents from Snowden did not contain “evidence of surveillance of the cellphone used by the chancellor” that would be “solid enough for the court.”

On October 11, 2011, a document classified two levels above “Top Secret” indicates the United States closely monitored Merkel’s conversation with her personal assistant about how to address the Greek financial crisis:

Merkel - Personal Assistant Intercept

 

The intercepted communication was shared with the “Five Eyes” alliance—Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.

Another summary of an intercepted communication came from the British spy agency, GCHQ, and was shared with the NSA. It described how the German government planned to negotiate a European Union bailout plan for Greece. German Chancellery Director-General for EU Affairs Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut argued that it would take an increased level of involvement from the private sector to resolve the crisis.

The “high-priority” list of German targets published shows the US government’s focus on information related to economic affairs. Oskar Lafontaine, who was German Finance Minister from 1998 to 1999, had his communications targeted.

Other officials spied upon include: Werner Müller, German Federal Minister for Economics 1998–2002, Barbara Hendricks, former Secretary of State at the Federal Ministry of Finance and current Federal Minister for the Environment and Ida-Maria Aschenbrenner, Head of Office of Minister of Finance Theo Waigel from 1989 to 1998.

The NSA targeted ministers, staff members and groups working on G7 and World Trade Organization meetings. The phone number of the European Central Bank was listed.

“Today’s publication further demonstrates that the United States’ economic espionage campaign extends to Germany and to key European institutions and issues such as the EU Central Bank and the crisis in Greece,” WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange declared.

“Our publication today also shows how the UK is assisting the US to spy on issues central to Europe. Would France and Germany have proceeded with the BRICS bailout plan for Greece if this intelligence was not collected and passed to the United States – who must have been horrified at the geopolitical implications?”

The revelations related to US spying on German officials come after two releases highlighting US spying on French officials. (more…)

You Want to Commit Espionage with Hacked Personal Data?

This post was originally published at WeMeantWell.com.

Did the most-recent, recent, breach of United States government personnel files significantly compromise American security? Yes. Could a foreign government make use of such information to spy on the United States? Oh my, yes.

China-based hackers are suspected of breaking into the computer networks of the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the human resources department for the entire federal government. They allegedly stole personnel and security clearance information for at least four million federal workers. The current attack was not the first. Last summer the same office announced an intrusion in which hackers targeted the files of tens of thousands of those who had applied for top-secret security clearances; the Office of Personnel Management conducts more than 90 percent of federal background investigations, including all those needed by the Department of Defense and 100 other federal agencies.

Why all that information on federal employees is a gold mine on steroids for a foreign intelligence service is directly related to what is in the file of someone with a security clearance.

Most everyone seeking a clearance starts by completing Standard Form 86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions, form SF-86, an extensive biographical and social contact questionnaire.

Investigators, armed with the questionnaire info and whatever data government records searches uncover, then conduct field interviews. The investigator will visit an applicant’s home town, her second-to-last-boss, her neighbors, her parents and almost certainly the local police force and ask questions in person. As part of theclearance process, an applicant will sign the Mother of All Waivers, giving the government permission to do all this as intrusively as the government cares to do; the feds really want to get to know a potential employee who will hold the government’s secrets. This is old fashioned shoe-leather cop work, knocking on doors, eye balling people who say they knew the applicant, turning the skepticism meter up to 11.

Things like an old college roommate who moved back home to Tehran, or that weird uncle who still holds a foreign passport, will be of interest. Some history of gambling, drug or alcohol misuse? Infidelity? A tendency to not get along with bosses? Significant debt? Anything at all hidden among those skeletons in the closet?

The probe is looking for vulnerabilities, pure and simple. And that’s the scary “why this really matters” part of the China-based hack into American government personnel files.

America’s spy agencies, like every spy agency, know people are manipulated and compromised by their vulnerabilities. If someone applying for a federal position has too many of them, or even one of particular sensitivity, s/he may be too risky to expose to classified information.

And that’s because unlike almost everything you see in the movies, the most important intelligence work is done the same way it has been done since the beginning of time. Identify a person with access to the information needed (“Qualifying an agent;” a Colonel will know rocket specifications, a file clerk internal embassy phone numbers, for example.) Learn everything you can about that person. Was she on her college tennis team? Funny thing, your intelligence officer likes tennis, too! Stuff like that is very likely in the files taken from the Office of Personnel Management.

But specifically, a hostile intelligence agency is looking for a target’s vulnerabilities. They then use that information to approach the target person with a pitch – give us the information in return for something.

For example, if you learn a military intelligence officer has money problems and a daughter turning college age, the pitch could be money for secrets. A recent divorce? Perhaps some female companionship is desired, or maybe nothing more than a sympathetic new foreign friend to have a few friendly beers with, and really talk over problems. That kind of information is very likely in the files taken from the Office of Personnel Management. And information is power; the more tailored the approach, the more likely the chance of success.

Also unlike in the movies, blackmail is a last resort. Those same vulnerabilities that dictate the pitch are of course ripe fodder for blackmail (“Tell us the location of the code room or we’ll show these photos of your new female friend to the press.”) However, in real life, a blackmailed person will try whatever s/he can do to get out of the trap. Guilt overwhelms and confession is good for the soul. A friendly approach based on mutual interests and goals (Your handler is a nice guy, with a family you’ve met. You golf together. You need money, they “loan” you money. You gossip about work, they like the details) has the potential to last for many productive years of cooperative espionage.

So much of what a foreign intelligence service needs to know to create those relationships and identify those vulnerabilities is in those hacked files, neatly typed and in alphabetical order. Never mind the huff and puff you’ll be hearing about identity theft, phishing and credit reports.

Espionage is why this hack is a big, big deal.

Image is Creative Commons Licensed Photo from Digitale Gesellschaft.