WASHINGTON (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel complained to President
Barack Obama in a phone call this week after receiving information that her
cellphone may have been monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies. The White House
said the U.S. isn’t monitoring and won’t monitor Merkel’s communications — but
didn’t address what might have happened in the past.
A look at some of the questions swirling around overseas surveillance by the
National Security Agency, which has angered allies on two continents and caused
concern domestically over the scope of the intelligence-gathering.
Q: The NSA spy programs that former analyst Edward Snowden revealed were
focused on finding and stopping terrorists, but what other kinds of NSA
espionage has he revealed?
A: Snowden also revealed the other types of spying the agency is authorized to
do, such as allegedly intercepting foreign diplomats’ or leaders’
communications, like the alleged eavesdropping on Merkel, as well as on
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Mexican former president Felipe Calderon.
Other revelations included charts that described how the U.S. supposedly listens
in on European Union and United Nations missions, and also spies on citizens in
Hong Kong and China.
Snowden’s cascade of leaks initially concentrated on how the agency scoops up
millions of U.S. phone records and Internet. That is authorized by the 1978
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows a secret court to authorize
U.S. electronic surveillance of people engaged in espionage or international
terrorism against the U.S. on behalf of a foreign power.
Q: Why bug the phone of an ally?
A: Even a close ally like Merkel doesn’t share everything with the Americans,
but decisions she makes can have a major impact on U.S. foreign, defense and
economic policy overseas. Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic party just
won an election, and she is in the process of wooing other German political
parties to form a coalition government. The party she chooses could pull her
political policies in a different direction, in terms of counterterrorism
cooperation with the U.S., for instance, or perhaps the new coalition might
chill Merkel’s support of the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
Q: The Patriot Act, passed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, gives the NSA
authority to sweep up phone records and internet communication data. Under what
authority could the NSA spy on a world leader’s cellphone? Merkel’s country has
no official involvement in terror, but drives European economic policy. Is the
U.S. permitted to spy for many reasons?
A: The NSA’s particular marching orders under “Executive Order 12333–United
States intelligence activities” include gathering signals intelligence and
turning it into something other agencies like the Pentagon and the CIA can use.
NSA officers collect that data by any number of means _ satellite, spy plane
flights or drones all outfitted with still, video and/or infrared cameras, or by
placing a microphone in the walls of a foreign embassy, or by using computer
technology to hack into a foreign computer terminal, or intercept billions of
bites of code as it flows on fiber optic and other cables around the world.
The data an NSA analyst handles can be as varied as the way it’s collected. A
cryptographer might have to crack the code on an encrypted message, or a
language specialist might have to translate a rare dialect.
Q: Why would the U.S. want to spy on economic policy?
A: NSA is also tasked with finding out the kind of policy information that
might help U.S. diplomats and trade representatives negotiate future deals, and
also what kind of policy changes might be ahead with a major economic
heavyweight like Germany.
Q: Do other countries spy like this on the United States?
A: They do, but most don’t have the U.S. technology or financial resources _
$10.8 billion for fiscal 2013, according to a budget document Snowden leaked.
The NSA is rivaled only by Britain’s code-breaking Government Communications
Headquarters or GCHQ, an agency the U.S. works with closely, according to the
Snowden documents. U.S. ally Israel is one of the top counterintelligence
threats, and targets, for American spies. U.S. spies and diplomats who work in
Israel expect to have phone calls intercepted, and conversations in public
overheard. The CIA station chief in Israel even had his house rifled through by