NSA: Foreign Leaders Often in the Dark About Spying Activities

| Thu Mar. 13, 2014 11:21 AM EDT

Glenn Greenwald publishes a fascinating little extract from an NSA document today. The unnamed author is explaining why cooperation with foreign countries doesn't change much depending on which party wins national elections:

Are our foreign intelligence relationships usually insulated from short-term political ups and downs, or not?

(S//SI//REL) For a variety of reasons, our intelligence relationships are rarely disrupted by foreign political perturbations, international or domestic. First, we are helping our partners address critical intelligence shortfalls, just as they are assisting us. Second, in many of our foreign partners’ capitals, few senior officials outside of their defense-intelligence apparatuses are witting to any SIGINT connection to the U.S./NSA.

In other words, you might be the prime minister, but that doesn't mean you have any idea what your intelligence apparatus is up to.

Now, this is worth taking with a grain of salt, since we don't know who wrote this, or whether he really knew what he was talking about. I've been skeptical all along of the "shocked, shocked" reaction of many foreign leaders to the Snowden leaks, and I remain skeptical that they didn't know at least the broad outlines of what the NSA and their own intelligence services were up to. Nonetheless, this provides a useful window into the NSA's thinking: the less their political masters know, the better off they are.