The NSA Strikes Back

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The great European spying scandal just got a little more complicated. There’s been an uproar in France and Spain over reports that the NSA has collected millions of phone records in those countries, but today brought this news:

Leaked U.S. documents appearing to show that the National Security Agency collected data on tens of millions of European phone records, an issue that has sparked outrage among U.S. allies, actually represented data handed over to the NSA by European intelligence services as part of joint operations, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

Hmmm. What records were involved? Why were they turned over?

Army Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the NSA, said reports to the contrary, based on revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, were “completely false.” He said European intelligence services collected phone records in war zones and other areas outside their borders and shared them with the NSA.

“This is not information that we collected on European citizens,” Alexander told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “It represents information that we and our NATO allies have collected in defense of our countries and in support of military operations.”….The French and Spanish intelligence agencies have had extensive, long-running programs to share millions of phone records with the United States for counterterrorism purposes, according to current and former officials familiar with the effort.

And what do Spain and France have to say about this?

The NSA declined to comment, as did the Spanish foreign ministry and a spokesman for the French Embassy in Washington. A spokesman for Spain’s intelligence service said: “Spanish law impedes us from talking about our procedures, methods and relationships with other intelligence services.”

Roger that. The NSA, aka “current and former U.S. officials,” is also fighting back on a different front, saying that European countries have targeted the communications of U.S. citizens in the past. The obvious implication is that European leaders should cool it on the feigned outrage over NSA wiretapping of their citizens.

Will this work? Or will it simply piss off the European public even more? I can’t decide. Wait and see.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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