Towards an Atlantic police state? (7) Tensions between the US and Europe

The Defence Planning Guidance of 1992 was commissioned by US Under Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz to prevent ‘peace breaking out’ after the Soviet collapse. It stipulated that NATO should remain the sole Atlantic security structure and that no independent European initiatives in the security sphere should emerge. In addition, Washington reorganised its surveillance apparatus to cover Western Europe (and other allied countries elsewhere; NSA Headquarters pictured)

In December 1991, the NSA division which had spied on the Soviet bloc, Group A, was abolished and its personnel and its massive electronic intelligence systems—including listening posts, satellites, and ships—were added to another group, to bolster the collection of intelligence on all of Europe, including Eastern Europe and traditional U.S. allies in Western Europe. Group B, which had spied on Communist Asia, was likewise revamped to cover all of Asia). The ECHELON network, that as we saw dates from the 1970s. now was also used for commercial spying.

The 1990s were a period of Atlantic rivalries, as when Washington prevented reunified Germany from assuming a leading role in the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Richard Holbrooke, responsible for this portfolio in the State Department, in a 1995 article argued that ‘the West must expand to central Europe as fast as possible in fact as well as in spirit, and the United States is ready to lead the way’.
One aspect of American leadership was the idea of ‘net-centric warfare’. It included the notion of ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance), which evolved into a key component of what came to be known as the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). Donald Rumsfeld and others in the NeoCon bloc that would take over power in Washington with the election of George W. Bush in November 2000, were forceful proponents of this RMA. In the 1990s interlude, this area of US leadership was used also for commercial spying. In 1990 the chairman of the Intelligence Committee of the US senate, David Boren, declared in a press talk that ‘as the arms race is winding down, the spy race is heating up.’ Espionage activity ‘against private commercial targets in the United States’ was on the increase, ‘carried out not by foreign companies, but by foreign governments’.. This was confirmed by French intelligence director Pierre Marion, who set up a special branch ‘to gather secret technologies and marketing plans of private companies’, US and other.

ECHELON, too, was put to good use in this respect. In 1994 the NSA and CIA passed on intercepts obtained through their UK listening posts that led to Airbus Industries losing important contracts. This and other evidence of US/Five Eyes exploitation of its Cold War surveillance infrastructure did not fail to cause concern abroad, notably in Europe. In 1998, the consultation version of a report commissioned by the European Parliament’s Directorate General for Research and written by Steve Wright of the Omega Foundation in Manchester, for the first time gave a full review of the communications interception by the NSA, among many other instances of foreign operations of doubtful legality. The Wright report established that ‘within Europe, all email, telephone and fax communications are routinely intercepted by the United States National Security Agency, transferring all target information from the European mainland … by satellite to Fort Meade in Maryland via the crucial hub at Menwith Hill in the North York moors of the UK’.

The Wright report documents how ISDN protocols allow listening to conversations around a phone without it being taken off the hook, devices to track users of mobile phones, and so on. Its sections on torture practices make for chilling reading, as does detailed information on torture instruments supplied by British and US companies under ‘crowd control’ and other licences. In its recommendations, the report urges that the ‘European Parliament should reject proposals from the United States for making private messages via the [Internet] accessible to US intelligence agencies’, and that ‘a more detailed report [be commissioned] on the constitutional issues raised by the National Security Agency (NSA) facility to intercept al European telecommunications’.

It was clear that the US and Europe were on a collision course in these matters, but then came the 9/11 attacks. Not only did they clear the way for mass surveillance in a revamped ‘War on Terror’ but in addition, Europe was now placed in a subordinate position in NATO, and new demands concerning surveillance European populations soon followed.

Kees van der Pijl

For a complete text with full references see Surveillance Capitalism and Crisis

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