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A coincidence or part of a much wider trawl of communications across the EU?

- Did the intelligence agencies of France, Spain and Italy take part in a NATO coordinated "trawl" of communications over exactly the same period?
- And if they did, how is it that their governments did not seem to know what was going on?
Amended 6.11.13



It has been revealed that millions of communications have been gathered in Italy, Spain and France and found their way into the hands of the NSA.

- Spain: NSA 'monitored 60m Spanish calls in a month' (BBC News, link) and said:

"It is alleged that the NSA tracked millions of phone calls, texts and emails from Spanish citizens between 10 December 2012 and 8 January 2013."

and Spain warns US of breakdown in trust after new NSA revelations (Guardian, link)

"the NSA recorded the serial and phone numbers of the handsets used, the locations, sim cards and the duration of the calls. Emails and other social media were also monitored in what human rights groups have called an extraordinary invasion of people's privacy. El Mundo said software called Boundless Informant was used to process the information."

- Italy: Nsa, «spiate 46 milioni di telefonate in Italia» (["NSA: 46 million telephone calls in Italy were spied on"] (corriere della sera, link)

including: "10 dicembre 2012 e l’8 gennaio 2013"

- France: Comment la NSA espionne la France (Le Monde, link)

"It was found that over a period of thirty days, from 10 December 2012 to 8 January 2013, 70.3 million recordings of telephone French data were performed by the NSA." (translations)

", 62.5 million telephone data collected in France on 10 December 2012 to 8 January 2013 and the second allows you to record over the same period 7.8 million items."

Le Monde says this PowerPoint slide reveals massive U.S. spying. The NSA says that’s wrong (Washington Post, link)

"The chart allegedly shows how many French phone calls were intercepted by the NSA every day for a month, from Dec. 10 to Jan. 8."

Governments and citizens were indignant at the mass surveillance of their communications by the USA's agency.

By 29 October, with a European Parliament delegation in Washington, the NSA Director, General Keith B Alexander, went onto the offensive. He denied that the millions of intercepts logged in Spain, France and Italy had been collected by the NSA. Rather he said the intelligence agencies in these countries had gathered the data and then passed it to the NSA:

"This is not information we collected on European citizens. It represents information that we and our NATO allies have collected on defense of our countries and in support of military operations" (New York Times, 29.10.13)

If we assume that this is what happened it begs a couple of questions:

- it seems that Spain, Italy and France happened to decide to collect millions of communications over exactly the same time period, 10 December 2012 to 8 January 2013 - were they the only EU NATO Member States involved during this, or similar, coordinated periods?

- General Alexander said that the intercepts were collected by "our NATO" allies" in "defence of our countries and in support of military operations" and that in the main it was "generally collected outside of Europe". The 60 million intercepts by Spain, 46 million by Italy and 70.3 million by France either passed through these countries' territories or via communication channels to which their state agencies have intercept access. To scoop-up all the communications - telephone connections and Internet datasets - between these three EU states and people in NATO targeted countries inevitably involved French, Italian and Spanish citizens receiving or making contact as well as "foreigners", who also have rights, doing the same. In the three EU state concerned governments expressed outrage when the story came out - have they no idea what their intelligence agencies, for which they are formally accountable, are up to?

Of course, there is another scenario. The stories are based on slides from the Boundless Informant programme, which visualizes the volumes of metadata the US gets from a number of sigads on the territory of a certain country. "Sigads" are SIGINT Activity Designator (or SIGAD) identifies a signals intelligence (SIGINT) line of collection activity associated with a signals collection station. In a period of one month the US received 70 million metadata of communications that were gathered on French soil. These can include data gathered a) by the NSA (on French + foreign targets) and/or b) by the French DGSE (on foreign targets), which were subsequently shared with the NSA, which still begs the same questions.

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch Director, comments:

"EU governments are caught in a double-bind. They do not want to be spied upon by their "friend", the USA, but they spy too and on each other. Far more important is who is holding this mass of personal data in each EU state, who do they pass it on to and against whom and why is it used?

The pervasive pre-emptive logic of the security and intelligence agencies, in the EU and the USA, reverses the presumption of innocence - everyone is a potential suspect."


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