In another shaking report from German publication Der Spiegel we now have reason to believe that the American NSA actually spies on all international transactions processed by companies like VISA. The revelation is hardly surprising but will anger many given the fact the NSA maintained that no commercial or industrial spying has been conducted. Since they made that statement denying commercial spying it has been revealed that they’ve spied on Brazilian industrial oil firm Petrobras and now, many banking firms.
The program conducted by the NSA to spy on banks all over the world is dubbed “follow the money” (FTM). The information collected from the FTM program then flows into the NSA’s mammoth financial databank called “Tracfin” which in 2011 had 180 million records of which around 84% were credit card transaction details. The documents show the NSA was targeting companies like VISA for direct surveillance. The main regions of focus were Europe, the Middle East and Africa a presentation slide suggested the goal was to “collect, parse and ingest transactional data for priority credit card associations, focusing on priority geographic regions.”
The NSA Tracfin data bank also retrieved and stored huge amounts of data from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication aka SWIFT. Apparently concern has been raised among inteliigence agency staff, in the USA and UK’s GCHQ, over what can only be described as the handling of highly sensitive information. Spying on financial data is a huge invasion of privacy that is likely to enrage a lot more people than previous allegations that were just limited to telecommunications, especially since the bulk of the financial data is not even about NSA targets but average people.
In an interview with the Australian Financial Review the former director of the American National Security Agency (NSA), General Michael Hayden, stated that the Chinese firm Huawei (who sell various smartphones, tablets and other electronics) are a threat to both American and Australian national security. The former NSA director believes that Huawei has been used by China to spy on other nations stating:
“Yes, I have no reason to question the belief that’s the case. That’s my professional judgment. But as the former director of the NSA, I cannot comment on specific instances of espionage or any operational matters”
He may have a point, but how is China using Huawei to spy any different to the USA using Skype, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and other American firms to spy (on China and many other nations including Australia)? General Michael Hayden added that:
“At a minimum, Huawei would have shared with the Chinese state intimate and extensive knowledge of the foreign telecommunications systems it is involved with. I think that goes without saying. That’s one reality”
Luke Coleman, Huawei Australia’s spokesperson commented on the accusations stating that:
“People have been saying these things for a long time but for years and years we’ve never seen any evidence and nothing’s changed on that front so from Huawei’s perspective we’re saying it’s time to put up or shut up…If the evidence is out there people have a right to see it, our staff have a right to see it and so far no one seems to have come in with that evidence…We’ve seen this in the past, clearly there are bigger geopolitical issues going on right now between America and China and unfortunately Huawei tends to be a bit of a piggy in the middle here”.
Furthermore Luke Coleman claims a massive conflict of interests with the former NSA director’s statements claiming he is on the boardroom of both Cisco and Motorola – two of Huawei’s largest competitors.
According to a new report by the Guardian the United Kingdom, with Sweden’s support, is now restricting EU-US discussions with the USA to the NSA and PRISM scandal . Apparently the UK isn’t happy for the USA to continue stalling on the topic and wants the USA to partake in discussions on data privacy and answer questions about the NSA’s PRISM program instead of just talking more broadly about espionage and intelligence.
The UK and Sweden were the only two nations to veto the two broad working groups on espionage and intelligence in favour of a tougher single working group to specifically discuss the NSA’s PRISM program and what that means for Europe. All other European countries voted in favour of the two working groups approach and are not pleased with the UK’s decision. With the UK and Sweden taking a different stance to the rest of Europe it is now up to individual European governments to discuss the issue of intelligence with the USA independently.
A lack of cohesion in the EU has always been a problem when it comes to getting things done and this latest disagreement is no different. The EU has already voted in favour of scrapping a EU-US data sharing deal and France has requested that trade agreement talks between the USA and then EU should be delayed until the NSA spying issue is resolved. We will be sure to bring you the outcome of these crucial talks as they over the next week. These could have major implications for transatlantic cyber-relations between the EU and the USA.