A newly released document from the Snowden stash reveals that the NSA has been spying on 122 world leaders, including Germany’s Angela Merkel.Merkel’s name has already been revealed several months back as one of the agency’s targets and it looks like she had been under surveillance since at least 2002.
The German chancellor, however, isn’t the only one the NSA is interested in. In fact, Der Spiegel reports that the Obama administration recently obtained a top-secret court order that specifically allows it to monitor communications related to Germany.
The Special Source Operations department is the unit that is responsible for securing the NSA’s access to major Internet backbone structures, including fiber optic cables. The team handles “corporate partnerships” with major US companies, including AT&T, Verizon, Google and Microsoft.
On March 7, 2013, FISA, the secretive special court responsible for the requests coming from the intelligence agency, reinstated its role of rubber stamp and allowed the NSA to do whatever it wanted. This time, the target wasn’t a terrorist, or someone suspected of various crimes, but an entire country – Germany, one of the United States’ allies.
While the NSA has chosen not to comment on what exactly the surveillance permission implies, Der Spiegel quotes lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). They believe the court order basically gives the agency permission to access communications of all German citizens, regardless of their involvement in any illegal activities.
The fact that the file only specifies “Germany” as target should have made a lot of people question the agency’s intentions, but the FISA Amendments Act already gives the NSA permission to conduct blanket surveillance in foreign countries without submitting individual cases in front of the court.
According to a list included in the file provided by Snowden, similar authorization has been given for other countries, including China, Mexico, Yemen, Brazil, Japan, Venezuela, Sudan, Guatemala, Russia and Bosnia.
On several occasions, the European Union, including Germany, have demanded formal replies from the United States regarding various reports about its mass surveillance practices, but the White House has so far given weak responses.
The NSA has already said it would not comment on this particular topic, as it regularly refuses to discuss new media reports on the leaked files, usually stating that everything it does is perfectly legal and with the purpose of protecting national security.
The fact that the agency gets its permission to spy on anyone from a rubber stamp court that hasn’t said “no” to any of its requests in years should make everyone question the validity of any of NSA’s programs.