by Tom Burghardt
July 18, 2013
Documents published last week by the Australian
Crikey revealed that the U.S. government,
"compelled Telstra and Hong Kong-based PCCW
to give it access to their undersea cables for spying on communications
traffic entering and leaving the U.S.."
The significance of the disclosure is obvious;
today, more than 99 percent of the world's internet and telephone traffic is
now carried by undersea fiber optic cables.
map published by the
Global Bandwidth Research Service is illustrative in this regard.
Since the late 1960s as part of its
spy project, the United States has been tapping undersea cables
to extract communications and signals intelligence.
In fact, projects such as
Operation Ivy Bells, a joint Navy-NSA secret intelligence program
directed against the former Soviet Union was designed to do just that.
Prefiguring the Bush administration's
warrantless wiretapping scandal which broke in 2005, the
Associated Press reported that a $3.2 billion Navy Seawolf class
submarine, a 453-foot behemoth called the USS Jimmy Carter,
"has a special capability: it is able to tap
undersea cables and eavesdrop on the communications passing through
A year later, AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein told
Wired Magazine that NSA was tapping directly into the world's
internet backbone, and was doing so from domestic listening posts the
telecommunications' giant jointly built with the agency at corporate
Whatever submarine operations NSA still carry out with the U.S. Navy and "Five
Eyes" surveillance partners (Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the
U.S.), access to information flowing through undersea cables mean that the
government is well-positioned to scoop-up virtually all global
former NSA contractor Edward Snowden began spilling the beans
last month, it should be clear that the American government's capabilities
in amassing unprecedented volumes of information from cable traffic, also
potentially hands the U.S. and their corporate collaborators a treasure trove
of sensitive economic secrets from competitors.
Reporting by Australian journalists confirm information published July 6 by
The Washington Post.
There we learned that overseas submarine cable
companies doing business in the United States must maintain,
corporate cell of American citizens with government clearances," a cadre of
personnel whose job is to ensure that, "when U.S. government agencies seek access to
the massive amounts of data flowing through their networks, the
companies have systems in place to provide it securely."
Inked just weeks after the 9/11 provocation, the
document specifies that access to undersea cable traffic by the FBI and,
"any U.S. governmental authorities entitled to
effect Electronic Surveillance," is an explicit condition for doing
business in the United States.
agreements were signed
between 1999 and 2011 with telecommunication companies, satellite firms,
submarine cable operators and the U.S. government and were published earlier
this month by the Public
Intelligence web site.
It has long been known that the Australian secret state agency, the Defence
Security Directorate (DSD), is a key participant in U.S. global surveillance
Classified NSA maps provided by Snowden and subsequently published
Globo newspaper, revealed the locations of dozens of U.S. and allied
signals intelligence sites worldwide.
DSD currently operates four military
installations involved in a top secret NSA program called X-Keyscore.
Snowden described X-Keyscore and other programs to
Der Spiegel as,
"the intelligence community's first
'full-take' Internet buffer that doesn't care about content type...
'Full take' means it doesn't miss anything, and ingests the entirety of
each circuit's capacity."
The Sydney Morning Herald, along with the,
"U.S. Australian Joint Defence Facility
at Pine Gap near Alice Springs," three
other DSD facilities, "the Shoal Bay Receiving Station near
Darwin, the Australian Defence Satellite Communications Facility at
Geraldton and the naval communications station HMAS Harman outside
Canberra," were identified as X-Keyscore "contributors."
The paper also reported that,
state-of-the-art data storage facility at HMAS Harman to support the
Australian signals directorate and other Australian intelligence agencies"
is currently under construction.
The Herald described the project as "an intelligence collection
"processes all signals before they are
shunted off to various 'production lines' that deal with specific issues
and the exploitation of different data types for analysis - variously
code-named Nucleon (voice), Pinwale (video), Mainway (call records) and
Marina (internet records).
U.S. intelligence expert William Arkin
describes X-Keyscore as a 'national Intelligence collection mission
Two of the Australian bases illustrated on
X-Keyscore map sit adjacent to major undersea cable sites transiting the
Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Cozy arrangements with Telstra and other firms however, hardly represent
mere passive acceptance of terms and conditions laid out by the U.S.
government. On the contrary, these, and dozens of other agreements which
have come to light, are emblematic of decades-long U.S. corporate-state
Bloomberg reported last month,
"thousands of technology, finance and
manufacturing companies are working closely with U.S. national security
agencies, providing sensitive information and in return receiving
benefits that include access to classified intelligence."
It's a two-way street, Bloomberg noted.
"U.S. intelligence organizations with
additional data, such as equipment specifications" use it "to help
infiltrate computers of its adversaries."
"companies are given quick warnings about
threats that could affect their bottom line."
Such sensitive data can also be used to
undermine the position of their foreign competitors.
We now know, based on documents provided by Snowden, that the "infiltration"
of computer networks by U.S. secret state agencies are useful not only for
filching military secrets and mass spying but also for economic and
That point was driven home more than a decade ago
paper prepared by journalist Duncan Campbell for the European
"By the end of the 1990s," Campbell wrote,
"the U.S. administration claimed that intelligence activity against
foreign companies had gained the U.S. nearly $150 billion in exports."
"Although U.S. intelligence officials and spokespeople have admitted using Comint [communications intelligence] against European companies . . .
documents show that the CIA has been directly involved in obtaining
competitor intelligence for business purposes."
At the time the
Telstra pact was signed, the Australian telecommunications and internet
giant was "50.1% owned" by the Australian government.
Reach Global Services,
is described in the document as "a joint venture indirectly owned 50% by
Telstra" and "50% owned" by Hong Kong's Pacific Century CyberWorks Limited (PCCW).
With controlling interest in more than 40 undersea fiber optic cables, and
with landing rights in global markets that include,
...the joint venture was then the largest
commercial telecommunications carrier in Asia with some 82,000 kilometers of
Reach also operates international satellite
systems that cover two-third's of the planet's surface.
Such assets would be prime targets of "Five Eyes" spy agencies under terms
UKUSA Communications Intelligence Agreement.
Telstra and PCCW restructured their partnership in 2011, with the Australian
firm now controlling the lion's share of an undersea cable network that
"more than 364,000 kilometers and connects more than 240 markets
South Morning China Post reported.
Inevitably, the restructuring will afford the
government an even greater opportunity for spying.
Network security agreements hammered out among undersea cable firms and the
U.S. government have profound implications for global commerce. Their
geopolitical significance hasn't been lost on America's closet "allies."
The Guardian revealed last month that the U.S. is,
"spying on the European Union mission in New
York and its embassy in Washington."
In addition to the EU mission, target lists
"the French, Italian and Greek embassies, as
well as a number of other American allies, including Japan, Mexico,
South Korea, India and Turkey."
That list has since been supplemented by further
Snowden told the
South China Morning Post that NSA hacked into the,
"computers at the
Hong Kong headquarters of Pacnet, which owns one of the most extensive fibre
optic submarine cable networks in the region."
Recently, the firm signed major deals with the Chinese mainland's,
"top mobile phone companies" and "owns more
than 46,000 kilometers of fibre-optic cables."
According to the paper, Pacnet,
"cables connect its regional data centers
across the Asia-Pacific region, including Hong Kong, the mainland,
Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. It also has offices in the
The South Morning China Post also
disclosed that Tsinghua University, "China's premier seat of learning" has
sustained extensive attacks on the school's "network backbones."
Available documents based on Snowden disclosures and other sources seem to
suggest that President Obama's militaristic "pivot to Asia" is also an
aggressive campaign to steal commercial and trade secrets from U.S.
imperialism's Asian rivals.
Whether or not these revelations will effect negotiations over
the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP),
a NAFTA-style "free trade" agreement between the U.S. and ten Pacific Rim
...all prime U.S.-UK targets
X-Keyscore, remains to be seen.
'Legal' License to Spy
If we have learned anything since Snowden's revelations began surfacing last
month, it is that the U.S. secret state relies on a body of "secret laws"
overseen by a Star Chamber-like FISA court described in the polite language
The New York Times as a "parallel Supreme Court," to do its dirty
Along with leaked NSA documents, published agreements between
telecommunications firms, internet service providers and the U.S. government
should demolish the fiction that blanket surveillance is "legal," "limited
in scope" or chiefly concerned with fighting "crime" and "terrorism."
"U.S. communications systems are essential to
the ability of the U.S. government to fulfill its responsibilities to the
public to preserve the national security of the United States, to
enforce the laws, and to maintain the safety of the public," the Telstra
summary posted by Crikey should dispel any illusions on that
On the contrary, the agreement reveals the
existence of a vast surveillance web linking private companies to the
government's relentless drive, as
The Washington Post explained, to "collect it all."
All customer billing data to be stored
for two years
Ability to provide to agencies any
stored telecommunications or internet communications and comply with
Ability to provide any stored metadata,
billing data or subscriber information about U.S. customers
They are not to comply with any foreign
privacy laws that might lead to mandatory destruction of stored data
Plans and infrastructure to demonstrate
other states cannot spy on U.S. customers
They are not to comply with information
requests from other countries without DoJ permission
A requirement to:
...designate points of contact
within the United States with the authority and responsibility
for accepting and overseeing the carrying out of Lawful U.S.
Process to conduct Electronic Surveillance of or relating to
Domestic Communications carried by or through Domestic
Communications Infrastructure; or relating to customers or
subscribers of Domestic Communications Companies.
The points of contact shall be
assigned to Domestic Communications Companies security office(s)
in the United States, shall be available twenty-four (24) hours
per day, seven (7) days per week and shall be responsible for
accepting service and maintaining the security of Classified
Information and any Lawful U.S. Process for Electronic
The Points of contact shall be
resident U.S. citizens who are eligible for U.S. security
In other words, an "internal corporate cell of
American citizens," charged with providing confidential customer data to the
secret state, as The Washington Post first reported.
Additional demands include:
A requirement to keep such surveillance
confidential, and to use U.S. citizens "who meet high standards of
trustworthiness for maintaining the confidentiality of Sensitive
Information" to handle requests
A right for the FBI and the DoJ to
conduct inspection visits of the companies' infrastructure and
An annual compliance report, to be
protected from Freedom of Information requests.
This is not a one-off as the other 27 Agreements
published by Public Intelligence readily attest.
For example, the 31-page 2011
Agreement between the U.S. government and
Level 3 Communications, which operates in North America, Europe, Latin
America and the Asia-Pacific, which acquired Global Crossing from from the
Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa and Singapore Technologies Telemedia (the
focus of The Washington Post's July 6 report), was expanded beyond
the FBI and Department of Justice to include the Department of Homeland
Security and the Department of Defense, NSA's "parent" agency.
As with the 2001 Telstra agreement, "Access" to Level 3's systems by
governmental entities is defined as,
"the ability to physically or logically
undertake any of the following actions:
(a) read, divert, or otherwise obtain
non-public information or technology from or about software,
hardware, a system or a network
(b) add, edit or alter information or
technology stored on or by software, hardware, a system or a network
(c) alter the physical or logical state
of software, hardware, a system or a network (e.g., turning it on or
off, changing configuration, removing or adding components or
NSA, the principle U.S. spy agency charged with
obtaining, storing and analyzing COMINT/SIGINT "products," i.e., user data,
has been handed virtually unlimited access to information flowing through
Level 3 fiber optic cables as it enters the U.S..
This includes what is described as "Domestic Communications," content, not
simply the metadata, of any phone call or email that transit Level 3
"'Domestic Communications' means:
(a) Wire Communications or Electronic
Communications (whether stored or not) from one U.S. location to
another U.S. location
(b) the U.S. portion of a Wire
Communication or Electronic Communication (whether stored or not)
that originates or terminates in the United States."
So much for President Obama's mendacious claim
that "nobody is listening to your phone calls"!
Access to the entirety of customer records and communications is clearly
spelled out in the section entitled "Electronic Surveillance."
the "USC." provisions refer to (18) the Stored
Communications Act which compels disclosure to the government of stored
wire, electronic and transactional data; a provision that greatly weakened
the Fourth Amendment right to privacy.
50 USC outlines the role of War and
National Defense in the United States Code and includes "foreign
intelligence," "electronic surveillance authorization without court order,"
"internal security," including the "control of subversive activities" and
the "exercise of emergency powers and authorities" by the Executive Branch.
'Electronic Surveillance,' for the purposes
of this Agreement, includes:
(a) the interception of wire, oral, or
electronic communications as defined in 18 U.S.C. §§ 2510(1), (2),
(4) and (12), respectively, and electronic surveillance as defined
in 50 U.S.C. § 1801(f)
(b) Access to stored wire or electronic
communications, as referred to in 18 U.S.C. § 2701 et seq.
(c) acquisition of dialing, routing,
addressing, or signaling information through pen register or trap
and trace devices or other devices or features capable of acquiring
such information pursuant to law as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 3121 et
seq. and 50 U.S.C. § 1841 et seq.
(d) acquisition of location-related
information concerning a service subscriber or facility
(e) preservation of any of the above
information pursuant to 18 U.S.C.§ 2703(f)
(f) Access to, or acquisition,
interception, or preservation of, wire, oral, or electronic
communications or information as described in (a) through (e) above
and comparable state laws.
Level 3 is further enjoined from disclosing what
is described as "Sensitive Information," that is,
"information that is not Classified
(a) the persons or facilities that are
the subjects of Lawful U.S. Process
(b) the identity of the Government
Authority or Government Authorities serving such Lawful U.S. Process
(c) the location or identity of the
line, circuit, transmission path, or other facilities or equipment
used to conduct Electronic Surveillance
(d) the means of carrying out Electronic
In other words, we do the spying; you
hand over it over and keep your mouths shut.
The electronic driftnet thrown over global communications is expedited by
direct access to Level 3's equipment by the U.S. government.
'Principal Equipment' means the primary
electronic components of a submarine cable system, to include the
hardware used at the NOC(s) [Network Operations Center], landing
station(s) and the cable itself, such as servers, repeaters, submarine
line terminal equipment (SLTE), system supervisory equipment (SSE),
power feed equipment (PFE), tilt and shape equalizer units (TEQ/SEQ),
optical distribution frames (ODF), and synchronous optical network (SONET),
synchronous digital hierarchy (SDH), wave division multiplexing (WDM),
dense wave division multiplexing (DWDM), coarse wave division
multiplexing (CWDM) or optical carrier network (OCx) equipment, as
Who oversees the set-up? On paper it appears
that Level 3 control their operations.
However, the Agreement specifies that the firm
"primary U.S. NOCs for any Domestic
Communications Infrastructure" and it "shall be maintained and remain
within the United States and U.S. territories, to be operated by Level 3,
exclusively using Screened Personnel."
Who signs off on "screened personnel"? Why the
U.S. government of course, which raises the suspicion that corporate employees
are little more than spook assets.
But here's where it gets interesting.
"Level 3 may nonetheless use the United
Kingdom NOC for routine day-to-day management of any of the Cable
Systems as such management is in existence as of the Effective Date."
Why might that be the case, pray tell?
Could it be that fiber optic cables transiting the UK are already
lovingly scrutinized by NSA's kissin' cousins across the pond?
The Guardian disclosed, is merrily ingesting,
"vast quantities of
global email messages, Facebook posts, internet histories and calls, and
shares them" with the American agency.
Therefore, since UK undersea cable traffic is already under close
"management" via the British agency's TEMPORA program, described as having
"'biggest internet access' of any member of
the Five Eyes electronic eavesdropping alliance," it makes sense that
Level 3 is allowed to "use the United Kingdom NOC" as a hub for its
"Domestic Communications Infrastructure"!
In conclusion, these publicly available
documents provide additional confirmation of how major corporations are
empowering the U.S. surveillance octopus.
By entering into devil's pacts with the world's "sole superpower," giant
telcos and internet firms view the destruction of privacy rights as just
another item on the balance sheet, a necessary cost of doing business in
And business is very good...