In an exclusive interview with DW, Edward Snowden ally Glenn Greenwald says Germany's reaction to revelations of intelligence agencies' spying activities could have been much stronger.
DW: The so-called "Handygate" scandal – the monitoring of Chancellor Merkel's phone by the NSA: Were German intelligence services aware of those efforts?
Glenn Greenwald: The documents published by Der Spiegel that reported on the NSA's surveillance on Chancellor Merkel's cell phone calls don't really indicate the extent to which German intelligence agents were aware of or were involved in that surveillance, if at all. So it's hard for me to answer that question specifically. But what I will say more generally is that there is an obvious relationship between the NSA and the German intelligence agency. It's a much, much more limited and discreet relationship than for example the NSA's relationship with GCHQ in the UK or with the Canadian or Australian and New Zealand intelligence agencies. But it does exist. But I would be surprised - speaking just speculatively - based on my knowledge of the documents if German intelligence agents were aware of the most invasive forms of NSA spying done against the German population or against the German leadership.
The NSA has received the brunt of European anger over its spying activities. But as you detail in your articles, Britain's GCHQ, while smaller in some ways, is even more aggressive than its US counterpart. Are you surprised that the EU has not reacted more strongly to the surveillance activities of one of its own member states?
In one sense, it's a little bit fictitious to talk about the NSA and the GCHQ as separate entities because they work together in partnership so closely on virtually everything they do. And sometimes they'll divide up labor in order to circumvent their own legal restrictions or in order to overcome technological obstacles. But in virtually every case they work hand in hand. The NSA pays the GCHQ. The GCHQ, like all British entities do , take orders very obediently from the US political circle. And so it's not really very meaningful to talk about them as being distinct. That said, it really is true that the GCHQ often eagerly engages in some of the more invasive or aggressive forms of surveillance, even things the NSA won't do. And they target their fellow EU states probably more aggressively than the NSA does – in part because of their physical proximity and access to the telecommunications systems.
So I do think there's been a little bit too much emphasis in the EU debate on what the NSA is doing and definitely too little on what their fellow EU state in the UK is doing. The UK is a government that has proven itself to be virtually limitless and highly abusive when it comes to attack on the free press and when it comes to invading the privacy of invading hundreds of millions of Europeans. And I do think that some more focus on what the British are doing is definitely warranted.
For their work, as you've shown, state intelligence agencies rely heavily on the willing or beletting cooperation of major internet and telecom firms which essentially have the same goals as the intelligence agencies: gather as much information about as many people as possible. While the ultimate consequences of state surveillance can be greater (lethality) are you also worried about the pervasive and permanent data gathering by the Internet giants like Google?
There's no question that information gathering by internet giants like Google and Facebook Yahoo pose a very serious and profound threat to individual privacy and even to democracy. They tend to exist outside of the systems of democratic accountability. There are differences between state and private sector surveillance in that Google can collect all of the information about you that you provide in the context of using Google services. But they won't have your Facebook chats or your Yahoo emails or your Skype conversations. Whereas the US government and the NSA is seeking to centralize all of the information about you. I think that's an important difference. Another difference is that the state does have greater powers than corporations, including the power to seize your property or put you in a cage through imprisonment or even in the case of the United States to target you for assassination and death.
But there's no question that the private sector in Silicon Valley had been eagerly cooperating with the NSA in virtually every way – far beyond what the law requires – prior to the Snowden revelations. I think the Snowden revelations, one of the effects they've had was to make it very dangerous for the future business interests of these companies to continue that cooperation and to start to put pressure on them to prove to the public the fact that they are not willing to allow the NSA unfettered access to their data any longer.
Many people regard Germany and the country's stance on surveillance and Internet issues as an outlier compared to most other nations who are less concerned about those topics. Do you agree?
I don't consider Germany an outlier. There are other countries in which the reaction to surveillance has been just as intense, if not more intense, including the country in which I live, which is Brazil, where the reaction of the political class and President Roussef was much more vehement and aggressive. Denouncing the United States, President Roussef cancelled the first ever state visit in four decades and denounced in front of the UN while President Obama was waiting in the hallway. I don't think any European leaders have shown that degree of courage. And I don't think the European population has reacted as angrily as the Brazilian population has. And there are other places in Latin America where the reaction has been quite intense as well.
I would not say that Germany is an outlier by any means. I would say that on a scale of countries that have reacted strongly Germany is closer to the end of countries that have really cared about these stories a lot. That's in part because of the historical role that privacy invasions have played in German politics, and in part it's because of the volume of stories that have been revealed about NSA targeting of Germans. I do think the German reaction has been relatively speaking better than a lot of countries. But I wouldn't characterize it as an outlier. This is a debate that has been sustained around the world for a full year now. And I think that there are a lot of countries in which the reaction has been a lot stronger.
Glenn Greenwald's book "No place to hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State" is out now (Metropolitan Books).
The interview was part of a video message Glenn Greenwald gave for DW's Global Media Forum "From Information to Participation", which is to take place in Bonn from 30 June to 2 July 2014