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'that's so stupid that one can only cry at the foolishness of it.'
July 11, 2014 1:32 PM   Subscribe

In the past week, Germany has found and fired an American mole in their intelligence agency, investigated another suspect in their defense ministry, and asked the CIA station chief to leave the country. Media reports offer an interesting view of a post Cold War world grappling with the unexpected* - spy vs spy among friends and allies, while traditional intelligence targets Russia and China play the part of bemused bystanders.

*Germany will stop short of [...] expelling American agents.
posted by infini (56 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
facepalm.gif
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:38 PM on July 11


On the radio this morning, I heard one German journalist liken the current US intelligence apparati to the Stasi. Whether or not he was Godwinning (or whatever you want to call the false comparison to a rhetorical opponent to post-Nazi Germany), it gave pause.
posted by Danf at 1:46 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


And yes, some of the masterminds were based in Hamburg, in northern Germany. A certain degree of mistrust towards Germany has since been an integral part of the American psyche – of the collective psyche.

Part of the collective psyche? I wouldn't give us that much credit. I totally forgot about the German connection, and I'm probably not alone.
posted by univac at 1:54 PM on July 11 [3 favorites]


Germany ... asked the CIA station chief to leave the country...

But thanks to the NSA, this did not come as a surpise to the US!
posted by sour cream at 1:55 PM on July 11 [5 favorites]


From the first article: "A certain degree of mistrust towards Germany has since been an integral part of the American psyche – of the collective psyche."

Um.... what? Is he referring to the psyche of, like, the upper echelons of government or something? Because I have never heard anybody say anything along these lines in the US.

On preview.... What univac said.
posted by papayaninja at 2:00 PM on July 11 [4 favorites]


Comparisons to the Stasi are inappropriate as in so far as the Stasi did not have the capabilities for wholesale surveillance the NSA has (they did a remarkable job nonetheless), and, more importantly, the Stasi was not only collecting information, it was also acting on it, suppressing opposition and dissent.

So I do think that comparing the NSA and CIA to the (sweeping, unaccountable, etc.) intelligence-gathering operations of the Stasi is fairly reasonable. But clearly, the oppression that the Stasi stands for is not a fair comparison to the US intelligence apparatus.

German journalists and politicians, depending on their hue, tend to forget that (if they haven't lived with the Stasi), or are implicitly whitewashing the Stasi (common with ex-SED politicians yearning for the good old days).
posted by dlg at 2:00 PM on July 11 [6 favorites]


Previously - Der Spiegel's "New NSA Revelations: Inside Snowden's Germany File"
posted by phaedon at 2:02 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


If opposition and dissent were being suppressed would you know about it?
posted by infini at 2:02 PM on July 11 [16 favorites]


The US had an agreement with Germany not to spy on each other The US broke that agreement and now Germany says it will longer honor that broken agreement...in passing, Pres Obama seems not to know that the CIA did this. Obama should fire head of CIA for this embarrassing betrayal of an agreement for which even the President was unaware.
posted by Postroad at 2:02 PM on July 11 [5 favorites]


Repeatedly posted in the past year, but on Stasi/NSA comparisons.

Also, the people who I know who were pushing for Snowden's nomination for the Weimar Human Rights Prize were transparency activists in the DDR and did so because of parallels to the Stasi.
posted by frimble at 2:02 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


"Hey, we're not as bad as the Stasi" isn't too great of a talking point
posted by thelonius at 2:02 PM on July 11 [29 favorites]


Fired a mole?

Fired?

What next, a sternly worded letter?
posted by eriko at 2:03 PM on July 11 [3 favorites]


So I do think that comparing the NSA and CIA to the (sweeping, unaccountable, etc.) intelligence-gathering operations of the Stasi is fairly reasonable. But clearly, the oppression that the Stasi stands for is not a fair comparison to the US intelligence apparatus.

It's not like we'd ever know if a congress critter was being blackmailed by the CIA or NSA for their own ends, right?
posted by Talez at 2:04 PM on July 11 [5 favorites]


infini: Yes, if dissent is suppressed, you know about it. Part of the point of (violently) suppressing dissent is that other people know about it and stop dissenting so much. You cannot throw them all in jail, so instilling fear is important.
posted by dlg at 2:07 PM on July 11 [4 favorites]


"Hey, we're not as bad as the Stasi" isn't too great of a talking point

Uggggggh can we stop doing this?

"This is as bad as Really Bad Thing!"
"No, it isn't."
"'Not as bad as Really Bad Thing' isn't a very high bar to clear!"
posted by Etrigan at 2:10 PM on July 11 [6 favorites]


Talez": It's not like we'd ever know if a congress critter was being blackmailed by the CIA or NSA for their own ends, right?

Correct, but if that happened, even regularly (which I find completely within the realm of possibility), it would still not put the NSA or CIA anywhere close to the Stasi. For that comparison to be fair, you'd need violent oppression at a large scale which we would definitely know about, because keeping it secret would defeat the purpose.
posted by dlg at 2:11 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Right. The USA can never be as bad as the Stasi.

Now, can we have a discussion about the rest of the story?
posted by infini at 2:14 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Fired a mole?

Fired?

What next, a sternly worded letter?


Arrested is what the South China Morning Post says but most of the articles just refer to him being unmasked, uncovered, discovered and a whole bunch of revealing synonyms rather than the outcome. Mea culpa.
posted by infini at 2:18 PM on July 11


Now, can we have a discussion about the rest of the story?

As soon as the NSA operatives in this thread stop trying to divert our attention away from it!
posted by sour cream at 2:20 PM on July 11 [11 favorites]


The USA can never be as bad as the Stasi

I just fear that we are going to get there. The Stasi's pervasive surveillance, counterintelligence, and blackmailing of East German citizens plus draconian punishments, if transplanted here, would certainly put a bubble in the private prison industry.

Imagine: I blog something critical of the TSA, and am disappeared for 10 years. That's what East Germany transplanted here would look like.
posted by pjern at 2:21 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


As soon as the NSA operatives in this thread stop trying to divert our attention away from it!

Oh Qtips!
posted by infini at 2:22 PM on July 11


infini : If opposition and dissent were being suppressed would you know about it?

Yes, every schoolchild and grocery shopper would know, if the history of the last 2,000 years of oppressive rule are any indication.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:24 PM on July 11 [3 favorites]


Guys, guys, guys... It can't happen here, remember? No problem!
posted by entropicamericana at 2:26 PM on July 11 [4 favorites]


At this point I will be completely unsurprised if the NSA turns out to be a secret front for HYDRA. It would in fact be oddly comforting.
posted by nicebookrack at 2:28 PM on July 11 [4 favorites]


What surprised me was the tone of the articles, not much different from an FPP thread tbh - "get used to it"; "quit whining"; "this is the new normal"; "you do it too" etc
posted by infini at 2:42 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Pres Obama seems not to know that the CIA did this.

I suspect the CIA has a very large component that operates wholly independently and beyond all oversight. It is a rogue branch of the government.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:44 PM on July 11 [4 favorites]


US spying on Germany has, of course, been ongoing since 1945. The difference now is that Germany has made strong pleas to become a member of the "Anglo-Saxon"* spying alliance Five Eyes yet been turned down. They're already members of a bigger, looser version of the group but don't feel it befits their status. Thus they're making such public, but in the end harmless, attacks on the alliance's work. They wish to show that not only are they well-informed about Five Eyes' in their own country, but also that they would be far better in than out.

*I don't know a better word, but when your members are the US, Canada, UK, Australia, and New Zealand, you wear the shoe that fits.
posted by Thing at 2:47 PM on July 11 [4 favorites]


There are no authorized NSA representatives participating in this thread.

Thank you for your interest in this matter.
posted by NSA at 2:52 PM on July 11 [22 favorites]


I suspect the CIA has a very large component that operates wholly independently and beyond all oversight. It is a rogue branch of the government.

I figure that's most of the CIA apart from the top brass. And I strongly suspect the top brass are wilfully blind and deaf.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:58 PM on July 11 [3 favorites]


It's the weird lack of judgement that's puzzling. The risks were large, the likely benefits nugatory. Yet still they went ahead, mindlessly, as if bugging and spying were automatic, a kind of compulsion no longer under any kind of rational control. Even now, one assumes, they have not, cannot stop.
posted by Segundus at 3:00 PM on July 11 [7 favorites]


"Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power." ~ Lao-Tzu
posted by infini at 3:03 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


At this point I will be completely unsurprised if the NSA turns out to be a secret front for HYDRA.

No, no, no. It's the NRO that's the secret front for HYDRA. I mean, the logo for their Launch-39 surveillance satellite is sort of a dead giveaway. I'm pretty sure the NSA is being run by Skrulls. Or something.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 3:05 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


Yeah I find myself scratching my head as to why the CIA would plant a mole in a pretty-much-guaranteed-to-be-permanently-friendly-country's intelligence apparatus.

Which makes me wonder now about CSIS, MI5 and 6, Mossad, etc etc.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:18 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


Is the relationship with Germany and the EU important to maintain?
posted by infini at 3:28 PM on July 11


So the score is now 8-1 in favor of the Germans vs the Americans?
posted by chavenet at 3:29 PM on July 11


World Coup?
posted by phaedon at 3:30 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


Fired?

Arrested is what the South China Morning Post says [...]


Actually not arrested. He was held and questioned, his office and home searched but no arrest warrant was issued. While authorities say there are suspicious findings (he worked in a prime spot for spying in the defense ministry and is buddies with some US intelligence guy who wired him money lately. Plus his name was found among the stuff of the first guy who was arrested earlier) they did not reveal much more. The suspect claims they are just friends and did not admit to any spying.

The first guy, who worked for the German intelligence agency, was detained. The police found over 200 confidential documents in his possession and he admitted to spying. The interesting detail is that he was found out because he offered his services to the Russians. Being a spy for the US (which allegedly made him a bit over US$30K over the last two years) wasn't enough, apparently.

Check out the international edition of Der Spiegel for more info: Spiraling Spying: Suspected Double Agent Further Strains German-US Ties

But the relations have been cracking for a while, really. Uncovering of more and more NSA's surveillance activities including project "Apalachee", using the US Embassy in Berlin as a nest of espionage, no willingness to clear the air and only expressions of displeasure about the bad press - well, not promising. Germany's Choice: Will It Be America or Russia?
posted by travelwithcats at 3:35 PM on July 11 [3 favorites]


I suspect the CIA has a very large component that operates wholly independently and beyond all oversight. It is a rogue branch of the government.

Nothing is more inspiring than another episode of Barack Obama's "The buck stops absolutely anywhere but here." Funny, I don't recall a lot of excuses being made for Bush, or anyone claiming that he was a victim and incapable of controlling organizations he was explicitly the boss of.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:41 PM on July 11 [4 favorites]


it might be helpful for your general understanding of how the US government works to note that the CIA and the NSA operate under completely different directorates. The NSA is part of the Department of Defense and the CIA is ultimately responsible the the "Intelligence Czar" a position create recently and (I think) a member of the national security council. In practice, the CIA sees all the manifold intelligence groups under the DoD (of which the NSA is but one... I think they run in the double digits) as bureaucratic threats. I would imagine the route that signals intelligence takes to get from the NSA to the CIA is serpentine and probably funny in an ironic way...
posted by ennui.bz at 3:44 PM on July 11


Yeah I find myself scratching my head as to why the CIA would plant a mole in a pretty-much-guaranteed-to-be-permanently-friendly-country's intelligence apparatus.

My assumption is that it's to get intelligence that the German agency gathers. You can put hundreds of operatives in the middle east or you can put a single guy in a different agency who report backs on the info the other agency's operatives gathered.
posted by tofu_crouton at 3:46 PM on July 11


Being a spy for the US (which allegedly made him a bit over US$30K over the last two years) wasn't enough, apparently.

Money, Ideology, Compromise/Coercion, Ego

CIA: An Alternative Framework for Agent Recruitment: From MICE to RASCLS [PDF]
I argue that today’s recruiters must learn and use the significant breakthroughs in understanding of human motivations and the means for influencing people that have occurred since the early 1980s. In particular, I will discuss the work of Dr. Robert Cialdini and how his six influence factors, reciprocation, authority, scarcity, commitment (and consistency), liking, and social proof—RASCLS—could be applied to motivate potential agents to agree to spy and to improve the productivity of existing agents.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:57 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Yeah I find myself scratching my head as to why the CIA would plant a mole in a pretty-much-guaranteed-to-be-permanently-friendly-country's intelligence apparatus.

Remember that both the GCHQ and various high ranking members of the U.S intelligence communities have flat out stated that they consider part of their mission to be economic development, or at least that negative economic impact counts as terrorism in the context of their mission.

Germany has some pretty amazing engineering cultures and manufacturing capabilities. It's totally conceivable to me that there's a hefty level of state assisted industrial espionage going on.
posted by straw at 4:03 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


Im afraid of America. I'm afraid of the world. I'm a afraid I can't help it. I'm afraid I can't...
posted by humanfont at 4:15 PM on July 11 [5 favorites]


It's totally conceivable to me that there's a hefty level of state assisted industrial espionage going on.

Among the articles are statements that Germany is spying on America's advanced amazing engineering and technology and in turn, are prey to China's espionage on them. This is all a huge joke now, as spies play tag and poke each other on social networks.

German outrage at American spying would also be easier to swallow if it weren’t so hypocritical. According to former NSA intelligence and computer systems analyst Ira Winkler, the BND has penetrated the SWIFT financial messaging network, passing on the information to German businesses. In his book Spies Among Us, he writes of “the apparent willingness of German businesses to funnel sensitive information and technology to nations that are hostile to the United States,” including Iran.

A German intelligence chief warned, as Chancellor Angela Merkel embarks on her latest visit to China, that some firms in Europe's biggest economy face a growing threat from industrial espionage by Chinese government agencies with huge resources.

What they really need to do, in order to "protect" the land of the brave and the free, is invent something that stupefies the rest of the world into walking wallets with insatiable appetites for consumption.

Oh wait, this is an opinion. Is this the point I wave my religious affiliation visa and friendly country passport?

-5 skilz points for reading this far
posted by infini at 4:28 PM on July 11


Nothing is more inspiring than another episode of Barack Obama's "The buck stops absolutely anywhere but here." Funny, I don't recall a lot of excuses being made for Bush, or anyone claiming that he was a victim and incapable of controlling organizations he was explicitly the boss of.

Honestly, "the buck stops here" went out with LBJ: US government and politics has "evolved" a couple steps past that. It's traditionally been handy to have a fall guy in the wings in case things go completely south. However, these days truly skilled bureaucrats and polticians work to create structures in which responsibility is diffused to the point that no one is responsible - in which everyone was "just doing their job" and some mistakes might have been made a few merely overzealous, but not malevolent, people. The problems then are designated as structural, not personal, and the "solutions" become another layer of procedures and hearings.

It will take significant public pressure to see any effective changes come about, and that will take some major scandal to come to light. The question is, just how big will it have to be? It's somewhat shocking how comfortable people seem to be with the prospect of everyone effectively being a suspect and under constant surveillance. Maybe too many TV shows and movies with police and spies magically solving crimes with computers and the Internet have led them to believe that is simply how the world works.
posted by undergarment scientist at 4:31 PM on July 11 [4 favorites]


I think the US intel community largely operates beyond any control by US elected leaders. The Snowden revelations and the response by our elected leaders is proof positive.
posted by humanfont at 4:43 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Yes, if dissent is suppressed, you know about it.

And we do. Just look at how Jacob Appelbaum or Laura Poitras are detained pretty much every time they enter the country, with no charges ever filed and no-one to complain to. Granted, that's not locking people up for ten years or using large-scale violence, but it's a start and the goal is the same, namely to intimidate.
posted by cerbous at 4:54 PM on July 11 [9 favorites]


A certain degree of mistrust towards Germany has since been an integral part of the American psyche

"We taught them a lesson in 1918, and they've hardly bothered us since then."
-- Tom Lehrer
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 5:03 PM on July 11 [3 favorites]


I suspect the CIA has a very large component that operates wholly independently and beyond all oversight.

I take it then, you've haven't yet read Legacy of Ashes, because that would remove the need for you to use the word "suspect".
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 5:06 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


What next, a sternly worded letter?

Harsh language.
posted by brundlefly at 5:22 PM on July 11


So the score is now 8-1 in favor of the Germans vs the Americans?

You forgot about WWII. Yeah, I still remember.
posted by hal_c_on at 5:44 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Germany's BND does 90% of its work in intercept. Pullach is an antenna farm.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:58 PM on July 11


Speaking of friends and allies:
The "Five Eyes", often abbreviated as "FVEY", refer to an intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. [...] Documents leaked by Snowden in 2013 revealed that the FVEY have been intentionally spying on one another's citizens and sharing the collected information with each other in order to circumvent restrictive domestic regulations on spying.
posted by Rhaomi at 7:23 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


I think the US intel community largely operates beyond any control by US elected leaders. The Snowden revelations and the response by our elected leaders is proof positive.

'Largely'?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:54 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Was just finishing up Legacy of Ashes as this story broke. Summary: not only do intel "services" ignore whatever laws put in place to curb abuses, operatives and their overseers are by and large colossal drunken fuck-ups as well.
posted by telstar at 9:36 PM on July 11


I just read that the NSA datastore has capacity to capture and retain all the US daily VOIP and email/browsing/etc data for the next several centuries.

Of course, they will. They'd be foolish not to.

I also read conjecture that significant effort goes toward analyzing the data for signs that their socio-cultural progrsmming is having the intended effect. It's more efficient to brainwash the population than to prosecute them. Leading, not following. Pro-active, not reactive.

There'll soon be a majority of people not in the workforce, replaced by automation. If the population isn't engaged productively… why keep them around? This world, it's for the elite. Say goodbye.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:53 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


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