NSA: The Hegemon’s Economic Spying Is Okay, Unlike the Challenger’s Economic Spying

As part of an NYT story on implants the NSA has placed in 100,000 computers around the world, some of them via radio, it lists “trade institutions inside the European Union” among the targets for Computer Network Exploitation.

It must be particularly sensitive to that declaration above others, because the NSA spokesperson offers a tired excuse for why our economic spying is not bad, while China’s is.

While refusing to comment on the scope of the Quantum program, the N.S.A. said its actions were not comparable to China’s.

“N.S.A.’s activities are focused and specifically deployed against — and only against — valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements,” Vanee Vines, an agency spokeswoman, said in a statement. “We do not use foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of — or give intelligence we collect to — U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line.”

I wonder whether the people who parrot this line really have so little understanding of the distinctions between the way China’s government presses its economic advantage and the way we do? I wonder if they’ve never seen cables showing our diplomats pressuring other countries in ways that benefit specific, named US companies (or trade organizations), surely relying on intelligence gained from both SIGINT and HUMINT?

We are neither better or worse capitalists than China because of the way we spy. Both countries are cheating on behalf of ostensibly “national” companies (though cheating and illicitly gained intelligence are an established feature of even the best regulated markets).

For some reason the NSA thinks that so long as it doesn’t spy on one of the few remaining areas where the US has the biggest competitive advantage — its Intellectual Property — its economic spying is morally better than China’s economic spying.

That’s nonsense. It’s all cheating in the name of national strength. If it’s acceptable for us to do it, we really can’t perform moral outrage that our rivals are doing it.

6 replies
  1. Snoopdido says:

    It is our right because we are exceptional. They are wrong because they are not exceptional.

    This is the intellectual equivalent of a child defending picking its nose.

    Which strangely reminds me of an old adage my first girlfriend and her family held dear and I never truly understood why: “You can pick your nose and you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose.”

  2. P J Evans says:

    It’s all about our moral outrage being justified because we only spy in our own defense.
    The fact that everyone else spies for the exact same reason escapes our moral authorities in Congress and among the Very Serious People (most of whom would be in deep shit if their actual activities ever became known to all us Little People).

  3. Snoopdido says:

    As I’m finishing up reading Judge Bate’s detailed document (http://www.lawfareblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/1-10-2014-Enclosure-re-FISA.pdf), I came across this stunning bit of information on page 11 that I previously was unaware of:

    “Decisions about querying Section 702 information are now made within the Executive Branch. As a result, the Courts do not know how often the government performs queries of data previously acquired under Section 702 in order to retrieve information about a particular U.S. person.”

  4. C says:

    EW I suspect that they are more sensitive to it because Europe is supposed to be our allies and to help us stand firm against the red menace. If they hear that we are reading their mail and dicking them over economically, though since Germany is the number 2 exporter we must be doing a bad job of it, then they might not decide to be our friends anymore.

  5. Strangely Enough says:

    Doesn’t what “we” steal end up in China regardless? Or, rather, gets produced in China…

  6. dh skelton says:

    I wish people were more savvy. These kind of actions have been going on since the beginning of civilization.. Ever read Sun Tzu? But as an American a must read is/would have been the “Puzzle Palace” which came out in the early 80’s… There has never been a time or a technology that the US Government hasn’t “tapped”,,, there are no secrets.. The real emphasis, which is why “they” are not talking about this, is when do “they” actully read/listen too our conversations/personal info. I dont think anyone really cares about what Im upto, im just a farmer, but what if one wanted to start a movement or rebellion??? mmmm

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