Obama’s ratings tumble in Germany, Russia in wake of NSA spying, Ukraine crisis

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Revelations of the National Security Agency’s global spy program, together with civil strife in Ukraine has severely damaged Barack Obama’s popularity among Brazilians, Germans and Russians, a major US polling agency reported.

Thanks to a series of global scandals, the United States in general, and its commander-in-chief in particular, have suffered a drop in favorability among the majority of countries polled by Pew Research.

“In 22 of 36 countries surveyed in both 2013 and 2014, people are significantly less likely to believe the US government respects the personal freedoms of its citizens,” the report said.

Spring 2014 Global Attitudes Survey, Pew ResearchSpring 2014 Global Attitudes Survey, Pew Research

Among privacy-loving Germans – many of whom have even refused to allow the Google Maps car to film their homes – Obama’s reputation nosedived when it was revealed that the NSA was collecting communication metadata not only on average Germans, but also on Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose personal mobile phone had been hacked by US intelligence.

Germans’ confidence in Obama sunk to 71 percent, 17 points down from 2013.

Tensions between NATO’s two biggest members escalated this month German authorities arrested a Defense Ministry official suspected of passing secrets to the US. This shocking incident came just one week after the arrest of a German intelligence officer who worked as a double agent for the Americans.

German authorities took the unprecedented step of ordering the expulsion of the Berlin CIA station chief.

“Revelations that Washington systematically reads both Americans’ and some foreigners’ emails and listens in on their telephone conversations appears to have significantly damaged Obama’s approval in only one European Union country: Germany,” Pew reported.

Brazilians’ confidence in the first black American leader dropped from 69 percent in 2013 to 52 percent presently.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who was also the victim of NSA snooping on her personal communications, expressed her anger at those revelations by canceling an official visit to Washington in October.

Finally, Russia, which is watching neighboring Ukraine teeter on the edge of full-blown civil war, sees an American hand provoking the situation behind the scenes, especially after former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich decided against signing as association agreement with the European Union in favor of stronger ties with Moscow.

The decision by sparked a violent showdown in the capital Kiev, which has led to nationwide civil strife that continues today.

“Russian faith in Obama, already quite low in 2013, is down 14 points (to 15 percent), a likely casualty of the Ukraine confrontation,” Pew said.

Meanwhile, America’s once invincible reputation for protecting individual liberties has suffered a major reality check following damning revelations about the extent of NSA surveillance from whistleblower Edward Snowden, presently living in Russia, where he has been granted asylum.

Belief that the US government respects personal freedoms plummeted 25 points in Brazil to 50 percent over the last year; 23 points in Germany to 58 percent; 20 points to 40 percent in Russia; and 11 points to 69 percent in France. Meanwhile, even the United Kingdom, a trusted ally, appears to have experienced a chilling effect by America’s recent naughtiness, dropping 10 points to 65 percent.

Germany expels Berlin CIA chief

US drone strikes have also struck a negative chord among allies and enemies alike, including in NATO member states like Britain, France and Spain. In 37 of 44 surveyed countries, half or more of the public expressed disapproval of drone attacks.

German-American friendship at crossroads, Berlin leaning toward Moscow?

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As a never-ending stream of spy scandals put Washington-Berlin relations under unprecedented strain, Germans are increasingly asking themselves whether the country should be blindly following the US.

A recent poll for Der Spiegel showed that up to 57 percent of Germans would like Berlin to conduct policies more independent from the US, and an Op-Ed article by the publication asked more bluntly: “Germany’s Choice: Will It Be America or Russia?”

This question, previously unimaginable for Berlin, show just how deeply the US spy scandals are shattering German politics.

An unceasing row of intelligence scandals, that started over a year ago with revelations of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, have revealed that the US has been eavesdropping Germans, Chancellor Angela Merkel included, for years now.

The grandeur of the American eavesdropping effort against NATO allies forced German politicians to give the alliance with Washington a second thought.

The continuation of the spy scandals has put German elite in an “either/or” position, when they should either turn a blind eye on the current state of things and remain American protégé or dash away from American chokehold.

Though US Secretary of State John Kerry has told German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier that Washington and Berlin remain “great friends” despite the new spying scandal that rocked bilateral relations in recent two weeks, Germans themselves feel the friendship went wrong.

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (R) , in Vienna, on July 13, 2014.(AFP Photo / Jim Bourg)US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (R) , in Vienna, on July 13, 2014.(AFP Photo / Jim Bourg)

Ever since the creation of the post-WWII West Germany in 1949, the country remained in the orbit of American foreign policy, not least because of a large number of American bases deployed in the country. After reunion with the East Germany in 1990, relations did not change a jot over the next two decades.

According to Der Spiegel, Chancellor Angela Merkel would probably like to distance herself from the scandal if Americans stop putting her in awkward situations, such as tapping her phone.

But as German intelligence agency the BND has found out, the Americans never calmed down and continued spying, this time sneaking documents of the investigation of NSA intelligence activities in Germany, Der Spiegel said.

“If it is confirmed that the spying activities against the BND also targeted the work of the NSA investigative committee, it will be an unprecedented assault on the parliament and our democratic institutions,” Der Spiegel cited Thomas Oppermann, parliamentary leader of the SPD.

Last Wednesday Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, indicated that German-American relations had hit a new low, mentioning “profound differences of opinion” between Berlin and Washington. Next day the CIA’s station chief in Germany was asked to leave the country.

The abovementioned Körber Foundation study revealed another interesting fact: approximately equal number of Germans sees their country cooperating the most in the future with either the US or Russia.

For nearly a quarter of a century since the reunion of the country, Germans have actually not questioned which side they are on.

But two things that have been growing on over the last year sort of “awakened” Germans from quiescence.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and Russian President Vladimir Putin chat at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on July 13, 2014.(AFP Photo / Pedro Ugarte)German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and Russian President Vladimir Putin chat at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on July 13, 2014.(AFP Photo / Pedro Ugarte)

The first is the NSA spy scandal that emerged in June 2013 and is still unwinding, which opened eyes of ordinary Germans being under constant surveillance from the US intelligence agencies.

The second one is the spreading civil war in Ukraine and economic sanctions against Russia promoted by Washington for alleged “support to Ukrainian separatists.” While for the US any sanctions Moscow would mean little economic losses, for Germany Russia is a major economic partner and cutting ties with Moscow would mean multibillion missed profit, hundreds of thousands of jobless citizens and giant losses for the economy in general.

Der Spiegel, a magazine that is well-informed on domestic policy, said: “Germany can no longer avoid the question of which side it supports.”

Whistleblower: NSA stores 80% of all phone calls, not just metadata – full audio

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At least 80 percent of all audio calls are gathered and stored by the NSA, whistleblower William Binney has revealed. The former code-breaker says the spy agency’s ultimate aim is no less than total population control.

The National Security Agency lies about what it stores, said William Binney, one of the highest profile whistleblowers to ever emerge from the NSA, at a conference in London organized by the Center for Investigative Journalism on July 5. Binney left the agency shortly after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center because he was disgusted at the organizations move towards public surveillance.

Former technical director of the National Security Agency (NSA) William Binney (Reuters/Thomas Peter)Former technical director of the National Security Agency (NSA) William Binney (Reuters/Thomas Peter)

“At least 80 percent of fiber-optic cables globally go via the US,” Binney said. “This is no accident and allows the US to view all communication coming in. At least 80 percent of all audio calls, not just metadata, are recorded and stored in the US. The NSA lies about what it stores.”

Binney has no evidence to substantiate his claims as he did not take any documents with him when he left the NSA. However, he insists the organization is untruthful about its intelligence gathering practices and their ultimate aim. He says that recent Supreme Court decisions have led him to believe the NSA won’t stop until it has complete control over the population.

“The ultimate goal of the NSA is total population control,” Binney said, “but I’m a little optimistic with some recent Supreme Court decisions, such as law enforcement mostly now needing a warrant before searching a smartphone.”

During his speech at the conference, Binney praised spy-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden for disseminating the classified documents that revealed the NSA’s global spy programs. The latest revelations showed that contrary to the NSA’s claims, the majority of information the agency gathers is from ordinary citizens with no connection to terrorism.

NSA gathered ‘startlingly intimate’ data on ordinary citizens, Snowden data reveals

Washington has defended its spy programs, claiming that the NSA targets individuals with connections to known terrorist groups to thwart attacks. Binney said this was a lie and the NSA had stopped “zero attacks” with its intelligence gathering programs.

One of the main factors that has allowed the NSA to increase its spy programs is the lack of oversight in the US, argues Binney. In particular, he took issue with the Foreign Surveillance Court (FISA), which oversees the issue of search warrants against people suspected of terrorism. Binney believes the court is meaningless and always sides with the US government.

“The Fisa court has only the government’s point of view,” he said. “There are no other views for the judges to consider. There have been at least 15-20 trillion constitutional violations for US domestic audiences and you can double that globally.”

Revelations about US global spy programs have sparked mass indignation, with one American judge saying the surveillance was almost Orwellian in nature. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also compared US intelligence policy to the antics of the Stasi secret police in the former East Germany.

‘Second CIA spy in Germany’: Berlin raids Ministry of Defense

German authorities have carried out a raid on the residence of a defense ministry official suspected of passing secrets to the US, just one week after the arrest of a German intelligence officer who worked as a double agent.

Officials from the Federal Prosecutor’s Office said Wednesday that residential and office premises of the staff of the Federal Ministry of Defense in Berlin were searched on “initial suspicion of activity for an intelligence agency.”

According to the German newspaper Die Welt, a soldier of the Bundeswehr is suspected of committing espionage. The individual was said to have made “intensive contacts” with alleged US intelligence officials and was under the surveillance of the Military Intelligence (MAD) some time ago.

“When sufficient evidence existed, the case was handed over to the federal prosecutor,” security sources told the paper.

The news comes just one week after a 31-year-old German intelligence official was arrested on suspicion of spying for a “foreign power” since 2012. German media reported the double agent, who has not been identified, worked on behalf of the CIA..

Meanwhile, the United States has not denied allegations that the German intelligence officer arrested earlier was passing secret files to the US National Security Agency (NSA).

U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Reuters)U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Reuters)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke on Monday following the initial spy investigations, declaring, “It would be a clear contradiction of what I consider to be trusting co-operation” with the United States.

Americans admit to recruiting German spy

Relations between Berlin and Washington, representatives of NATO’s two largest members, were already strained after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden last year released documents showing that the NSA was conducting wide-scale surveillance on German citizens’ communications – up to and including Chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal cellphone.

US Ambassador to Germany John B. Emerson was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on Friday following news of the first case. A German official who spoke on condition of anonymity told AP that Emerson was at the ministry again on Wednesday, although the reason for the latest meeting was not publicly announced.

VISITING WEBSITES ABOUT PRIVACY GETS YOU PUT IN AN NSA DATABASE OF “EXTREMISTS”

Merely expressing an interest in anonymity makes you a target

by PAUL JOSEPH WATSON | JULY 3, 2014

Searching for online articles about privacy is enough to get someone put in an NSA database of “extremists,” according to new revelations published today.

In an article for German news outlet Tagesschau (translation here), Lena Kampf, Jacob Appelbaum and John Goetz reveal how the NSA’s “deep packet inspection” rules, which it uses to determine who to target for deep surveillance, include looking for web users who search for articles about Tor and Tails, an anonymous browser and a privacy-friendly operating system.

Those whose Internet traffic patterns suggest merely an interest in Tor or Tails are immediately put on a list of “extremists,” as is anyone who actually uses the Tor network.

“Tor and Tails have been part of the mainstream discussion of online security, surveillance and privacy for years. It’s nothing short of bizarre to place people under suspicion for searching for these terms,” writes Boing Boing’s Cory Doctorow, adding that the NSA’s goal is, “to split the entire population of the Internet into “people who have the technical know-how to be private” and “people who don’t” and then capture all the communications from the first group.”

The revelation once again highlights the fact that the NSA’s data dragnet has little to do with catching terrorists and everything to do with targeting anyone who values their right to privacy. The mass collection of such information only serves to make it easier for actual bad guys to evade detection since the federal agency is building such vast and unwieldy databases.

Earlier this week, journalist Glenn Greenwald announced that he was set to release new information based on leaked documents obtained by whistleblower Edward Snowden which would reveal which individuals and institutions were the targets of NSA spying.

However, at the last minute Greenwald said the story would be postponed as a result of the U.S. government, “suddenly began making new last-minute claims which we intend to investigate before publishing.”

New leaks show Germany’s collusion with NSA

New leaks show Germany’s collusion with NSA

Did the German government deliberately soften laws protecting privacy to make life easier for the NSA?

Several new Snowden-leaked documents show how closely Germany’s intelligence agencies work with the NSA. But did the German government deliberately soften laws protecting privacy to make life easier for them?

NSA Abhörzentrum Wiesbaden

This week German news magazine Der Spiegel published the largest single set of files leaked by whistleblower and former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. The roughly 50 documents show the depth of the German intelligence agencies’ collusion with the NSA.

They suggest that the German Intelligence Agency (BND), the country’s foreign spy agency, and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), the German domestic spy agency, worked more closely with the NSA than they have admitted – and more than many observers thought.

NSA successes

The documents as published by Der Spiegel offer glimpses, but not a comprehensive view of what is essentially a transatlantic spy alliance. An NSA document from January 2013 shows the spirit of cooperation that existed between the NSA and first the BND and then the BfV, as well as the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). The documents also show that the BND has been “eager” for closer ties with the NSA on an analytical and operational level since 1962.

NSA-Untersuchungsausschuss 05.06.2014 Berlin
Germany’s parliamentary committee wants to question Snowden

Among its “success stories,” the documents praise how the German government was able to weaken the public’s protection from surveillance. “The German government has changed its interpretation of the G10 law, which protects German citizens’ communications, to allow the BND to be more flexible with the sharing of protected information with foreign partners.” Germany’s G10 law regulates in what circumstances its intelligence agencies are allowed to break Article 10 of the German constitution, which guarantees the privacy of letters and telecommunications.

Malte Spitz, member of the German Green party and spokesman for the Federal Association of Media and Internet policy, is always concerned when the NSA celebrates such “successes” in Europe. “The important question is whether the chancellery helped the agencies to get the permissions that made far-reaching surveillance possible by offering an alternative interpretation of the G10 law,” he said.

Secretive list

Another document, entitled “JSA Restrictions,” raises further questions. JSA stands for Joint SigInt Activity – in other words, joint technical investigations of the NSA and the BND at a facility in Bad Aibling, Bavaria. Since the BND, as a foreign intelligence agency, is not allowed to spy on German citizens, the document guarantees that domains ending with the German “.de” can’t be investigated. Similarly excluded are all domain endings belonging to the so-called “Five Eyes” countries: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Britain, and the US.

But since many German citizens use email addresses with endings like “.net”, “.com” or “.org”, the document includes a list of other Internet addresses that can’t be kept under surveillance either. This list is surprisingly short – comprising just 50 names – and bizarrely random. Apart from domains that might be expected, like bundeswehr.org, mercedes-benz.com, deutsche-bank and siemens.com, the list also contains addresses that seem completely willful: like feuerwehr-ingolstadt.org, (Ingolstadt fire brigade), orgelbau.com (organ manufacturer), and seniorenheim.com (senior citizens’ home).

“It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious,” says Andre Meister, editor of the Internet rights portal netzpolitik.org. “We don’t have a .de domain – netzpolitik.org – but unfortunately we’re not on the list either. So we have to assume we’re being kept under surveillance.” The same is true of German email services like gmx.net.

Malte Spitz Bündnis 90/Die Grünen
Spitz is concerned whenever the NSA boasts of success in Germany

Spitz can’t make any sense of the list, and he wants answers. Why are some companies on the list and not others? Why are there no email addresses of politicians or journalists on there? Who drew up the list? Was the BND, or even the chancellor’s office, involved?

Parliamentary committee

The German parliamentary committee set up to investigate NSA activities in Germany could provide answers to all these questions. It wanted to ask Edward Snowden directly, but he has refused to answer questions in Moscow, where he was granted asylum after the US revoked his passport. The Green party and the socialist Left party want to question him in Berlin, but Chancellor Angela Merkel is unlikely to want to provoke a conflict with the US.

At the start of June, parliamentarians from Germany’s governing parties, the Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democratic Party had wanted to organize an informal meeting with Snowden in Moscow in early July. His lawyer said on Friday (20.06.2014), however, that this would be impossible. Now the committee has to decide how much it wants Snowden to testify. The ball is in the court of the government parties.

Putin Orders Military On Combat Alert

Putin Orders Military On Combat Alert

Combat drill to involve 5,500 pieces of military equipment

By With assistance from Terry Atlas Jun 21, 2014 10:34 AM CT

Russia put more than 65,000 troops on combat alert and ordered them to take part in a drill a day after Ukraine called a week-long cease-fire to quell violence in the eastern part of the country.

The Russian drill is the biggest since the country annexed the Black Sea Crimean peninsula in March. The U.S. has accused the government in Moscow of aiding the separatists and this week imposed sanctions on people linked to the insurgency.

The dispute is flaring as American and European officials warn that more painful penalties affecting Russia’s access to financial markets, technology and military hardware may come as early as next week if President Vladimir Putin refuses to curb tensions. North Atlantic Treaty Organization and U.S. officials have said this week that Russia was renewing its military buildup near the Ukrainian border.

“The fact remains that Kiev and Moscow are at daggers drawn,” Nicholas Spiro, managing director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy in London, said by e-mail. “Russia’s latest military maneuvers throw the extent of the distrust and suspicion between both sides into sharp relief.”

Russia dismissed Ukraine’s declaration of the cease-fire as an “ultimatum,” spurring officials from the European Union and Germany today to call again on Putin to support the peace plan.

Military Readiness

Putin put troops in Russia’s central military region on full combat alert and ordered them to take part in a test of military readiness that is to last through June 28 and will also involve 5,500 pieces of military equipment, Vladimir Anikin, a spokesman for Russia’s Defense Ministry, said by phone.

In Kiev, the Foreign Ministry denounced Russia’s latest military activity, saying it “does not help to normalize the situation in Ukraine and to implement peaceful initiatives by the Ukrainian authorities,” according to an e-mailed statement.

Russia on the other hand said it was concerned that Ukraine was boosting its military operation, Interfax reported, citing Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying.

Act ‘Adequately’

While Ukraine seeks a peaceful solution to the conflict, its military is ready to act “adequately” if the cease-fire is violated, President Petro Poroshenko said today in a statement on his website. The peace plan has “powerful support” from European and U.S. leaders, he said.

Ukraine called on all fighters to lay down arms, halting the offensive against rebels from 10 p.m. yesterday until 10 a.m. on June 27, according to the president’s website.

The proposal lacks “the main ingredient — an offer to start negotiations,” the Kremlin said in a statement. Pro-Russian militants expressed skepticism the truce will be implemented.

Militants stirred fighting in at least seven different places overnight, which left nine border troops and one Russian customs official wounded, and an unspecified number of militants killed, Ukrainian authorities said today.

U.S. President Barack Obama yesterday spoke by phone with French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, agreeing in separate conversations that the U.S. and European Union would “impose costs” on Russia if it doesn’t work to deescalate the situation, the White House said in an e-mailed statement.

‘Hold Accountable’

The U.S. “will continue to take action to hold accountable those persons engaged in efforts to destabilize Crimea and eastern Ukraine,” Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen said in a statement. “These individuals have all contributed to attempts to illegally undermine the legitimate government.”

The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned seven individuals, including the acting governor of Sevastopol in Crimea and separatist leaders in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Broader measures are being readied against the finance, defense and technology industries, two U.S. officials said.

The U.S. is levying penalties for the first time since April 28, when it sanctioned people and companies linked to Putin’s inner circle. Russia risks further measures when EU leaders meet next week unless it helps end the unrest to support an emerging peace plan, Merkel said yesterday.

Tougher Sanctions

European diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said consensus has emerged within the 28-member group during the last week that tougher sanctions may be warranted when EU leaders meet June 26-27 in Brussels if Putin fails to abide by earlier pledges.

“All parties” will need to “actively promote” the implementation of the peace plan, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said at a news conference in Tallinn today. “We in particular call on the Russian Federation to use all its influence to this end and to support this plan publicly and through concrete actions.”

Merkel’s comments reflect an effort by EU powers to gain leverage over Putin by using Poroshenko’s cease-fire as a trigger for expanded sanctions if Putin doesn’t cooperate.

The U.S. and the EU have imposed sanctions on people and companies close to Putin, while threatening the government in Moscow with unspecified economic penalties as pro-Russian separatists clash with Ukrainian forces.

Overnight Fighting

Fighting continued overnight as the cease-fire call came into effect when six Ukrainian border guards and one Russian customs officer were wounded as militants opened fire at the Izvaryne check point, Ukrainian State Border Service said in a statement on its website today. Militants also shot at troop base near Vyselky village in the Donetsk region, stirring fighting and leaving two border troops injured, according to the service.

Road Block

A Ukrainian road block was shot at near Slovyansk this morning, Defense Ministry spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov said on his Facebook account.

Poroshenko’s 15-point peace plan includes early parliamentary and local elections, job creation in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and freeing all seized buildings and abducted people, according to the statement.

Before the cease-fire can be implemented, Ukraine must reassert control over its border with Russia, across which fighters have crossed, according to Poroshenko.

Russia is increasing security because it’s concerned about the situation on the border, though it’s not building up troop levels, Yuri Ushakov, Putin’s foreign-policy aide, said yesterday.

The separatists are willing to consider the plan, according to Andrei Purgin, a deputy premier of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic.

“If we see a true cease-fire, we may stop our actions as well,” he said by phone. “But I think there will be no cease-fire. In practice these statements are only political.”