Cover Story How the NSA Targets Germany and Europe


By Laura Poitras, , , and

Part 3: NSA 'Alliances With Over 80 Major Global Corporations'

Heads of these companies have vociferously denied that the NSA has direct access to their data. But it would seem that, outside of the Prism program, dozens of companies have willingly worked together with the US intelligence agency.

According to the documents seen by SPIEGEL, a particularly valuable partner is a company which is active in the US and has access to information that crisscrosses America. At the same time, this company, by virtue of its contacts, offers "unique access to other telecoms and (Internet service providers)." The company is "aggressively involved in shaping traffic to run signals of interest past our monitors," according to a secret NSA document. The cooperation has existed since 1985, the documents say.

Apparently, it's not an isolated case, either. A further document clearly demonstrates the compliance of a number of different companies. There are "alliances with over 80 major global corporations supporting both missions," according to a paper that is marked top secret. In NSA jargon, "both missions" refers to defending networks in the US, on the one hand, and monitoring networks abroad, on the other. The companies involved include telecommunications firms, producers of network infrastructure, software companies and security firms.

Such cooperation is an extremely delicate issue for the companies involved. Many have promised their customers data confidentiality in their terms and conditions. Furthermore, they are obliged to follow the laws of the countries in which they do business. As such, their cooperation deals with the NSA are top secret. Even in internal NSA documents, they are only referred to using code names.

"There has long been a very close and very secret relationship between a number of telecoms and the NSA," Bamford, the expert on the NSA, told Die Zeit. "Every time it gets discovered it stops for a while and then starts up again."

The importance of this rather peculiar form of public-private partnership was recently made clear by General Alexander, the NSA chief. At a technology symposium in a Washington, DC, suburb in May, he said that industry and government must work closely together. "As great as we have it up there, we cannot do it without your help," he said. "You know, we can't do our mission without the great help of all the great people here." If one believes the documents, several experts were sitting in the audience from companies that had reached a cooperation deal with the NSA.

In the coming weeks, details relating to the collaboration between Germany's BND and the NSA will be the focus of a parliamentary investigative committee in Berlin responsible for monitoring the intelligence services. The German government has sent letters to the US requesting additional information. The questions that need to be addressed are serious. Can a sovereign state tolerate a situation in which half a billion pieces of data are stolen on its territory each month from a foreign country? And can this be done especially when this country has identified the sovereign state as a "3rd party foreign partner" and, as such, one that can be spied on at any time, as has now become clear?

So far, the German government has made nothing more than polite inquiries. But facts that have now come to light will certainly increase pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel and her government. Elections, after all, are only three months away, and Germans -- as Merkel well knows -- are particularly sensitive when it comes to data privacy.

The NSA's Library of Babel

In a story written by the blind writer Jorge Luis Borges, the Library of Babel is introduced as perhaps the most secretive of all labyrinths: a universe full of bookshelves connected by a spiral staircase that has no beginning and no end. Those inside wander through the library looking for the book of books. They grow old inside without ever finding it.

If an actual building could really approach this imaginary library, it is the structure currently being erected in the Utah mountains near the city of Bluffdale. There, on Redwood Road, stands a sign with black letters on a white background next to a freshly paved road. Restricted area, no access, it reads. In Defense Department documents, form No. 1391, page 134, the buildings behind the sign are given the project No. 21078. It refers to the Utah Data Center, four huge warehouses full of servers costing a total of €1.2 billion ($1.56 billion).

Built by a total of 11,000 workers, the facility is to serve as a storage center for everything that is captured in the US data dragnet. It has a capacity that will soon have to be measured in yottabytes, which is 1 trillion terabytes or a quadrillion gigabytes. Standard external hard drives sold in stores have a capacity of about 1 terabyte. Fifteen such hard drives could store the entire contents of the Library of Congress.

The man who first made information about the Utah center public, and who likely knows the most about the NSA, is James Bamford. He says: "The NSA is the largest, most expensive and most powerful intelligence agency in the world."

Since the 9/11 terror attacks, the NSA's workforce has steadily grown and its budget has constantly increased. SPIEGEL was able to see confidential figures relating to the NSA that come from Snowden's documents, though the statistics are from 2006. In that year, 15,986 members of the military and 19,335 civilians worked for the NSA, which had an annual budget of $6.115 billion. These numbers and more recent statistics are officially confidential.

In other words, there is a good reason why NSA head Keith Alexander is called "Emporer Alexander." "Keith gets whatever he wants," says Bamford.

Still, Bamford doesn't believe that the NSA completely fulfills the mission it has been tasked with. "I've seen no indications that NSA's vastly expanded surveillance has prevented any terrorist activities," he says. There is, however, one thing that the NSA managed to predict with perfect accuracy: where the greatest danger to its secrecy lies. In internal documents, the agency identifies terrorists and hackers as being particularly threatening. Even more dangerous, however, the documents say, is if an insider decides to blow the whistle.

An insider like Edward Joseph Snowden.


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haroldberk 07/01/2013
1. NSA cooperation with German and British intelligence
The report of the high level of cooperation among intelligence agencies shows that our privacy is being disrespected on a world wide basis. The telephone 0metadata obtained by each of these agencies reveals much about each sender and recipient including the network of people and organizations with whom they communicate as well as where they are located at any time. Having received my own telephone metadata from Verizon by subpoena I issued in a federal court case against JP Morgan Chase, I know the tremendous power gained by these agencies intercepting this metadata which reveals so much about both the senders and recipients. And then to think that this cooperation among intelligence agencies is allowing each one to collect data on their own citizens by using the data collected by foreign intelligence shows the general disrespect for privacy and also disrespect by the intelligence agencies on domestic laws seeking to limit the very spying that is being done by the back door through use of "cooperating" foreign intelligence sources. George Orwell would be amazed to learn how much our governments have succumbed to the privacy invasion he contemplated in "1984."
kunstler78 07/01/2013
2. World Spy President!
I fail to see why the Democrats want Snowden so badly. I thought they were supposed to shut down this NSA spying bussiness that the Republicans started. It is shameful that they now want to prosecute Snowden to cover their own backs. I am glad I voted for Jill Stein instead of Obama, change I couldnt believe in. Let the European liberals who thought Obama was on their side relish the fact that they are merely America's underdogs, whose privacy is respected as much as a teenager's by a parent. I guess Der Spiegel's crazy assertions that Obama was the world president are ALL TOO TRUE: WORLD SPY PRESIDENT! :)
peterboyle.4848 07/01/2013
3. About Time
So English speaking countries are 'close firends' but everyone else gets spied upon? At this point, with real information leaking ut in dribs and drabs, it is hard to tell exactly who knew what when. What is clear is that most former British Colonies are free of US suspicion, or at least free of US intrusion. Why? With American and British government being so cozy with Business in their countries, is it possible that relevant information was passed on to favor Business? It would certainly be wonderful to know, in advance, the plans of those you are negotiating with. Same with the current US negotiations with the EU on a Trade Deal. The two countries that most proudly proclaim themselves "Special Cases" in every negotiation turn out to be the two countries who spy on everyone else the most. Can anyone still do business with them, can anyone still trust them? Exactly what reassurances from them will safeguard the rest of the world? At what point does the World hold the 600 kilo Gorilla and the aged Lion accountable? Can they be held accountable at all? It seems that the EU is having great difficulty holding GOOGLE accountable for taxes and privacy, so how will it hold the US and GB accountable in any meaningfull way?
spon-facebook-10000139396 07/01/2013
4. Smiley
It is comforting to know that George Smiley and Peter Guillam are still up to their old tricks at the Circus. Those wicked Anglo-Saxons: Quelle Horreur.
Inglenda2 07/01/2013
5. Strange new World
Please let us be honest for a few moments, can we really expect to have our messages protected within a network which open to everybody? Ever since retail shops changed to the self service system, there have been huge numbers of people, who are just not ready to pay at the cash desks. With every change in the public way of living, there are the intelligently dishonest who use alteration to their own selfish advantage. Internet is no exception and governments have always tried, with every available method, to keep hold of the power within their hands. Few members of any parliament can be trusted, were they to be really virtuous, their souls would be broken in the fight for ascendancy. There can be little doubt that the German government knew exactly what the NSA was doing. It is more than probable that some of the information gained was frequently shared. Not the spying on the population is now the reason for political upset, but the fact it has been made public. The pure face of democratic freedom is all too often nothing more than a Fata Morgana.
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