Monday, February 17, 2014

Spying on lawyers

The latest NSALeak: The US got its toadies the Australian Defence Signals Directorate to spy on American lawyers representing Indonesia in trade talks:

A top-secret document, obtained by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden, shows that an American law firm was monitored while representing a foreign government in trade disputes with the United States. The disclosure offers a rare glimpse of a specific instance in which Americans were ensnared by the eavesdroppers, and is of particular interest because lawyers in the United States with clients overseas have expressed growing concern that their confidential communications could be compromised by such surveillance.

The government of Indonesia had retained the law firm for help in trade talks, according to the February 2013 document. It reports that the N.S.A.’s Australian counterpart, the Australian Signals Directorate, notified the agency that it was conducting surveillance of the talks, including communications between Indonesian officials and the American law firm, and offered to share the information.

The Australians told officials at an N.S.A. liaison office in Canberra, Australia, that “information covered by attorney-client privilege may be included” in the intelligence gathering, according to the document, a monthly bulletin from the Canberra office. The law firm was not identified, but Mayer Brown, a Chicago-based firm with a global practice, was then advising the Indonesian government on trade issues.

On behalf of the Australians, the liaison officials asked the N.S.A. general counsel’s office for guidance about the spying. The bulletin notes only that the counsel’s office “provided clear guidance” and that the Australian agency “has been able to continue to cover the talks, providing highly useful intelligence for interested US customers.”

So we now have clear evidence that our spy agencies use each other to circumvent bans on spying on their own citizens, and that they do not care about basic norms such as attorney-client privilege when doing so. This is utter contempt for the law. And note that its not being done in the name of "national security", but of commercial interests and petty trade disputes.

Again: the only way to end these abuses is to vote out the spies. Defund them, disband them, and destroy their equipment. Nothing else will do.