Stasi was East Germany's secret police. It suppressed opposition to Stalinist power. It was one of the most repressive state apparatuses in modern times.
When East Germany collapsed in 1989, Stasi had over 90,000 full-time employees. Another 300,000 were paid informants. They spied on East German citizens. Thousands of West German collaborators did so on theirs.
Stasi infiltrated NATO headquarters. Legendary spymaster Markus (Mischa) Wolf ran things. He did so for 34 years. He had Jewish roots. In the early 1930s, his family fled Germany. It did so to escape nazi persecution.
Wolf was educated at Moscow's Comintern Academy. He worked as a journalist. He observed Nuremberg trial proceedings. Post-WW II, he returned to Germany. He was part of a communist Berlin delegation.
He showed leadership qualities. He rose rapidly in the ranks. Stalinists trusted him. In 1953, he was among others in charge of foreign intelligence.
He and Erich Mielke ran East Germany's Ministry of State Security (Stasi). It was justifiably feared. Historian John Koehler called it "an instrument for the ruthless oppression of East Germany's population as well as one of the world's most effective intelligence services."
Wolf became known as "the man without a face." For years, Western intelligence agencies had no photos. He was lucky. In November 2006, he died peacefully in his sleep.
Mielke was convicted of murder in absentia. After reunification, he was arrested. In 1993, he was convicted. He was sentenced to six years imprisonment. After less than two, he was paroled.
In May 2000, he died in a Berlin nursing home. He was aged 92. He's buried in an unmarked grave. Stasi's infamous history represents the worst of police state repression.
Its modern-day incarnation lives. On July 7, Der Spiegel headlined "Snowden claims: NSA Ties Put German Intelligence in Tight Spot."
"They're in bed together," said Snowden. NSA partners with foreign intelligence in other countries. Its "Foreign Affairs Directorate (BND)" does so.
It's done in ways to "insulate their political leaders from the backlash." It's precautionary in case people learn "how grievously they're violating global privacy."
BND/NSA cooperation is far greater than previously known. According to Der Spiegel, NSA provides "analysis tools."
They're for "BND's signals monitoring of foreign data streams that travel through Germany."
Besides other areas, BND focuses on "the Middle East route through which data packets from crisis regions travel."
Der Spiegel said "BND pulls data from five different nodes that are then analyzed at the foreign intelligence service's headquarters in Pullach near Munich."
Gerhard Schindler heads it. He "confirmed the partnership during a meeting with members of the German parliament's control committee for intelligence issues."
Germany's Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution is responsible for counterintelligence. It's investigating whether NSA "gained access to Internet traffic traveling through Germany."
Berlin approved construction of a new US army base in Germany. NSA plans operations there when completed.
A new Wiesbaden-based Consolidated Intelligence center is being built. US contractors are doing so. Supposedly it'll be bug-proof. It may not turn out that way.
Snowden told Der Spiegel that German outrage over NSA spying was pretense. Both countries work closely together. Relations are longstanding.
Current operations far exceed Stasi's. They're conducted with technological ease. Decades earlier spying was crude compared to today's.
Modern methods operate in unprecedented ways. Virtually everyone can be monitored everywhere at all times. Nearly everything about targets is known.
Almost nothing's too secret to escape scrutiny. There's no way to hide. There's no place to do it.
More than BND is involved. Snowden provided "new details about Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ)."
Its Tempora system "is the signal intelligence community's first 'full-take Internet buffer.' " It accumulates and saves all data passing through Britain.
"The scope of this 'full take' system is vast." According to Snowden:
"It snarfs everything in a rolling buffer to allow retroactive investigation without missing a single bit."
"As a general rule, so long as you have any choice at all, you should never route through or peer with the UK under any circumstances," he stressed.
German Internet experts said doing so's nearly impossible.
Snowden stressed the importance of meta-data collection and retention. Authorities having it know who communicated with whom, when and about what.
They can sift through information for what's most important.
Meta-data, said Snowden, "tells (them) what (they) actually want." It provides "tips on which communications and content might be" most relevant.
Simple pointing and clicking lets them "retrieve or permanently collect the full content of communications that have already been stored for a specific person or group, or they can collect future communications."
Anyone can be "selected for targeting based on, for example, your Facebook or webmail content." Britain, Germany and most other Western countries are longstanding NSA partners, said Snowden.
Angela Merkel alluding to Cold War tactics doesn't wash. Der Spiegel said NSA monitors about 20 - 60 million German phone calls daily. On average, it collects information on 10 million Internet data sets.
Der Spiegel interviewed Snowden earlier. He was in Hawaii. He hadn't left for Hong Kong. He communicated by encrypted emails.
It was done with documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras and computer security researcher/hacker Jacob Applebaum.
Information Snowden provided showed some allies exceed NSA's "zeal for gathering data."
Britain's GCHQ spying is notorious. Intelligence sources call it a "full take" operation.
"It sucks up all information, no matter where it comes from and which laws are broken," said Snowden.
"If you send a data packet through Britain, we'll get it. If you download anything, and the server is in Britain, we'll get it."
"If the NSA is ordered to target an individual, it virtually take over that person's data "so the target's computer no longer belongs to him, it more or less belongs to the US government."
Der Spiegel's Interview with Snowden
As explained above, it was conducted from Hawaii. It was before Snowden revealed Germany's longstanding cooperation with NSA.
Question: What is the mission of the National Security Agency (NSA) - and how is their job in accordance with the law?
Snowden: It is the mission of the NSA, to be aware of anything of importance going on outside of the United States.
This is a considerable task, and the people there are convinced that not knowing everything about everyone could lead to some existential crisis.
So, at some point, you believe it's all right to bend the rules a little. Then, if people hate it that you can bend the rules, it suddenly becomes vital even to break them.
Question: Are German authorities or politicians involved in the monitoring system?
Snowden: Yes, of course. (NSA officials) are in cahoots with the Germans, as well as with the most other Western countries.
US intelligence operatives "warn the others, when someone we want to catch, uses one of their airports - and they then deliver them to us.
The information on this, we can for example pull off of the monitored mobile phone of a suspected hacker's girlfriend - who used it in an entirely different country which has nothing to do with the case.
The other authorities do not ask us where we got the leads, and we do not ask them anything either. That way, they can protect their political staff from any backlash if it came out how massive the global violation of people’s privacy is.
Question: But now as details of this system are revealed, who will be brought before a court over this?
Snowden: Before US courts? You're not serious, are you?
When the last large wiretapping scandal was investigated - the interception without a court order, which concerned millions of communications - that should really have led to the longest prison sentences in world history.
However, then our highest representatives simply stopped the investigation. The question, who is to be accused, is theoretical, if the laws themselves are not respected. Laws are meant for people like you or me - but not for them.
Question: Does the NSA cooperate with other states like Israel?
Snowden: Yes, all the time. The NSA has a large section for that, called the FAD - Foreign Affairs Directorate.
Question: Did the NSA help to write the Stuxnet program? (It's malware contamination used to infect Iran's Bushehr nuclear facility.)
Snowden: The NSA and Israel wrote Stuxnet together.
Question: What are the major monitoring programs active today, and how do international partners help the NSA?
Snowden: The partners in the "Five Eyes" (meaning other US intelligence operations, UK, Australian, New Zealand and Canadian spying) sometimes go even further than the NSA people themselves.
Take the Tempora program of the British intelligence GCHQ for instance. Tempora is the first ("Full take") "I save everything" approach in the intelligence world.
It sucks in all data, no matter what it is, and which rights are violated by it. This buffered storage allows for subsequent monitoring; not a single bit escapes.
Right now, the system is capable of saving three days' worth of traffic, but that will be optimized. Three days may perhaps not sound like a lot, but it's not just about connection metadata.
"Full take" means that the system saves everything. If you send a data packet and if makes its way through the UK, we will get it. If you download anything, and the server is in the UK, then we get it.
And if the data about your sick daughter is processed through a London call center, then. Oh, I think you have understood.
Question: Can anyone escape?
Snowden: Well, if you had the choice, you should never send information over British lines or British servers.
Even the Queen’s selfies with her lifeguards would be recorded, if they existed.
Question: Do the NSA and its partners apply some kind of wide dragnet method to intercept phone calls, texts and data?
Snowden: Yes, but how much they can record, depends on the capabilities of the respective taps. Some data is held to be more worthwhile, and can therefore be recorded more frequently.
But all this is rather a problem with foreign tapping nodes, less with those of the US. This makes the monitoring in their own territory so terrifying. The NSA's options are practically limitless - in terms of computing power, space or cooling capacity for the computers.
Question: The NSA is building a new data center in Utah. What is it for?
Snowden: These are the new mass data storage facilities.
Question: For how long will the information there be stored?
Snowden: Right now it is still so, that the full text of collected material ages very quickly, within a few days, especially given its enormous amount.
Unless an analyst marked a target or a particular communication. In that case the communication is saved for all eternity, one always get an authorization for that anyway.
The metadata ages less quickly. The NSA at least wants all metadata to be stored forever. Often the metadata is more valuable than the contents of the communication, because in most cases, one can retrieve the content, if there is metadata.
And if not, you mark all future communications that fits this metadata and is of interest, so that henceforth it will be recorded completely. The metadata tells you what you actually want from the broader stream.
Question: Do private companies help the NSA?
Snowden: Yes. But it's hard to prove that. The names of the cooperating telecom companies are the crown jewels of the NSA.
Generally you can say that multinationals with headquarters in the USA should not be trusted until they prove otherwise. This is unfortunate, because these companies have the ability to deliver the world's best and most reliable services - if they wanted to.
To facilitate this, civil rights movements should now use these revelations as a driving force. The companies should write enforceable clauses into their terms, guaranteeing their clients that they are not being spied on.
And they should include technical guarantees. If you could move even a single company to do such a thing, it would improve the security of global communications.
And when this appears to not be feasible, you should consider starting one such company yourself.
Question: Are there companies that refuse to cooperate with the NSA?
Snowden: Yes, but I know nothing of a corresponding list that would prove this. However, there would surely be fewer companies of this type if the companies working with the NSA would be punished by the customer. That should be the highest priority of all computer users who believe in the freedom of thoughts.
Question: What are the sites you should beware, if you do not want to become targeted by the NSA?
Snowden: Normally one is marked as a target because of a Facebook profile or because of your emails. The only place which I personally know where you can become a target without this specific labeling, are jihadist forums.
Question: What happens if the NSA has a user in its sights?
Snowden: The target person is completely monitored. An analyst will get a daily report about what has changed in the computer system of the targeted person.
There will also be...packages with certain data which the automatic analysis systems have not understood, and so on.
The analyst can then decide what he wants to do - the computer of the target person does not belong to them anymore, it then more or less belongs to the US government.
A Final Comment
Venezuela granted Snowden asylum. Bolivia and Nicaragua suggest doing so. His time in Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport's transit area may be near ending.
Venezuela awaits word on his plans. It's offer remains firm. Perhaps Snowden prefers communicating privately. His safety depends on doing so. He'll explain when and if it's wise.
Hopefully he'll relocate safely quickly. Millions support his courage. He risked everything to expose lawless US spying. He deserves his just reward.
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