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Transatlantic Intelligence Ties Remain Strong: Insulated against Political Turmoil

Image courtesy of The White House/Flickr.

This article was originally published by the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) on 13 August 2019.

Headlines are rife with stories about political turmoil in transatlantic relations, and bitter disputes over trade and defence spending. Yet for the US Intelligence Community, ties with transatlantic partners have remained insulated against political differences. History shows that intelligence relationships follow their own logic.
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Oversight and Intelligence Services: the Case of Switzerland

Antennas in Loèche, part of Switzerland's Onyx data gathering system

Antennas in Loèche, part of Switzerland’s Onyx data gathering system. Photo: Rama/Wikimedia Commons.

In 1989, a Swiss parliamentary committee revealed that the country’s Federal Police and Federal Prosecutor’s Office had spent decades recording the activities of 10% of the Swiss population. It seems that during the Cold War, being a member of a left-wing organization, or even contacting it, raised the eyebrows of these agencies. But they weren’t alone. In time, the Swiss postal service and even private individuals began to perform this type of surveillance.

When they were finally informed about these activities, the Swiss public was predictably shocked by the scope and scale of the “Secret Files Scandal”.  What concerned them then is what concerns everyone now – i.e., the often absent legal justifications for such activities and the inadequate democratic oversight exercised over those who perform them.

The “Insurmountable Tension”

The Swiss case, along with the recent revelations about the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) activities, points to what many analysts and practitioners have long argued is an indissoluble problem. Yes, secrecy is necessary to prevent ‘legitimate’ surveillance targets from knowing they are under scrutiny, and thereby changing their modus operandi.  At the same time, this necessary feature of intelligence work inevitably breeds a lack of transparency and needed oversight. » More

Surveillance and American Liberty

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty at dusk. Photo: gimmeahug/flickr.

CAMBRIDGE – Ever since Edward J. Snowden disclosed the National Security Agency’s ongoing collection of massive amounts of electronic-communications data generated by United States citizens and non-citizens alike, attention has been lavished on his personal status. But the more important issue, even before Russia granted him temporary asylum, is the status of American civil liberties. Is the US guilty of hypocrisy, as Russia, China, and others have charged?

To answer that question, it is important to distinguish between two issues that have become conflated in public debate: electronic espionage against foreign entities and domestic surveillance of a government’s own citizens. » More

Kyrgyz Secret Police to Monitor Web

Bits, bytes, and cyberspace

How secure is the Kyrgyz cyberspace? Photo: University of Maryland Press Releases/flickr.

Observers have questioned the need for Kyrgyzstan’s security service to monitor websites to identify hate speech.

The State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, is setting up a system to monitor the internet, with a particular focus on news sites with the .kg domain name, and plans to launch it in early autumn.

Using a web search engine that looks for certain words or phrases, the agency will seek to identify content liable to incite hatred on grounds of ethnicity, religion and even regional origin, in the wake of the ethnic violence that rocked southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010. » More