Those privacy-hating Chinese communist tyrants

GOP senators protest China's surveillance of foreigners' e-mail and telephone communications. And they do it with a straight face.

Published July 30, 2008 10:16AM (EDT)

Associated Press, yesterday:

Foreign-owned hotels in China face the prospect of "severe retaliation" if they refuse to install government software that can spy on Internet use by hotel guests coming to watch the summer Olympic games, a U.S. lawmaker said Tuesday.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., produced a translated version of a document from China's Public Security Bureau that requires hotels to use the monitoring equipment. . . . .

Brownback said several international hotel chains confirmed receiving the order from China's Public Security Bureau. The hotels are in a bind, he said, because they don't want to comply with the order, but also don't want to jeopardize their investment of millions of dollars to expand their businesses in China.

Rocky Mountain News, October 11, 2007:
The National Security Agency and other government agencies retaliated against Qwest because the Denver telco refused to go along with a phone spying program, documents released Wednesday suggest. . . .

The secret contracts -- worth hundreds of millions of dollars -- made [Qwest CEO Joseph] Nacchio optimistic about Qwest's future, even as his staff was warning him the company might not make its numbers, Nacchio's defense attorneys have maintained. . . .

Nacchio planned to demonstrate at trial that he had a meeting on Feb. 27, 2001, at NSA headquarters at Fort Meade, Md., to discuss a $100 million project. According to the documents, another topic also was discussed at that meeting, one with which Nacchio refused to comply.

The topic itself is redacted each time it appears in the hundreds of pages of documents, but there is mention of Nacchio believing the request was both inappropriate and illegal, and repeatedly refusing to go along with it.

The NSA contract was awarded in July 2001 to companies other than Qwest.

USA Today reported in May 2006 that Qwest, unlike AT&T and Verizon, balked at helping the NSA track phone calling patterns that may have indicated terrorist organizational activities. Nacchio's attorney, Herbert Stern, confirmed that Nacchio refused to turn over customer telephone records because he didn't think the NSA program had legal standing.

In the documents, Nacchio also asserts Qwest was in line to build a $2 billion private government network called GovNet and do other government business, including a network between the U.S. and South America.

For my podcast show later today, I spoke with Tim Shorrock, the investigative journalist who has become the leading expert on the enormous, sprawling and rapidly growing consortium between the U.S. Government and private corporations (including the telecom industry) with regard to how intelligence, surveillance and defense activities of the U.S. Government are now carried out. The vast bulk of America's surveillance state and intelligence activities (budgeted at roughly $70 billion each year) are now outsourced to and performed by these private corporations. The precise financial dynamic which Sen. Brownback is impotently protesting in China -- that corporations are highly incentivized to assent to and enable all government spying lest they lose extremely lucrative government contracts (and, conversely, that they're eager to cooperate with the Government in order to receive more contracts and become further integrated in government activities) -- is exactly the dynamic that drives America's surveillance state.

Indeed, it was that very substantial profit motive -- as the Rocky Mountain News article above illustrates -- that led American telecoms in the U.S. not just to acquiesce to, but eagerly embrace, the Bush administration's desire to spy illegally on their customers' telephone and email communications. Those who agreed to help the Government break the law received far more of the billions and billions of dollars of government surveillance and defense contracts, while Qwest -- by refusing the Bush administration's requests for illegal spying -- was punished by being frozen out of this private-public consortium.

More inanely still, Sen. Brownback is specifically outraged by the intrusive spying activities in which the Chinese Government plans to engage with regard to the telephone and email communications of foreign visitors. From yesterday's AP article:

"These hotels are justifiably outraged by this order, which puts them in the awkward position of having to craft pop-up messages explaining to their customers that their Web history, communications, searches and key strokes are being spied on by the Chinese government," Brownback said at a news conference. . . .

Earlier this year, the U.S. State Department issued a fact sheet warning travelers attending the Olympic games that "they have no reasonable expectation of privacy in public or private locations" in China.

"All hotel rooms and offices are considered to be subject to on-site or remote technical monitoring at all times," the agency states. . . .

"If you were a human rights advocate, if you're a journalist, you're in room 1251 of a hotel, anything that you use, sending out over the Internet is monitored in real time by the Chinese Public Security bureau," Brownback said. "That's not right. It's not in the Olympic spirit."

Brownback and other lawmakers have repeatedly denounced China's record of human rights abuses and asked President Bush not to attend the Olympic opening ceremonies in Beijing.

Brownback was introducing a resolution in the Senate on Tuesday that urges China to reverse its actions.

That's the same Sen. Sam Brownback who voted last year to enact the Protect America Act, which "allow[ed] for massive, untargeted collection of international communications without court order or meaningful oversight by either Congress or the courts. It contain[ed] virtually no protections for the U.S. end of the phone call or email, leaving decisions about the collection, mining and use of Americans' private communications up to this administration." And it's the same Sen. Brownback who also voted for this year's FISA Amendments Act, which empowers the U.S. Government to tap directly into the U.S. telecommunications systems in order to monitor international emails and telephone calls with no individual warrant required.

The idea that the U.S. can exert meaningful leverage on China's surveillance behavior is laughable for reasons wholly independent of what the U.S. Government itself does with regard to spying on its own citizens. Nonetheless, to watch U.S. Senators like Sam Brownback actually maintain a straight face while protesting China's warrantless spying on the email and telephone communications of foreigners, and lamenting that private companies feel unfairly pressured to cooperate with China's government spying out of fear of losing lucrative business opportunities, is so surreal that it's actually hard to believe one is seeing it. How many days do we have to wait before we get to read a righteous Fred Hiatt Editorial condemning China's Communist tyrants for their outrageous spying intrusions? Maybe Jay Rockefeller can co-sponsor Brownback's Senate Resolution condemning China's surveillance activities and demanding that they stop it at once.

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By Glenn Greenwald

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