In the frequent denunciations of Huawei and ZTE the inference is that these Chinese corporations are existing, or potential espionage agents of the Beijing Government and a threat to all who have been foolish enough to acquire their products. These threats, moreover, are held to be of a type that are politically, legally and ethically enjoined by the Five Eyes community and it is these axiomatic principles which distinguish it from others less scrupulous. To believe this requires a deposition of the type of religious faith which Voltaire saw resulting from the first knave’s encounter with the first fool. An examination of three propositions might suffice to indicate that Five Eyes’ protection involves a preference for an intra-alliance schedule of threats, costs and risk, which are never made explicit over another schedule of an external nature, not the absence of threats.
Proposition 1: Five Eyes is so tight-knit that it maintains control over all of its processes.
Fact: While Five Eyes is tight-knit, it sometimes becomes Nine Eyes ( adding Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and Norway); occasionally it becomes Fourteen Eyes (the Nine plus Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Sweden).
Singapore and Israel are also reported to have hybrid connections. Optus, the second largest telecommunications company in Australia is a wholly by Singtel – which is 78 percent owned by the Singapore government and known to be well-disposed to meet the latter’s requests for communications data. Nor is that the end of it: Optus outsources some of its customer functions to India and the Philippines.
Israel, of course, record of not only spying on the US but also of attacking US assets with lethal force. I refer to the attack on the USS Liberty in 1967, when the CIA’s chief of counter-intelligence, James Jesus Angleton – described generously as “dotty” and “subtly mad,” but more accurately as a drunken paranoid second-rate analyst and first-rate charlatan who projected omniscience – was allowing his pro-Israel bias to taint US intelligence and undermine US policy.
In another context this generosity towards temporary partners would be defined as promiscuous and quite likely an exercise in reckless endangerment. It is relevant, therefore, to note that, eventually, the Near East Division of the CIA produced a report declaring Israeli espionage to be the most serious threat to its secrets and interests (and thus justifying its espionage against Israel).
Programme proliferation matches membership proliferation, indicatively evidenced by the known codewords for them over recent times: Blarney, Echelon, Dancingoasis, Prism, Tempora, xKeystroke, Muscular, Pinwale, EgotisticalGiraffe, Stormbrew, Fairview, Oakstar, Mainway, Rampart-T, and Nucleon. Between them they aim to attack computers using certain types of legal privacy software, and overall to harvest, store, and analyse whatever internet traffic can be hoovered up.
We are told that all of this is under control, and that ASD would not use its resources to monitor Australian communications. If we assume this assurance to be true and given in good faith – is it worthless given that Australian mobile signals are frequently routed through other Five Eyes members who are not bound by the same self-denying ordinance.
Proposition 2: Five Eyes does not spy on its friends.
Fact: Wrong. Under the aegis of the NSA-CIA Special Collections Service (SCS), some 80 eavesdropping posts are known to be established in US embassies and consulates around the world for the purpose of intercepting communications in the host countries. Under the codename Stateroom, the NSA’s Five Eyes partners intercept communications in Asia and are direct contraventions of international law and the diplomatic conventions to which the Five Eyes partners are signatories.
In both the religious and the more general sense of the word the US is catholic in its interests and is known to have monitored the communications of the UN headquarters in New York; the EU Embassy in Washington, DC, and its mission to the UN in New York; German Chancellor Angela Merkel; Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff; at least two papal conclaves, including that which elected Pope Francis.
Noblesse oblige is practised and came to the fore with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s use of the Echelon programme, via a Canadian Five Eyes proxy, to spy on the conversations of at least two Cabinet Ministers (one being her Secretary of Defence, Michael Heseltine) who “weren’t onside” with her over certain policy matters.
Over time, illegalities became a matter of course, even in the US itself. Under President George W. Bush, the NSA was presidentially “authorised” to eavesdrop on American citizens’ faxes, emails and phone conversations but without seeking the required court orders, a scale of interception that was truly industrial. President Obama’s record offered little in the way of points of difference.
In the context of the charges levelled against China, Five Eyes has a working familiarity with the genus, economic and commercial espionage. Notwithstanding denials to the contrary, in some programmes – Blarney, for example – it is officially acknowledged. And prior to Blarney, Echelon was investigated by the European Parliament in the early 2000s on the basis of compelling evidence that US intelligence had engaged in industrial espionage against European rivals with a technological edge over US corporations.
Australia has followed suit. Project Larswood, among other things, allowed DSD (now ASD) to intercept, and feed to the NSA, a very wide range of Indonesian communications routed via that county’s US-(built and launched) Palapa satellite from the mid-1970s until at least the late 1990s.
When subsequently reports in 2013 detailed ASD’s monitoring of phone calls made by then President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife, and nine members of his inner circle, precedent was simply being followed.
Similarly with economic espionage: it is integral to the mission of ASD. Despite then Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s dishonesty on the matter, the signals intelligence operations run out of Kojarena in Western Australia are, inter alia, focused on Japanese trade communications. When required, other agencies can be recruited to the task, as evidenced by the operation which bugged the East Timorese Cabinet rooms in 2004 during the negotiations over the off-shore gas fields in the Timor Sea.
Proposition 3: Five Eyes members act with integrity towards each other and the wider membership of the Western alliance system.
Fact: The controversial and in many ways, unresolved Inslaw Affair mocks this belief. It not only involved the US Government acquiring intelligence-related software from a small IT operation under suspicious circumstances which sent the producer bankrupt, but subsequently illegally selling it (internally and internationally) with a “backdoor” for US agencies to hack into.
To these serial breaches of trust apologists will no doubt respond that reformative measures have been agreed on and are in place and this may in fact be the case. The problem is that the breaches support the proposition that they are the almost inevitable result of intelligence DNA, or a viral phenomenon – a meme – which translates and evolves a particular culture across generations.
Michael McKinley is a member of the Emeritus Faculty, the Australian National University.