US spying agencies are out of control

Updated: 2013-11-15 08:18

By Chen Weihua (China Daily USA)

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When Internet security firm Mandiant issued a report in February accusing a so-called Shanghai-based People's Liberation Army Unit 61398 of hacking into the computers of a wide range of American industries, Congressmen, government officials, intelligence officers and a largely unquestioned news media in the US immediately jumped on the bandwagon railing against China.

No one listened when the Chinese denied the allegations and claimed that China itself has long been a major victim of cyber attacks, many of which originated from the US.

A story by Adam Taylor of New York-based Business Insider on Feb 19 was largely ignored in the US when the author, through his interviews with many Internet security experts, pointed out the many flaws of the Mandiant report.

Though Mandiant is still trying to recycle its speculative story into a report now being prepared by the US-government-funded US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, no one seems to be paying attention. Some so-called cyber security experts who ran amuck scorning China in the old days have also chosen to keep quiet.

The reason is simple. Whatever China or any other nations have done, it would just look insignificant compared to the gigantic spying scheme undertaken by the National Security Agency (NSA), as revealed by its former contractor Edward Snowden.

It has also become increasingly clear now why the US government had panicked so much after Snowden's initial exposure in June. Snowden has shown that NSA is spying virtually on everyone from world leaders and international institutions to corporations and ordinary folks.

Reuters reported last week that US President Barack Obama ordered a halt to eavesdropping on the Washington-based headquarters of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. He had earlier ordered a stop to spying on the United Nations.

The phone tapping of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and more than 30 world leaders in places such as in Brazil and Mexico showed the recklessness of the NSA's activities. So was the spying on Brazilian oil company Petrobras, China's telecom giant Huawei, as well as businesses in Europe and other parts of the world.

The New York Times' report last week that AT&T was giving the bulk of its call records to the CIA and getting paid as much as $10 million a year for it has added more to Snowden's early unveiling of NSA's phone data mining and spying on Internet giants such as Yahoo and Google. Last week Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt blasted the act as "outrageous".

The NSA has collected its data in Asian countries by installing equipment inside US embassies and in the diplomatic missions of other "Five Eye" nations, such as Australia, Britain and Canada, according to report by the Sydney Morning Herald. The news sparked outrage in the past weeks in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and other countries in the region.

With their huge technological edge over other countries, US spy agencies clearly feel they can do anything to break into another's privacy. In a sense, its cyber attacks on China must be vastly underestimated, since a large number of them may not even be detected by the Chinese side given the technology gap.

Embarrassed by protests from angry allies such as Germany, Obama has asked to review NSA's spying programs both in and outside the US.

But no one should be optimistic about such a review because the US has not been willing to reveal any of its illicit surveillance activities until they were exposed by whistleblower Snowden. The good thing is that more Snowden revelations are on the way.

If Obama truly feels that a lot of what NSA has been doing is wrong and should be stopped, he should thank Snowden for helping to expose these activities. I don't know if Mandiant would ever be interested in taking on an ambitious investigation into omnipresent global hacking activities engaged in by the NSA.

The author, based in Washington, is deputy editor of China Daily USA. Email: