Spying on the spies, a roundup of NSA news

State Department insider says German chancellor's reaction to phone tap may be an act; an enterprising tweeter works some spycraft on the NSA; Snowden speaks out; and more.

Edward Moyer Senior Editor
Edward Moyer is a senior editor at CNET and a many-year veteran of the writing and editing world. He enjoys taking sentences apart and putting them back together. He also likes making them from scratch. ¶ For nearly a quarter of a century, he's edited and written stories about various aspects of the technology world, from the US National Security Agency's controversial spying techniques to historic NASA space missions to 3D-printed works of fine art. Before that, he wrote about movies, musicians, artists and subcultures.
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Edward Moyer
4 min read
You should've thought of that *before* you started tweeting, my friend. Bwahahahahaha... (see below) Tom Matzzie/Twitter

The NSA's bulk collection of what sometimes seems to be just about anything about anybody generates so much news that it requires a bulk approach to keep up with it all. Here's a brief rundown of some recent surveillance-related tidbits.

Spying on bigwigs is apparently no biggie
Christian Whiton, a former senior adviser at the US State Department, says Germany's and France's supposed outrage over NSA spying may well be for show. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was reportedly "livid" about the possibility that her cell phone was tapped by the US, but perhaps that was just to please her public. Whiton tells CNN:

I think especially with Germany and France, of course, they are very familiar with U.S. signals intelligence, which is the technical term for eavesdropping...We use a lot of signals intelligence, we share it with our allies. And they spy on us too. France is one of the most aggressive collectors of intelligence. So what you are seeing is a bit of kabuki theater that will probably blow over before too long.

There's more from Whiton here, and -- not to imply that we condone spying on friends (or fail to recognize the various and sundry dangers of mass surveillance) -- we'd probably be a little less than shocked to discover that he was right about the kabuki theater. We'll see.

Tweeter turns tables on NSA
It's not every day you get to spy on a spy, but former MoveOn.org director Tom Matzzie got his chance Thursday. Matzzie was riding the Acela express train between New York and Washington, DC, when he realized former NSA Director Michael Hayden was sitting near him and giving a phone interview to a reporter "on background" (meaning Hayden didn't want to be identified).

Matzzie decided to live-tweet the call, in a manner of speaking, and he topped off his tweets with a nice punch line. Here's some of the thread:




Will Hayden's victim-of-eavesdropping experience have a chilling effect on his willingness to serve as a confidential source for journalists? If so, there might be an ironic lesson in there somewhere for the former head spook.

Snowden makes a statement
Whistleblower Edward Snowden continued his recently renewed visibility by throwing his support behind this Saturday's Stop Watching Us rally in Washington, DC. The rally was put together by a coalition of more than 100 companies and advocacy groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as individuals, such as Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian. Snowden spoke up by way of a statement provided to the ACLU:

In the last four months, we've learned a lot about our government.

We've learned that the U.S. intelligence community secretly built a system of pervasive surveillance. Today, no telephone in America makes a call without leaving a record with the NSA. Today, no Internet transaction enters or leaves America without passing through the NSA's hands. Our representatives in Congress tell us this is not surveillance. They're wrong.

Now it's time for the government to learn from us. On Saturday, the ACLU, EFF, and the rest of the StopWatching.Us coalition are going to DC. Join us in sending the message: Stop Watching Us.

Snowden's co-stars
Snowden isn't the only one providing some star power for the Stop Watching Us event. The rally's publicity crew sent out a video yesterday starring actors Maggie Gyllenhaal, John Cusack, and Wil Wheaton; director Oliver Stone; and Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg; among others (special cameo appearances by Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover). Here's the vid: