In the United States, the Bill of Rights protects Americans from governmental invasions of privacy. And while the National Security Agency has used the terrorist boogeyman to eviscerate many of the privacy protections, there are, believe it or not, still some limitations on the lengths the agency can go to spy on Americans.
So what’s a nosy NSA desk jockey to do when he can’t intrude quite as much as he would like? Simple: contract spies in countries where American privacy protections are completely void.
British newspaper The Guardian revealed Friday that the leaked documents provided by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden contain information about hundreds of millions of dollars in secret U.S. payments to the U.K.’s Government Communications Headquarters over the past three years. The NSA put the powerful British intelligence agency on the payroll because the nation’s loose privacy laws allow GCHQ to do some of the dirty work that even the Constitution-abrogating NSA deems out of bounds.
And the American spies expect the British spies to get the job done. “GCHQ must pull its weight and be seen to pull its weight,” said a GCHQ strategy briefing obtained by The Guardian.
Another leaked document reveals that the Brits value the relationship strongly, fearing “US perceptions of the… partnership [could] diminish, leading to loss of access, and/or reduction in investment… to the UK” if they fail to deliver.
The leaked documents also reveal that U.S. taxpayers pay half of the operation costs for a British intelligence facility in Cyprus and partially fund operations at several other facilities across the pond.
The Guardian also reported on the GCHQ’s expanding surveillance capabilities:
• GCHQ is pouring money into efforts to gather personal information from mobile phones and apps, and has said it wants to be able to “exploit any phone, anywhere, any time”.
• Some GCHQ staff working on one sensitive programme expressed concern about “the morality and ethics of their operational work, particularly given the level of deception involved”.
• The amount of personal data available to GCHQ from internet and mobile traffic has increased by 7,000% in the past five years – but 60% of all Britain’s refined intelligence still appears to come from the NSA.
Evidently, our government is now paying Great Britain to spy on American citizens without the burden of Constitutional limitation — more than two centuries after rebelling against the British government for the very type of citizen abuse U.S. leaders are now seeking to impose on their own subjects.