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5 January 2014

George Mascolo on Edward Snowden

Google translation, tweaked by Cryptome.

Georg Mascolo

"When in doubt, we are outlaws"

Georg Mascolo knows the inner workings of intelligence agencies as well as almost any other journalist in Germany. A few weeks ago, the former Der Spiegel editor-in-chief interviewed the whistleblower Edward Snowden in Moscow. In an interview with Journalist, Mascolo talks about the level of intelligence surveillance, political and journalistic consequences and what information could still come to light.

Journalist: Do you keep your phone in the fridge at night?

Georg Mascolo: no.

Do you not worry that it is tapped?

I'm afraid that journalists can hardly put up a fight against a professional intelligence service. I would always be careful what I entrust to email. I also would not discuss anything on the phone. But I do not place smartphones in refrigerators or in cookie jars.

Do you not encrypt your mails?

It depends.

The recently departed office data protection officer of the Federal Government, Peter Schaar, said in a recent interview time, we must feel them watching us. Do you share?

Yes. Before we could only assume that we must feel them watching us. Thanks to Edward Snowden we know it now. However, the bottom line is, in my view, is are we being watched as journalists in Germany by German authorities. As we enjoy a pretty good protection. For all foreign intelligence we are outlaws, no doubt.

You have met Edward Snowden in Moscow and talked with him for almost three hours. Has he told you things of which we know nothing?

Yes, he has. And he has insisted that large parts of this conversation to be treated as off-the-record, so that also applies to our conversation here. What I can share with you is my impression of Edward Snowden. This is a man of 30 years who has decided to take a huge risk upon himself, to share very important information with us. He is the most important whistleblower of all time. He has thereby chosen a very unusual way. A way that whistleblowers usually do not go.

He outed himself.

And he has made a point to do this from the start. His life, as he knew it by then, stopped. He estimates that is very realistic. Probably it is now a life on the run, because he expects from America nothing more than a long prison sentence in a maximum security prison. If you ask him if he would still do it again, then his answer is: "Yes, I would because I'm proud of what I have achieved so far ..." This attitude deserves respect.

Could the information that you do not want to share, help the Geramn federal government capture the full extent of the monitoring better - and more importantly to prove?

You've got the federal government and the rest of the world to understand what happened. Among experts and journalists, there has been no doubt as regards the operation of the NSA, the Five Eyes and many other intelligence agencies in the field of electronic surveillance. Nevertheless, it makes a difference whether one suspects anything or if you can prove it. And in many places Edward Snowden has revealed a level of supervision that even those who have been working on it taken by surprise. The Internet industry has promised secure encryption standards, but they do not exist. The code will be handed out either under legal threat from the industry to the NSA and the GCHQ, or they are cracked or stolen. This is the same for other intelligence agencies. I am waiting impatiently for a whistleblower from France, Great Britain, Russia and China.

They say the operation was known?

There is a very close cooperation between the telecommunications industry and the intelligence services. In the U.S., this is true for decades: In the past have been in the U.S. telegraph company at the end of each day and night shifts all the telegrams that had been sent in one day from the USA, initially collected on paper. Later, it was then floppy disks. And today there are probably a direct online access to the data traffic. We must now suspect, however, that the intelligence community to go one step beyond this close collaboration with the communications industry also. They also attack on those areas illegal to them, the industry has not been made available.

Is this data hunger of Americans ever to be tamed - and if so, how?

The only German citizen who today has been an assurance of the USA, that it is no longer bugged, the German Chancellor. This has been promised to her in person by the U.S. President. 80 million other Germans are still waiting for such a no-spy agreement. Another way besides the political solution is as promising in my view. With the support of the German government, Deutsche Telekom and 1 & 1 have made proposals which it comes in certain areas to route future telecommunications only within Germany or implemented within the Schengen area. I'm not fond of this idea, because the Internet "Balkanization" can never be a good idea. If this approach is used, however, in order to put pressure on the U.S. telecommunications industry and the White House, it is rightly done.

Can the White House put pressure on Europe?

Edward Snowden has helped us understand something very important, that the Internet is the greatest gift for our generation. But it's been built for very specific reasons so that virtually the entire Internet traffic in the world passes through servers in the United States. One of those reasons was dominance. The other was the possibility of surveillance by U.S. intelligence agencies. Now that we know this, we must indeed ask whether as a citizen, as journalists, as those in economic enterprises: Are we willing to hand over all our data to American servers, to American companies, if there is not a minimum level of protection, with promises that data and communications are secure? This is the big battle we are currently experiencing. The American Internet industry has come to understand that the NSA is the greatest threat to their business. That's why they protested so hard to Obama.

You have spent the last few months s a Visiting Scholar at Harvard. How did the Americans, with whom you have spoken, respond to Snowden's revelations?

In Germany, many think that the Americans do not care about this topic. There is not an American reaction. That's not my impression. Many Americans have long been outraged that there is mass screening in their country, even against American citizens. Something George Bush began after the September 11, 2001 with a presidential order in force. The New York Times had found it and wanted to publish it. But the White House threatened at the time: If you do that, you have blood on your hands. A year later, it was then published yet. Today, Congress debated the question of whether the so-called bulk metadata, ie the mass collection of data an American citizen, not to be terminated. A government commission appointed by Obama has now called for major changes: The NSA should not be allowed to collect and save the data itself.

It's in the debate on the monitoring of their own countrymen. And what about the rest?

Edward Snowden has opened our eyes at a critical point. Telecommunications has traditionally only protected by the law of the nation-state. So we will keep this in Germany too. Every German is protected by German law. Even a foreigner who is staying on German soil is protected. This is similar in America. Let's take my case, purely hypothetical: As long as I have worked in the U.S., my communication was protected because I was in the U.S.. It takes a special justification, listen to me. In the moment in which I use back here in Germany a smartphone, it does not need special authorization more, listen to me. The system is working. Following a similar model for very many states. You have certain rights for its own citizens and have for all those who are foreigners, in fact built fire-free zones.

And there is no questioning?

The Americans think this: You want to ensure the dominance of the U.S. Internet industry. You will also see the political damage, in Germany, Brazil, Mexico. You see with concerned proposals such as the Telekom to re-nationalize communication. And they wonder whether the monitoring in the U.S. goes too far. Just a U.S. federal court has declared the mass collecting data from U.S. citizens is potentially unconstitutional . Also at another point happened the ultimate: Unlike the Germans, who are very sensitive just because of Constitutional Court judgment, when it comes to metadata or any form of retention, the Americans have been based on a judgment of the Supreme Courts that comes from over 70 years. And they have used an analogy of this judgment it to say that the Supreme Court would not object to the gathering of metadata. I think that Americans in the future will come to see the collection of metadata the same as collecting content. If it does, then that gets the American and European legal position closer in a remarkable way.

Let's look to Germany, even here there are more and more surveillance. Keywords: inventory data, stock data, Federal Trojan. Do you feel that we have done our job as journalists Fourth Estate and our readers and viewers informed enough about the mechanisms that are at work here?

Yes, we were attentive and it is our obligation to fulfill. Unfortunately, it was sometimes difficult, especially in the times of the red-green government. I guess Schily very much, but sometimes he was not convinced that journalists must be protected from persecution by the state. What I have also argued with him! But in the end we are often quite important allies - it is the Federal Constitutional Court.

According to the Federal Network Agency asking 250 security authorities in Germany more than 36 million times a year - without a court order, without concrete suspicion, even in cases of offenses - from our inventory data. This includes PIN numbers and passwords, unless they have been deposited with the respective telecommunication companies. However, you are of the opinion that we need an additional data retention. Why?

The inventory data query takes place as a result of new legislation. Since caution is in order: We will have to make sure that it is not abused. Data Retention: Yes, I agree, if all requirements of the Constitutional Court are complied with. They are known to be very hard, that's good! Above all, the Constitutional Court warns that the query must remain the exception and not every crime can be used for reconnaissance. The fact that the data must be kept secure - and not by the state, as before in the United States. The fact that the data may only be stored for a short period, which must be less than six months. If all this is achieved with a new law, then I can live with it. But only then. The problem with the laws in the area of internal security is usually not that certain measures make sense. In the beginning is often argued with terrorism, but then, these heavy intervention in the civil rights in many, many other areas of criminal law are allowed. You can not. And I would also like to once again see that the state takes back in this area an ineffective or nonsensical law.

If you observe the operations in the UK and see how Guardian Editor in Chief Alan Rusbridger, with which you have together prepared the WikiLeaks cables, was summoned by the British Parliament, and placed under pressure - what you go there through your mind?

He is a great person and an outstanding editor in chief. That makes him calm enough to endure the insolence. Not even a question from a Member whether he loves his country, has brought him out of the rest. The operations in the UK I find worrying. I had dedicated myself to the British law even more intense. In advance of the entire WikiLeaks discussion there was at that time at The Guardian worry whether the British government could intervene due to the lack of constitutional protection of the British press. This was one of the reasons why the Guardian had decided to cooperate with the New York Times. The way the British government and parts of Parliament perform now is outrageous. My colleagues at The Guardian feel the very same way. I see now with power, whether it will stay with this threat of force, or whether it actually comes to initiate the formal investigation procedure.

How will it go?

We'll know in the course of 2014. On the merits, I think the actions of the British authorities warned The Guardian is wrong. Rusbridger has now spoken to more than a hundred American and British authorities. The journalists at the New York Times, the Washington Post and Der Spiegel, who work with the Snowden material, are very responsible. When Der Spiegel's Holger Stark and Marcel Rosenbach are entrusted above all, these are first-rate journalists. Before each story of the NSA and the British GCHQ will be given the opportunity to comment, to raise objections. The journalists heard the objections of why certain things were supposed to remain secret. I know to this day not a single story in which I would have alleged told The Guardian that he had gone too far. I believe that the opposite is the case. They behave according to all that I know, very responsible and meet the balancing that must take its own responsibility of any journalist. The state secrets of the state can not and should not be the state secrets of the journalist. In what kind of world we would live if the state would be the final authority in this matter? Formally, the torture was a state secret in Guantanamo. And the secret CIA prisons were a state secret.

The informant, who helped to bring the practice of water boarding to light now sits in jail.

Mark Felt, the secret investigation of the FBI broken to reveal the crimes of the Nixon administration. Der Spiegel's coverage of the Flick affair has only been possible because there was access to the investigation files of the prosecutor's office. We are in this field in a constant tension that can be resolved in any case by the fact that a state is first and last instance and must judge what journalists are allowed to publish. We have to decide on their own responsibility and take responsibility for it. I do not know the material of Edward Snowden, but I can imagine that there are probably also in situations that I would not publish. Something like it has been in the case of WikiLeaks also. Many things we have published, some we have retained.

What do you have to not publish?

A simple example: There was in the documents many names of informants of NATO forces in Afghanistan. To publish their name, they would have exposed to danger. In the diplomatic cables were listed lists of so-called critical infrastructures virtually all states. The American embassies had collected this. Where are certain Internet hubs, water supply and the like. Such lists should not fall into the wrong hands. I say that such material does not pass the test importantly, the question, namely: Is the public really relevant? We publish as journalists something simply because it is secret. We publish it only when it is relevant to public information.

Relevance or not, informants, whistleblowers, in some cases, journalists are sent to prison. If this policy of deterrence of Americans does not end up on us?

We experience a situation in which states try to intimidate journalists and whistleblowers at the same time. We experience it with a new safety law in Japan and in Turkey. We experience it on a different level in China, where foreign correspondents are now threatened with the withdrawal of their visas after the suppression of the local journalists who report on the compounds of party cadres with industry. We see it in how the UK warned The Guardian. And we experience it in the USA. There, the situation is particularly contradictory: There is on the one hand and intimidation at the same time the assurance that such a thing will not be repeated in the future. This year, James Risen, the New York Times reporter who refuses to reveal his source, may go to jail.

A high price.

There is obviously a major concern in many states. Much will be public. There is an attempt to prevent this. Journalists are being criminalized. And there is a still not unheard wave of persecution against the sources of journalists. In America, which is especially weird because it there are a president with Barack Obama, who had a lot of understanding for whistleblowers, at least before he became president. America has one of the most progressive laws to protect whistleblowers. If you make a whistleblower fraud at an American public authority, you can get behind even high financial rewards for doing so. Other areas of which are completely excluded: military and intelligence about. Who makes accessible information in these areas, will be prosecuted as a traitor. A truly logical separation I can not see there.

The declared enemies are not only terrorists, but also journalists and whistleblowers, whose crime is to report the truth? How could this happen?

I can understand the severity of the reactions only be explained to me that America is experiencing a type of whistleblowers, which it did not exist before. The whistleblower in the past was someone who called you, made you an information accessible. In rare cases, it was also someone who could copy a certain amount of paper. Now America is experiencing this new type. This whistleblower is able to do within a very short time practically the entire inner workings of a government, a secret, an Army dossier, public. And that has to do with the immense technical storage capabilities. In the history of the NSA, there was, as I recall a whistleblower, Katharine Gun, a Mandarin translator of British intelligence, who took a single document. The document showed that the NSA had arranged in advance of the 2003 Iraq war, that all those states who sat in the UN Security Council and had not yet decided to vote for Bush's war, should be specifically monitored. Thus, the White House would know who may still influence must be exercised. This was a single document! When Edward Snowden new American studies say that he had access to documents up to 1.7 million. Bradley Manning (the now called Chelsea Manning, editor's note) has burned hundreds of thousands of documents on CDs during his night shifts. Today we live in a time in which information can be leaked en masse. And Whistleblower may decide to bring first time a possible large [ungesichteten] inventory of documents to be obviously.

Disclosing secrets is not exactly the same thing with their "catch-all" policy?

Right. Edward Snowden says, however, that he had looked at and checked each document, whether it is the ultimate test: Is it information that must be published? I find that with the size and the sum of the documents that he has given himself, hard to believe. But since I do not know the material, I can not judge the final. This form of mass leakings is something that makes governments tremendously nervous.

When we look back on 2013, then since a lot of porcelain has been smashed. What remains is a distrust among the population against the state, told the media that have been so well exploited in part, over the Internet and telecommunications companies. How can this loss of trust be regained in society, and what is our role as journalists in this game?

It is not a game. Our task is, everything is still in the Snowden material and is newsworthy to publish. And all those who have now promised to change in the future to remember their promise.

What journalistic function will accompany these change processes critical in the future?

I had the good fortune to spend last fall only at the Woodrow Wilson Center and then at Harvard. My topic was the transatlantic relationship, and since the NSA affair played the major role. I had access that I as a journalist would hardly have had. That was a great privilege. Now it's back to my profession.

Now since you do not store your phone in the fridge, do you think it would be worthwhile, sometimes to call the NSA and to ask what Mr. Mascolo's up exactly?

If only.


About the Author

Richard Gutjahr is a freelance journalist and blogger . He hosts the Bavarian television and has a column in the Munich newspaper.