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Snowden’s N.S.A. Revelations and their Impact on Russia

Recently, Edward J. Snowden, 30, the former National Security Agency (N.S.A.) contractor, disclosed several secret American surveillance programs. He fled to Hong Kong and then to Russia. In June 2013, Snowden arrived in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport and in early August was granted asylum in Russia for one year under the condition that he stopped harming the United States. Recently, from the words of his lawyer, Anatoly G. Koucherena, he was offered and accepted a job with one of Russia’s major Internet companies. Putin, a former KGB agent, rejected U.S. pleas to send Snowden back to America where he would face espionage charges. By and large, Snowden’s revelations about U.S. phone and internet surveillance on and Russian officials’ behavior have had considerable repercussions for the country, – in its both foreign and domestic policies. On the diplomatic front, the fallout from the N.S.A. scandal has harmed U.S.-Russian relations to the point that experts have declared “the end of reset”, referring to the thaw initiated in 2009. From the standpoint of domestic policy, the Russian government has become more alert regarding IT security within Russia proper and has hastily started equipping its communication systems with extra protection. One important side-effect has been the creeping infringement of the privacy rights of Russia’s own people. Finally, the surveillance revelations have altered the global outlook on intelligence gathering and have spurred interest in multilateral regulation of cyber-espionage.
Regarding its foreign policy, “Russia’s disappointing decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum” has punctured relations with the United States. President Obama canceled his planned bilateral meeting with Putin due to take place in Moscow in September. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice approvingly commented on Obama’s decision, saying that Russia’s gesture was a “slap in the face to the United States of America”. Aleksei K. Pushkov, chairman of the Russian Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said the move heralded the end of the Obama administration’s “reset” policy. “The bilateral relationship has come to an impasse,” he said in a telephone interview to the New York Times. However, the cancellation of the meeting was not a complete break in Washington-Moscow relations. Obama still attended the annual conference of G-20 in St. Petersburg. Also, more importantly, the bilateral agreement on Syria appeared to signal more cooperative relations, at least for that moment.

The relationships between the two states will continue to develop with their usual ups and downs unfolding around different issues of international importance. Nevertheless, the bomb has exploded and the consequences are likely yet to come. The exposure of U.S. surveillance and the global fury that followed may lead to a major review of intelligence gathering rules in the global community and the formulation of an internationally binding agreement on spying through telecommunications and cyberspace. However, the latter would be hard to accomplish, both because agreements are time-consuming and context-dependent, ultimately limiting their usefulness. What other states can do now, however, is to protect themselves using their own ingenuity.
Russia is in the process of rethinking its information security policy and adopting robust measures to protect information and communication within the country. However, acting under guise of greater transparency, accountability for government, and better protection from foreign intelligence, Russian government actions are creating more secrecy, while at the same time attempting to obtain greater access to personal information of its citizens, in form of social networking and email data. Russia plans to fortify its information security by creating a state segment within the Internet that would protect the state-owned web-sites including communication and documentation. The Federal Guard Service (FSO) plans to launch the project on January 1, 2017. Individual users will be able to use it under condition that they pay for storing their data in the FSO servers. The work on the hosting-provider will be led by Russia’s major IT-companies such as Kaspersky Lab. The New York Times reports that “the Russian Senate is also proposing the creation of a United Nations agency to monitor collection and use of personal data, akin to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which oversees nuclear materials, to keep tabs on firms like Facebook and Google that harvest personal data.” Russian government employees are required to use special FSB-licensed applications instead of Microsoft’s built-in encryption on Windows. For Russian-based technology companies, the security requirements have gone even further. The FSB ordered Yandex, Russia’s largest search engine, to identify people offering any kind of support (online donations in particular) to the opposition leader Aleksey Navalniy. Yandex complied, and later, as New York Times reports, “these people received harassing phone calls from a Kremlin youth group.”

The Izvestiya newspaper suggests that Russia has gone even further in its protection measures against global electronic snooping – so far as returning to typewriting. The FSO submitted an order for 20 Triumph Adler typewriters on the government procurement agency website (Zukupki.gov.ru). According to their manufacturer’s description, the typewriters are designed to create relatively complicated documents and are recommended for printing secret documents.
Russia intends to apply enhanced security measures during the Olympic Games in Sochi. Russia’s FSB seeks to insure that no communication by both competitors and spectators remain unnoticed during the event, according to the report compiled by Russian investigative journalists who had achance to look into preparations for the 2014 Games. The journalists, Andrey Soldatov and Irina Borogan, found that major alterations have been made to telephone and Wi-Fi networks in the Sochi region. The main target of attention is the modernization of Sorm, Russia’s telecommunications interception system. Rostelekom, Russia’s largest telephone connection provider, is installing Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technology on mobile communication networks, allowing rich analysis of data passing through the network. For example, traffic can be monitored and recorded based on specified key words. DPI can also identify the individual user. Combining Sorm and DPI technologies allow authorities to identify users who have visited webpages of protesting groups or opposition activists and intercept the pertinent communication.

Besides protection against external espionage, such policy provides the state authorities with more power to control its citizens’ privacy. The latter threatens to severely tarnish trust (which already has repeatedly been proven to be weak) between an individual and a state. When citizens realize that their routine emails or Facebook updates can be spied on, they don’t feel more comfortable, but rather they think twice before sharing anything on the Internet or even having a personal call to a friend. Hence, the question – how much of our day to day life should be monitored in thename ofsecurity?where is the balance between privacy of an individual and transparency of a society? On the larger scale – globally – this question could be raised around the balance between sovereignty of a state and confidence in its relations with other states.


The disclosures of the N.S.A’s vast data collection program would not have been such a scandal had it solely monitored phone and internet communication of suspected terrorists. Although espionage has always been granted frowned looks, it has remained part and parcel of any country’s national security – to collect intelligence with a purpose to advance national security needs. However, in the N.S.A. case, when it became known that, Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, and one of America’s closest allies, was among the group of 35 foreign leaders with their phones tapped for over ten years, and when Google admitted that every email (including those of ordinary individuals) can be tracked, it was clear that America’s surveillance agencies have overplayed their hand. Most importantly, the scandal undermined international confidence not only in the United States, but it jeopardizes trust in relationships between international partners. ‘We don’t know if we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg or if other governments are acting in the same ruthless manner,’ Swiss president Ueli Maurer told the Schweiz am Sonntag weekly.
Now, states are undertaking collective actions aimed to combat further abusive electronic surveillance and to create binding regulations within the United Nations framework. Germany and Brazil drafted a joint UN resolution that condemns “indiscriminate” and “extra-territorial” surveillance, and ensures “independent oversight” of electronic monitoring. Russia, China and other countries “have submitted a draft international code of conduct for information security to the UN, and are working to advance relevant negotiations,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hua Chunying said October 29.
Realistically, once programs like those revealed by Snowden are started, they tend to continue despite numerous political efforts to halt them. Perhaps anger and pressure from the world community will influence Washington to restrain its behavior, but sooner or later, the restrictions and UN resolutions will fade into insignificance, as a result of the determination of U.S. intelligence and the relentless march of technological progress in the digital age. The United States will not willingly give up surveillance. Rather, it is more likely that it will upgrade to more sophisticated and subtle technologies – to continue actions that better serve its perceived national interest.


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