In fact, there is a long history of all kinds of governments exploiting commercial communication companies to collect foreign intelligence in bulk to further their interests and protect their national security. The British and U.S. governments have themselves been previous perpetrators of such exploitation—and victims.
Technology from China’s decade-old scavenger satellite programme has been used in the development of new weapon systems powered by artificial intelligence, according to a recently declassified document and scientists involved in the programme. The small satellites, including some lighter than 10kg, can grab onto uncooperative targets such as dead spacecraft tumbling in near-Earth orbit.
Collecting intelligence for someone who doesn’t want it is at best a waste of money, and at worst a prescription for disaster. Again, the Soviet example is a good one. In the lead-up to the second World War, and repeatedly during the war years, the Soviet Union squandered intelligence from the best spy network ever. Perhaps the biggest geo-strategic blunder in history was the Soviet failure to anticipate Operation Barbarossa, the 1941 Nazi invasion which almost led to the annihilation of the Soviet state.
The poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter earlier this month has significantly worsened already tense relations between Moscow and the West. The crime marks the first chemical weapons attack on Western Europe since the end of World War II.
Australia is the canary in the coal mine of Chinese Communist Party interference. Over the past 18 months, the country has been shaken by allegations of the Chinese party-state working to covertly manipulate the Australian political system and curate the wider political landscape. There are claims of Beijing-linked political donors buying access and influence, universities being co-opted as “propaganda vehicles,” and Australian-funded scientific research being diverted to aid the modernisation of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
Of course there’s a Deep State. Why wouldn’t there be? Even a cursory understanding of human nature tells us that power corrupts, as Lord Acton put it; that, when power is concentrated and entrenched, it will be abused; that, when it is concentrated and entrenched in secrecy, it will be abused in secret. That’s the Deep State.
International institutions offer spies incredibly easy places to ply their trade. Although this is a sensitive topic, it may be these institutions’ most important contribution to international stability. While organisations like the United Nations and African Union emphasize their contributions to peacemaking and sustainable development, their headquarters are also hunting grounds for spooks. Last month, Le Monde revealed that Chinese intelligence services have been downloading vast amounts of data from the servers at the AU’s offices in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, every night for five years.
From Washington, Moscow and Beijing to Tokyo, governments around the world will continue to squander money on espionage and counter-espionage. It is a great shame for taxpayers – most of these operations are so secretive that they are not accountable to the public nor subject to supervision. They are inherently wasteful and do not always serve the greater good of all. If deployed elsewhere, even a fraction of the resources would solve many problems we are facing today, but it is naive to believe things will be otherwise.
Despite its lack of name recognition, the NGA’s (National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency) headquarters is the third-largest building in the Washington metropolitan area, bigger than the CIA headquarters and the U.S. Capitol. Completed in 2011 at a cost of $1.4 billion, the main building measures four football fields long and covers as much ground as two aircraft carriers.