All U.S. embassies and consulates around the world spying on host nation citizens
publication date: Nov 6, 2010
With revelations that U.S. embassies in Oslo, Copenhagen, and Stockholm have carried out spying operations against the host citizens of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden from the respective embassies, comes news to WMR that the system carrying out the secret surveillance -- the Security Incident Management Analysis System or SIMAS -- not only also spies on citizens of the two Nordic partners of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, namely Iceland and Finland, from U.S. embassies in Reykjavik and Helsinki, respectively, but spies on individuals from all U.S. embassies and consulates around the world -- from Santiago, Chile and Canberra, Australia to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to Maputo, Mozambique.
The Finnish paper, Helsingin Sanomat, is reporting that the Finnish Security Police (SUPO) has asked U.S. authorities about the activities of SIMAS in Helsinki. One nation that has adopted a sanguine reaction to the U.S. embassy spy program is Denmark, described by one intelligence insider as a "zone of control" for U.S. surveillance activities in Scandinavia. The cooperation between the U.S. and Denmark in surveillance operations began under Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and it was one of the reasons he was rewarded by Washington with the job as Secretary General of NATO.
The Norwegian and Swedish governments have demanded answers to questions from U.S. authorities about SIMAS spying but State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley, a retired Air Force colonel who has historically been assigned by the CIA to oversee the Clintons, whether at the White House or, now, at the State Department, claimed that the government of Norway had been informed by the United States of SIMAS surveillance from a Surveillance Detection Unit (SDU) located in a building near the U.S. embassy in Oslo.
On November 4, Crowley was asked at a State Department press conference about his earlier statement that Norway had been informed about SIMAS. The question and answer session:
"Q. . . on Monday when I asked you, you said that the Norwegian Government was aware of these activities. They say they are not. So who's lying here?"
A. "I'm, we, the security of our Embassy involves cooperation between our security officials and Norwegian security officials. Ill just stand by those words."
Q. "But why have you hired a building outside Norwegian your Embassy in Norway, in Oslo, and filled it with Norwegian police officers and also Norwegian military officers?"
A. "That's a better question to ask our Embassy. I haven't been there in a while, so I can't provide you any insight."
Q. "But just to follow up. But both the State Department in Norway and also the Justice Department in Norway said they're not aware that you have some activities outside your Embassy building. Why haven't you informed the Norwegian Government?"
A. "Well, look, embassy diplomatic posts all over the world are ripe targets for a terrorist attack, whether they're U.S. embassies, whether they are the embassies of other governments. It is right and proper that we would take appropriate steps to protect our diplomatic posts anywhere around the world, and we would expect any government to do the same, whether its somewhere over out overseas or here in the United States. So we have a program where we look carefully to make to evaluate if we believe our Embassy is under observation and potentially under threat. We share that information across the United States Government. But as appropriate, we share that information with our host government partners. The essence of addressing this challenge which confronts the United States and other countries in the West is the very kind of intelligence cooperation and law enforcement cooperation that has been a hallmark of our alliances for a number of years. So how much the host nation government knows about specific activities, I can't say. But everything that we do is fully consistent with our security arrangements that we have with any host nation government anywhere in the world, including Norway."
Q. "Can I just follow up? Is there written agreements about this --"
A. "I can't say. At this point, I would just defer further questions back to our Embassy in Norway."
Media reports that U.S. embassy spying on civilians has been going on for the past ten years, since 2000. A State Department Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) submitted on January 5, 2010, states "The Security Incident Management and Analysis System (SIMAS) is a worldwide Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) web-based application, which serves as a repository for all suspicious activity and crime reporting from U.S. Diplomatic Missions abroad (all U.S. embassies and consulates). Department of State personnel, including Diplomatic Security personnel, regional security officers, and cleared foreign nationals, enter Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) into SIMAS as a central repository for all physicalsecurity incidents overseas. SIMAS Reports typically contain a detailed narrativedescription of the suspicious activity prompting the report, available suspicious person(s) and vehicle descriptors, and other identification data as may be available (e.g. photographs). Reports also indicate date, time and location of suspicious activity, and may include amplifying comments from relevant Bureau offices."
In other words, SIMAS is global and, in some cases, cleared nationals of foreign nations have access to the SIMAS system. The State Department was recruiting local foreign nationals to work with SIMAS in Accra, Ghana; Bujumbura, Burundi; and Sydney, Australia. Even U.S. citizens abroad are subjected to being subjected to spying by SIMAS. The PIA also states: "SIMAS collects and maintains the following types of PII [personally-identifiable information]on members of the public, foreign nationals, U.S. government employees, and contractors who are identified as being directly or indirectly involved in or associated with suspicious activities and/or criminal allegations near USG property. All types of information may not be collected on each specific group of individuals. However, it may be possible for all forms of PII to be collected on an individual."
Translating the government gobbledy-gook language, while SIMAS is not authorized to collect certain types of data on groups of individuals, when it comes to each individual, anything is fair game.
At the very least, SIMAS contains data on: gender, race, height, weight, eye color, skin tone, hair color, hair style, images, age or estimated age, body type (build), scars, marks, tattoos, name, address, date of birth, telephone number, father’s name, and mother’s name, citizenship status and Information.
SIMAS data is also shared with the Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Justice, Department of Agriculture, Department of Treasury, Department of Defense (including the National Security Agency), National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Department of Energy, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Department of Health and Human Services , the S Capitol Police, and all other US embassies and consulates around the world.
Although the PIA states that SIMAS data is retained by the Diplomatic Security Bureau according to a set retention schedule and is not shared for purposes other than crime and terrorism prevention, the same cannot be said for the other agencies that access and retain SIMAS data, including the CIA, FBI, and NSA.
The State Department PIA concludes that "SIMAS has been designed to minimize risk to privacy data." That is hard to believe considering the global access permitted to the system, as well as the fact that not only do a dozen or more U.S. agencies have access to the data but so also do foreign nationals.
So, if you are in Winnipeg or Warsaw, Lusaka or Lisbon, or Malabo or Paramaribo, and you stroll past the U.S. embassy or consulate, "smile, you're on clandestine camera and now in the SIMAS database."