Isn’t this what spies are supposed to do?

Documents released by American whistle-blower Edward Snowden claim that Britain spied on the Argentine government for several years.

British agents are alleged to have been actively spying on Argentina between 2006 and 2011 as part of a large-scale operation.

Err, yes? It’s rather the point isn’t it? Keep an eye on people who claim your sovereign territory, the people you’ve recently been to war against?

37 thoughts on “Isn’t this what spies are supposed to do?”

  1. Bloke in North Dorset

    Gross dereliction of duty if they hadn’t.

    I’m reminded of the brouhaha when the Soviet Trade Mission building was demolished in the ’80s and someone found a “bug”. The only crime there was having the bug discovered.

  2. Surreptitious Evil

    The whole Snowden revelations saga has been a grotesque example of people simply not knowing what the point of having intelligence services is for.

    Or, worse, knowing exactly what they are for and having (Frau Merkel) hypocritical fits of the vapours when intelligence services are demonstrated to have been, knock me down with a feather, collecting relevant intelligence.

  3. Surreptitious Evil

    Of course, for an older generation, the point of having intelligence services was to provide plausible day jobs for KGB agents 😉

  4. I seem to remember that the same types complaining about this gave Maggie’s MI6 a lot of stick for missing it the last time the Argies were building up to have a go.

  5. All the Snowden stuff is about journalistic hype. He’s basically got nothing, and some of the revelations are simply traitorous.

  6. Err, yes? It’s rather the point isn’t it? Keep an eye on people who claim your sovereign territory, the people you’ve recently been to war against?

    The claim is that the alleged large scale operation may have involved not just collecting intelligence but implanting computer viruses and circulating false propaganda all with the intent of diminishing or destabilising the government. That’s rather more than “keeping an eye on people”. If it’s true.

    Also, the Falklands War ended 14 June 1982. The alleged operation occurred between 2006 and 2011, so I question the use of “recently”. Although the Argentine government does often make noises about the Falklands.

  7. My only reaction this was “Why only several years? WTF were they doing the rest of the time?”

  8. So Much for Subtlety

    ukliberty – “circulating false propaganda all with the intent of diminishing or destabilising the government. That’s rather more than “keeping an eye on people”. If it’s true.”

    Sorry but human rights law says that singing Hitler only has one testicle is a war crime? Something governments are not allowed to encourage?

    “Also, the Falklands War ended 14 June 1982. The alleged operation occurred between 2006 and 2011, so I question the use of “recently”. Although the Argentine government does often make noises about the Falklands.”

    They still claim them. They continue to point out they intend to take them. How is it not the responsibility of the British government to keep an eye on them? Or even to destabilise them? Not that they need any help doing that.

  9. SmfS,

    Sorry but human rights law says that singing Hitler only has one testicle is a war crime? Something governments are not allowed to encourage?

    Does it?

    They still claim them. They continue to point out they intend to take them. How is it not the responsibility of the British government to keep an eye on them?

    I didn’t say it isn’t – I think we should keep an eye on them. I’m not bothered about surveillance of governments.

    Or even to destabilise them? Not that they need any help doing that.

    Well that’s the debate isn’t it? The benefits-vs-tradeoffs of actions that go beyond surveillance with the intent to diminish or destabilish a government we aren’t presently or imminently at war with.

  10. but implanting computer viruses and circulating false propaganda

    Computer viruses are used for intelligence gathering, not all of them are destructive.

    “False propaganda” is from the view of the current government, it might actually be the truth the government doesn’t want to be known.

    Fernandez-Kirchner was elected in mid 2007, the one who’s recently been rattling sabres about the Falklands, and the economy was going t*ts up around that time also, with some political issues (Peron arrest, dirty war convictions, etc), and we all know what happens when an Argentine government wants to divert attention away from home problems, so perhaps that was a good move.

  11. bloke (not) in spain

    “all with the intent of diminishing… the (Argentine) government.”
    How TF do you diminish the Argentine government? Apart from becoming La Presidente, that is?

  12. bloke (not) in spain

    As for implanting computer viruses in their government’s computers, I should think their computers garner enough viruses from government ministers surfing obscure pr0n sites without the spooks at Vauxhall Cross exerting themselves

  13. Bloke in Costa RIca

    “Like Obama was outraged at Mossad spying on his secret nuke talks with the Mullahs.”
    Which spying was discovered by…the Americans spying on the Israelis.

    The reason you spy on allies is to find out the optimum points to spend your limited supply of diplomatic capital. No sense pushing on an open door. And the reason you spy on grubby Latin American fascists who are making belligerent noises about some of your overseas possessions is so that with any luck you can deploy your hunter killers to the area just before they invade and drown six or seven thousand of their soldiers.

  14. ” … a government we aren’t presently or imminently at war with”

    is a government which, by its own account, we are permanently imminently at war with.

  15. Surreptitious Evil

    I’ll wager any of the regulars a case of decent plonk that “until 2011” is actual “until Snowden’s information access stopped” not “until we stopped snooping”*.

    Of course, if you have a look at the ancient history on my blog, you can see when I was down there. Which, unless the evening G&T and wine has already rotted the brain, was after 2011. You might want to check the meta-data on the photos (asuming uploading them to Blogger hasn’t stripped it.)

    * Please take this bet.

  16. So Much for Subtlety

    ukliberty – “Does it?”

    You are the Human Rights lawyer. I am just trying to work out why you think the British government mocking another government should be a cause for criticism. If it is somehow unacceptable to say that the President of Argentina is a deranged lunatic, is it a violation of human rights law to say John Major tucked his shirt into his underwear? Certainly it was not diplomatic for someone in the British Embassy in Washington to say that when President Woodrow Wilson proposed to his wife she was so surprised she fell out of bed. But I don’t see it as an incident verging on war.

    “I didn’t say it isn’t – I think we should keep an eye on them. I’m not bothered about surveillance of governments.”

    Then I am not quite sure what you are objecting to here.

    “Well that’s the debate isn’t it?”

    Not really. When they murder their own judges for looking into disgusting deals with the Iranians to cover up the murder of Argentinian Jews, there is little we can do to make the situation worse. No matter how much we “diminish” the Argentinian government.

    “The benefits-vs-tradeoffs of actions that go beyond surveillance with the intent to diminish or destabilish a government we aren’t presently or imminently at war with”

    Computer viruses are a crime. We shouldn’t be doing that. But I don’t see how singing derogatory songs is an issue.

  17. sackcloth and ashes

    ‘with the intent of diminishing or destabilising the government’.

    As if the latter-day Evita wasn’t doing this with every day she misgoverned Argentina.

    ‘Also, the Falklands War ended 14 June 1982. The alleged operation occurred between 2006 and 2011, so I question the use of “recently”. Although the Argentine government does often make noises about the Falklands’.

    They do more than ‘make noises’ about the Falklands. They make repeated demands for their ‘return’, have waged economic war against the islanders, and are currently looking to lease Russian jets for their air force. That’s all pretty threatening behaviour.

    Oh, and just to reiterate the point – the kelpers almost to a man and woman want to be British citizens, and have repeatedly reaffirmed their right to self-determination.

    Not that that seems to matter to someone who has chosen a singularly inappropriate moniker.

  18. All the Snowden stuff is about journalistic hype. He’s basically got nothing, and some of the revelations are simply traitorous.

    Can’t have it both ways @anon, either he has nothing or what he has revealed has substance and he is a ‘traitor’ in the eyes of the US government, his former employer.

  19. @John Galt

    I was going to make the same point but decided that actually there might not be a contradiction there. It could all be “stuff everybody reasonably informed would guess to be true, but which is damaging as a propaganda coup for our enemies if publicly confirmed” for instance.

    I think I disagree more with the substance of anon’s claim. The press might have picked out stories based on how sellable the headlines are rather than the quality or surprise factor of the information revealed, but that doesn’t mean Snowden “had nothing”. The press don’t tend to focus on technical revelations for example – what readers would pay to read that kind of geekery? – but Snowden’s leak of technical information may be the most damaging.

    Moreover, I think various world leaders’ surprise at having their personal communications hacked into is probably genuine -their own intelligence services wouldn’t have let them use a personal cell phone, for instance, unless it was felt to be secure – even if their outrage was in past political artifice.

  20. SfmS

    Then I am not quite sure what you are objecting to here.

    The glib framing of the story (and others) as “spies spy”, or “this is what spies are supposed to do”, as if the allegation is only about keeping an eye on the foreign government.

    The more interesting article is, (1) is X something we should be doing and (2) was X done? (it turns out some of these ‘revelations’ are about ideas that were kicked around or PowerPoint presentations intended to impress the bosses.)

    Computer viruses are a crime. We shouldn’t be doing that.

    Why?

  21. sackcloth and ashes,

    and are currently looking to lease Russian jets for their air force.

    Would it be less threatening if they looked to lease American or French jets?

    Oh, and just to reiterate the point – the kelpers almost to a man and woman want to be British citizens, and have repeatedly reaffirmed their right to self-determination.

    Not that that seems to matter to someone who has chosen a singularly inappropriate moniker.

    Well, like other BOATs the Falklands aren’t part of the UK. But I do support their right to self-determination and if Argentina decided to invade I think the UK should defend the islands.

    Again, I do not object to surveillance of foreign governments, I am questioning activities that go beyond surveillance. For example, do you think Argentinians will be more or less happy with their government’s stance re the UK on hearing the UK may have implanted computer viruses and attempted to manipulate Argentine public opinion about their government?

  22. bloke (not) in spain

    “For example, do you think Argentinians will be more or less happy with their government’s stance re the UK …etc”
    I think you need t get a large dose of reality, UK LIB. Argentinian’s happiness with their government will depend on which particular set of lies they’re being fed by said government – with the compliant assistance of the Argentine media. Because that’s where they get their information from, forms their opinion. What Brit spooks get up to is almost irrelevant.
    But, then, you could say almost exactly the same about the Brit’s relationship with their own government.

  23. sackcloth and ashes

    ‘Would it be less threatening if they looked to lease American or French jets?’

    No, you pillock, it’s the capability not the source that counts.

    Ask any of the Operation ‘Corporate’ veterans worried about Mirages armed with Exocets.

    ‘I do support their right to self-determination and if Argentina decided to invade I think the UK should defend the islands’.

    Well that’s very mighty of you, kind sir, but don’t you think it might be a good idea for GCHQ and SIS to actually be a bit proactive and spot signs of a threat to invade before it manifests itself?

    As for the more wider aspects of Snowden’s claims about disinfo, I think it’s worth noting here that there’s been a bit of a gap (to put it quite mildly) between his allegations and reality.

  24. Computer viruses are a crime. We shouldn’t be doing that.

    Most intelligence work, just like a lot of military work, would be considered criminal under both UK law and the laws of the country being surveilled or attacked. Of course, a warrant under s7 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994 covers quite a lot of things as far as UK law is concerned, just as adhering to the “Law of Armed Conflict” covers the military stuff.

    The difference being that there is a large body of international humanitarian law and general agreement on the principles (military necessity, distinction, proportionality and humanity)* as far as military activities are concerned, whereas intelligence work lacks any such open, international agreement**. Despite this, many or even most governments do intelligence stuff. Spying, bugging, surveillance and even assassinations.

    All the Snowden stuff is about journalistic hype. He’s basically got nothing, and some of the revelations are simply traitorous.

    Snowden has revealed the existence of some specific operations, which are embarrassing for our political masters (who like everybody else’s like to pretend that intelligence stuff doesn’t happen), and some TTPs***, or enough material for the opposition to derive TTPs to some extent, which has actively damaged intelligence capabilities.

    Treasonous? It really depends on whether you think that the Bill of Rights (particularly the First and Fourth Amendments) over-rides the Espionage Act 1917 and government service duties of secrecy. The Obama administration clearly doesn’t however the Supreme Court has disagreed with previous administrations on a number of occasions.

    * For those interested in more depth on this stuff, the UK Manual on the Law of Armed Conflict, JSP 383, is available for download on gov.uk Or, even, on Amazon.

    ** However, there are some fairly broad agreements – within organisations such as NATO and also in less open clubs such as the “Five Eyes” nations.

    *** TTPs – Tools, techniques and procedures. In military as opposed to intelligence use, the first “T” is normally “tactics”.

  25. sackcloth and ashes,

    don’t you think it might be a good idea for GCHQ and SIS to actually be a bit proactive and spot signs of a threat to invade before it manifests itself?

    I do not object to surveillance of foreign governments.

    That’s the third time. I put it in bold to make it harder to miss.

    As for the more wider aspects of Snowden’s claims about disinfo, I think it’s worth noting here that there’s been a bit of a gap (to put it quite mildly) between his allegations and reality.

    There is indeed, which is why I used the words “alleged” and “if it’s true”. Perhaps your eyes skipped over those, too.

    Some of them have been ideas that were kicked around among colleagues and peers. Some of them have been in PowerPoint presentations intended to impress the bosses about what is close to being achieved or could be achieved. Not all the so-called revelations are of things that have actually been done.

  26. John Galt and others,

    “Can’t have it both ways @anon, either he has nothing or what he has revealed has substance and he is a ‘traitor’ in the eyes of the US government, his former employer.”

    I’m saying that none of the stuff that might be classed as “whistleblowing” (showing governments as bad) adds up to much. He hasn’t exposed anything illegal. He doesn’t have a single case that didn’t go through the FISA process, or anything suggesting that the FISA process doesn’t work.

    But what’s the US national interest, or even moral case, for exposing the espionage activities of a NATO member against a non-NATO member that attacked it?

  27. I think you need t get a large dose of reality, UK LIB. Argentinian’s happiness with their government will depend on which particular set of lies they’re being fed by said government – with the compliant assistance of the Argentine media. Because that’s where they get their information from, forms their opinion. What Brit spooks get up to is almost irrelevant.

    Seems odd, then, that we’d spend resources on trying to manipulate their opinions. If that actually happened.

  28. sackcloth and ashes

    ‘I do not object to the surveillance of foreign governments’.

    So why all the snuffleposts on this thread then about the fact that the British intelligence services are … erm … spying on a foreign (and not particularly friendly) government?

  29. sackcloth and ashes,

    ‘I do not object to the surveillance of foreign governments’.

    So why all the snuffleposts on this thread then about the fact that the British intelligence services are … erm … spying on a foreign (and not particularly friendly) government?

    I don’t know what a “snufflepost” is.

    The article that prompted Tim W’s post included allegations in addition to “UK gov conducted surveillance on Argentina”.

    My first post questioned Tim W’s (and others) framing or outline of the story as being solely about the surveillance of Argentina not the surveillance of Argentina. While that may have been unclear to an uncharitable reader, I did state in my second post that “I’m not bothered about surveillance of governments”. Yet evidently you hadn’t read or understood that.

    I can’t make it more simple than that.

  30. sackcloth and ashes

    ‘Snufflepost’ = Whiny comment left on a website, usually about a complete non-event.

    For example, comments above from you complaining about UK intelligence surveillance of Argentina.

    Despite your comments, you are complaining about a non-event. British spies want to gather intelligence about a country which invaded an overseas territory and tried to colonise it, and which is still maintaining a claim despite the wishes of its inhabitants.

    Shock. Fucking. Horror.

    That is all there is to this story.

    There is of course the additional gloss about cyberwar and destabilisation, which is of course coming from Argentinean journalists. But without any independent confirmation, that is just bollocks.

    Admit that you decided to sign out the keys for the outrage bus without checking if it was roadworthy, and move on.

  31. I’m not outraged or complaining. And the only emotion I’m feeling about the story and the thread is bemusement about your bizarre misapprehensions.

  32. sackcloth and ashes

    Chap,

    You are the one who is throwing a hissy fit here, not me. Pardon me for pointing that out.

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