The Secret Anglo-American Empire of Intelligence


Robert Whitaker
Tarrant County College

There is a telling moment near the beginning of Citizenfour, the Oscar-winning documentary film featuring the initial interviews between NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and reporters. Snowden sits on the edge of a hotel bed describing a collection of documents to journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill. The documents, listed in a computer file directory, include material taken as part of the National Security Agency’s [NSA] global surveillance program. As Snowden talks, Greenwald and MacAskill lean forward to view the files, salivating over the potential headlines from the documents, particularly those concerning German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Snowden, however, remains distant from the excitement, offering the documents to Greenwald and MacAskill without editorializing and without pointing them toward specific stories. For Greenwald and MacAskill, it seems, the importance of Snowden’s revelations lie in the contents of the documents; for Snowden, the importance of the revelations remain the documents themselves and the information regime that made this archive available in the first place.

The most critical part of this information regime – one that Snowden mentions again and again throughout the course of Citizenfour – is the cooperation between America’s NSA and Britain’s GCHQ. He reveals that the NSA are “in love” with a GCHQ system called Tempora, which Snowden claims is responsible for collecting and processing more signals intelligence (SIGINT) than any of the NSA’s standalone programs. In addition to the amount of material provided, Tempora also shields the NSA from the potential legal attacks that the organization could encounter from similar data collection programs within the United States. Viewers of Citizenfour may be left with the impression that this sort of security cooperation between America and Britain is a recent phenomenon – one that resulted from the War on Terror. Yet Tempora is merely the most recent entry in the long history of collaborative security programs between the two countries. Continue reading “The Secret Anglo-American Empire of Intelligence”