The National Security Agency has the legal authority to spy on practically every foreign country in the world except its four closest allies, according to a top-secret, recently unveiled order from the secretive FISA Court.
A copy of the order came, as such things tend to, from former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden, and was published Monday by the Washington Post. As noted by the paper, it’s thought to shed light on how the agency uses Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, the legal authority for its PRISM program to efficiently get users’ data stored by American tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft.
In some senses, this shouldn’t be a surprise. There’s never been any doubt that the NSA, an agency devoted to gathering intelligence around the world, has a wide reach. Nor that it looks in a lot of places: In December, President Obama ominously stated that “outside of our borders, the NSA’s more aggressive,” and “not constrained by laws.”
But the order illustrates how utterly completist the NSA is. The order gives the agency a formal go-ahead for 193 countries—by some counts, that’s every government in the world, except the U.S. and those four allies—as well as “factions of foreign nations” like Palestine and the Turkish half of Cyprus, and major international organizations like the United Nations and World Bank.
It also reinforces the U.S.’s devotion to the “Five Eyes” partnership, established in the aftermath of World War II, in which the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand all agree to share intelligence and to not spy on each other. Indeed, a number of other programs revealed by Snowden are stamped with that relationship and are marked on each page with country codes for each: “REL TO USA, AUS, CAN, GBR, NZL.”
Those four countries are the glaring omissions in the FISC order, but other nations with whom the NSA has significant spying relationships, like Germany, are included.
Germany might not be such a clear and open target for the NSA in the future. The Obama administration recently began indications it would support legislation to give European Union citizens a modicum of privacy guarantees from the agency.