In the past, when I've written about how federal and local surveillance has targeted and disrupted activist communities—which is a generous way to put it when you're talking about throwing some people into solitary confinement for non-crimes and scaring others into abandoning their right to protest—a familiar argument breaks out in the comments threads about how such surveillance is designed to detect terrorists.
The general tone behind the argument is that if you've been targeted with programs funded by post-9/11 fear money, you must have done something terrorist-y.
The U.S. National Security Agency has bugged the United Nations' New York headquarters, Germany's Der Spiegel weekly said on Sunday in a report on U.S. spying that could further strain relations between Washington and its allies.
Citing secret U.S. documents obtained by fugitive former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, Der Spiegel said the files showed how the United States systematically spied on other states and institutions.
Der Spiegel said the European Union and the U.N.'s Vienna-based nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), were among those targeted by U.S. intelligence agents.
In the summer of 2012, NSA experts succeeded in getting into the U.N. video conferencing system and cracking its coding system, according one of the documents cited by Der Spiegel.
"The data traffic gives us internal video teleconferences of the United Nations (yay!)," Der Spiegel quoted one document as saying, adding that within three weeks the number of decoded communications rose to 458 from 12.
Internal files also show the NSA spied on the EU legation in New York after it moved to new rooms in autumn 2012. Among the documents copied by Snowden from NSA computers are plans of the EU mission, its IT infrastructure and servers.
That "yay!" is cute, but here's the most important sentence:
"The surveillance is intensive and well organized and has little or nothing to do with warding off terrorists," wrote Der Spiegel.
Just remember that the next time you read about some anti-war activists, or anti-coal train activists, or anarchists, or even long-retired anti-WTO activists being targeted with levels of undercover scrutiny from a whole kaleidoscope of law-enforcement agencies that claim they are solely motivated by protecting you from harm.