Streetwise Professor

November 12, 2013

OMG! NSA Spied on OPEC! GOOD! I Will Sleep Better Tonight.

Filed under: Commodities,Economics,Energy,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 8:33 pm

The latest earth-shattering Snowden revelation emanating from the Russian Front aka Der Spiegel is that NSA and GCHC have spied on OPEC.

A couple of responses.

1. Duh. Or in the words of a Navy chief who left an indelible impression on me during Youngster Cruise: “That’s a real no sh*tter, son.”

2. Good!

Please. OPEC is of major economic and geopolitical importance. Of course it is a prime target for intelligence collection-and a legitimate one.  It is also an organization representing governments, many of whom are hostile to the US (Venezuela, anyone? Iran?), or of quite doubtful friendliness.  Many of its members-and I could probably say, all of its members-are hopelessly corrupt, and/or connected with terrorist organizations.

What would be scandalous is not that we’re watching OPEC with every means at our disposal, but that we were turning a blind eye.  I will sleep better tonight knowing that the NSA has not been delinquent in its duty to collect information on an economically important cartel that is really a congeries of corrupt anti-American nations.

And to the Berlin gang, I ask: do you seriously think that German intelligence isn’t vacuuming up every piece of information about OPEC that it can? (That question was purely rhetorical: I still haven’t caught a ride on the cabbage truck, let alone fallen off head first.)

Here’s an even better question: don’t you think that the Russians are aggressively spying on OPEC?  Hell, they are directing a major effort at the Finns-the Finns-for crying out loud.  Don’t you think that Russia, which lives and dies by the price of oil, has a major economic and geopolitical interest in OPEC decisions, and hence is straining every nerve to collect every piece of information it can about it?  If you answer “no”, then either (a) you are a pathological liar, (b) you are a Russian tool, or (c) not only did you fall off the cabbage truck head first, it backed over your melon several times.  (I’m placing heavy money on “b”.)

One of the “revelations” in the Der Spiegel story is that the NSA had collected information that confirmed that OPEC and Saudi Arabia had released misleading estimates of oil production.  Can you imagine the wailing and rending of garments at Der Spiegel had it uncovered accounting fraud at Siemens, let alone Exxon?

OPEC is a malign organization, and many of its members would have to undergo thorough reforms to graduate to becoming merely malign.  Not only should we be collecting all the information on it we can, we should be using that information to undermine it at every turn.

No doubt the Berlin gang and its echo chamber around the world will use this story to claim that the NSA is engaged in “commercial espionage.”  Um, engaging in espionage on commercial enterprises is different than engaging in commercial espionage.

Commercial espionage, properly understood, is the covert collection of information from foreign firms that is then utilized to benefit commercial entities in the country engaged in the spying.  The Chinese, Russians, and yes, the French, are notorious for this.  Their intelligence agencies steal intellectual property, business plans, etc., and provide it to domestic firms who use it to improve their products, win contracts, etc.

Nothing in the stories that Der Spiegel or Greenwald have produced based on Snowden leaks demonstrate that information collected from commercial or quasi commercial organizations (OPEC, Petrobras) has been provided to American companies, to advance their commercial interests.  Indeed, the absence of specific disclosures of this nature is revealing in its own way: you know that if Snowden had evidence that this occurred, Greenwald and Der Spiegel would be shouting it from the rooftops.

The whole Snowden narrative has gone well beyond stale and tiresome. The only people who are outraged are those who want to be outraged.  Those who are looking for a reason to be outraged. Those willing to suspend disbelief in order to feed their desire to play the outraged victim. Serious people who know the way the world works react with disdain.  Sadly, such people seem to be in short supply, while there is a surfeit of wannabe victims, especially in Germany.

Update: I was especially amused at the “revelation” that OPEC tried to pin the rise of oil prices on “speculators”.  I made a presentation on the impact of speculation on energy prices at a conference at Champouloc in January, 2008 (before the big runup in prices in the spring and summer) at which I quoted several statements by OPEC officials blaming speculators for high oil prices.  As I recall, I sang a chorus of of Chuck Berry’s “It Wasn’t Me!” to make the point.  You didn’t need the NSA to uncover this great insight.  You just needed to read the energy press.

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  1. And to the Berlin gang, I ask: do you seriously think that German intelligence isn’t vacuuming up every piece of information about OPEC that it can?

    Especially since it is headquartered in Vienna. They’ve probably bought the sewers underneath and the building next door.

    Comment by Tim Newman — November 12, 2013 @ 10:56 pm

  2. @Tim. I was thinking the exact same thing re Vienna.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — November 13, 2013 @ 12:42 am

  3. What’s always fascinated me is that the head of OPEC is on a par, diplomatically, with an ambassador, and is entitled to be addressed as “Your Excellency”.

    It’s like finding Carlo Gambino, or Joseph Bonanno, or even – I dunno – Heidi Fleiss were somehow also officially entitled to be addressed as “Your Excellency”.

    In fact, why wouldn’t they be?

    Comment by Green as Grass — November 13, 2013 @ 4:27 am

  4. The revelations keep coming: Spying Agencies Spy! On People! Who use easily cracked open source communications! Who have economic or political power!

    I recommend going long smelling salts for the vapors, or air sickness bags for the hypocrisy.

    Comment by Sotos — November 13, 2013 @ 8:31 am

  5. @Sotos-the stunning revelations of the obvious just keep coming, don’t they? And the damned Germans keep with the Captain Renault routine. I think they do that primarily to obscure the fact that Germany inflicted the Major Strassers on the world.

    @Green-You’re absolutely right. “Syndicate” and “cartel” are synonymous, so Joe and Carlo should certainly warrant the same address as the head of OPEC, though they would probably consider (with considerable justice) the comparison to be highly unflattering.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — November 13, 2013 @ 11:29 am

  6. I have a close friend who used to work at the APL in Bethesda. They were prohibited from flying Air France because the airline was well known for planting microphones in the first class cabin seats to pick up conversations between passengers. It seems the French government would identify individuals in particular corporate positions an then they would seat a government employee next to the American and engage them in conversation about what they did for a living. Some people LOVE to talk about what they do for a living.

    Comment by Charles — November 15, 2013 @ 7:44 am

  7. @Charles. Interesting, and not surprising. Unfortunately, former NSA head Michael Hayden fell into that trap on a train ride between DC and NY.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — November 15, 2013 @ 1:01 pm

  8. A couple of links here. I think the SWP was ahead of them by quite a bit.

    Comment by jon livesey — November 15, 2013 @ 1:49 pm

  9. Thanks, Jon. Kelley got a lot of his material from Joshua Foust, who got a lot of it from Catherine Fitzpatrick, @libertylynx on Twitter, and me, without giving proper attribution or credit. That helps explain why the October 20 piece in particular has a deja vu feel to it.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — November 15, 2013 @ 3:15 pm

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