The National Security Agency steals secrets from foreign businesses, according to former agency contractor Edward Snowden, despite past statements from the Obama administration and former intelligence officials that state-sponsored industrial espionage is unacceptable behavior.
During an interview Sunday in Russia with German TV network ARD TV, Snowden used Germany-based telecom Siemens AG as a potential target that could be of interest to U.S. spies. Full video of the interview is available only in Germany.
"There is no question that the U.S. is engaged in economic spying," Snowden said during the interview. "If there's information at Siemens that's beneficial to U.S. national interests - even if it doesn't have anything to do with national security - then they'll take that information nevertheless."
If that were true the U.S. would be guilty of violating its own code of conduct for international intelligence. The Obama administration condemned Chinese government hacking of U.S. businesses in March 2013, when Tom Donilon, national security adviser to the Obama administration, said in a speech "the international community cannot afford to tolerate such activity from any country."
The Chinese government denied involvement. Michael Hayden, former director of both the CIA and the National Security Agency, has said governments steal each other's secrets all the time, but state-supported hackers cross a line by targeting civilian businesses for financial gain.
Previous reports using NSA documents that Snowden leaked to The New York Times state the agency's intelligence methods include installing spyware on secure computers to monitor the information of suspected terrorists but also rival trade institutions inside the European Union. German officials have pushed for a "no-spy" agreement with the U.S., following revelations that the NSA monitored the phone calls of foreign leaders including German Chancellor Angels Merkel. Snowden also called for some international protocols for surveillance during an online Q&A on Jan. 23.
"We need to work together to agree on a reasonable international norm for the limitations on spying," Snowden said. "Nobody should be hacking critical-to-life infrastructure like hospitals and power stations, and it's fair to say that can be recognized in international law."