We begin today’s collection of headlines from the worlds of spooks and “security” with European Edward Snowden blowback by way of SecurityWeek:

Germany to Beef Up Spy Defenses Against Allies: Report

Germany plans to beef up its counterintelligence tactics against allied countries in response to revelations of widespread US spying, Der Spiegel magazine reported Sunday.

The weekly said the German government was considering deploying its own agents to keep tabs on Western secret services and embassies on German soil including those of the United States and also Britain.

It said the domestic intelligence service aimed to glean precise information about foreign spies using diplomatic cover and technical equipment at diplomatic missions used to snoop on German officials and the country’s citizens.

“This step would be an about-face from the decades-long practice of systematically monitoring the activities of countries such as China, Russia and North Korea but rarely the activities of Western partners,” Spiegel said.

Here’s more in the form of a video report from Deutsche Welle in which Germany’s top counterspy — Hans-Georg Maaßen, president of the German Domestic Intelligence Service — has curious things to say:

German Response on NSA Spying Scandal

On the side of the pond, obfuscation, via The Hill:

NSA reform stalls in committee

Legislation to rein in the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs has stalled in the House and Senate.

More than 130 House lawmakers in both parties have signed on as co-sponsors to legislation that would prevent the NSA from collecting bulk records about people’s phone calls. In the Senate, companion legislation has won 20 co-sponsors.

Both bills, however, have been stuck in their chambers’ respective Judiciary Committees since October, and committee aides say there are no plans to move them soon.

In the House, Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) seems to be waiting for the Obama administration to take a formal position on the USA Freedom Act, authored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), before scheduling a markup.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) wants to see what recommendations Attorney General Eric Holder and top intelligence leaders make by a March 28 deadline set by President Obama.

And from The Guardian, the latest Snowden revelation:

Australia spied on Indonesia talks with US law firm in 2013

New Edward Snowden documents show ASD listened to Indonesian government talks and shared what they learned with US

Australia and the US share access to bulk Indonesian telecommunications data, including those of Indonesian officials

Australian spies have obtained 1.8 million encrypted master keys from an Indonesian telecommunications company and decrypted almost all

US mentored Australia to break encryption codes of the PNG army

Australia spied on Indonesia and shared the information with the United States when the two countries were involved in a trade dispute in February 2013, a new document from whistleblower Edward Snowden shows.

Australia listened in on the communications of an unnamed American law firm which was representing Indonesia in the discussions and passed the information to the National Security Agency, according to a document obtained by the New York Times.

It is unclear what the discussions were about – but two trade disputes around that time were about the importation of clove cigarettes and shrimp, says the paper.

And the response from Down Under via Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Australia says spying “for the benefit of our friends”

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Sunday his government used intelligence material “for the benefit of our friends” and “to uphold our values” following fresh reports it spied on Indonesia.

Abbott refused to confirm the report, also based on Snowden-leaked material, that the Australian Signals Directorate listened in on trade talks between the Indonesians and their US lawyers and offered information gleaned to the US National Security Agency.

“We never comment on operational intelligence matters, that has been the long-standing practice of all Australian governments of both political persuasions,” Abbott told reporters.

However, Abbott observed that Australia did not “use anything that we gather as part of our ordinary security and intelligence operations to the detriment of other countries.”

“We use it for the benefit of our friends. We use it to uphold our values,” he said.

More reaction from one of the targets, also via The Guardian:

Indonesia: Australia and US need to clean up their mess

Presidential adviser responds to ‘perplexing revelation’ that ASD spied on a law firm representing Indonesia in a trade dispute

New documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden reveal that the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) spied on an American law firm representing Indonesia in a trade dispute and offered the information to America, the New York Times reported on Sunday.

Indonesian presidential adviser and spokesman on foreign affairs, Teuku Faizasyah, said the president had been advised of the revelations by foreign minister Marty Natalegawa.

“Indeed, it is another perplexing revelation of spying toward Indonesia’s national interest,” he told Guardian Australia via text message.

“I wonder what more Snowden has in store? Therefore, it is the responsibility of countries (US & Australia) engaged in this complicity to clean up the mess, to salvage their bilateral relations with Indonesia.”

And the result, again from The Guardian:

Australia and Indonesia are now in ‘open conflict’, says Tanya Plibersek

Dressing down of ambassador over ‘unacceptable’ border protection policies a matter of enormous concern

Australia and Indonesia were now in “open conflict” and repairing the “worsening” relationship was imperative, deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek said on Saturday.

After Australia’s ambassador to Jakarta Greg Moriarty was reportedly called into the country’s foreign affairs ministry for a “dressing down” over the Abbott government’s border protection policies, Plibersek said it was crucial the government acted now to settle the rocky relationship.

“It’s absolutely vital that Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop get on with repairing the relationship with Indonesia,” she said.

And to those other Asian border, militarism, and shifting alliance stories, first from South China Morning Post:

Top US envoy John Kerry fails to make headway over sea disputes in Beijing

Only result of Beijing visit was a commitment to seek greater co-operation on climate change

US Secretary of State John Kerry ended a visit to China without any breakthroughs on two matters at the top of his agenda – sovereignty tensions in the East Sea and the South China Sea.

The only solid outcome of the trip came in a joint statement issued by the two governments yesterday that vowed closer co-operation on climate change.

Shi Yinhong , a professor of international relations at Renmin University, said: “Kerry’s China visit only provided an opportunity for both sides to make clear their differences on these issues.”

Jin Canrong, with the same university, said it was expected no consensus on regional issues would be reached during the trip. Instead, the visit was important for Beijing and Washington to prepare for an upcoming meeting between President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama at a nuclear security summit at The Hague late next month.

And another endorsement from the Pentagon for Japan’s newly aggressive militarism this time from Want China Times:

US-Japan amphibious joint exercises slated for 2014 Rim of Pacific

The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, the de facto army of Japan, will participate in amphibious joint exercises with the United States Marine Corps at the 2014 Rim of the Pacific off Hawaii between June and August, reports Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun.

This year’s joint naval exercise, the 24th since the US Marines began holding them bi-annually since 1971, will involve 20,000 soldiers, 30 vessels and 100 jets from more than 10 countries including China, Australia and South Korea.

While Japan has participated numerous times in the past, Tokyo has usually sent the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force to join in anti-pirate or disaster rescue exercises. Analysts believe the decision to send ground forces to participate in amphibious joint exercises with the US is aimed at developing combat techniques and gaining experience as Japan’s ground forces plan to develop a new amphibious force before 2018.

The amphibious force plans to be eventually eqipped with US-made Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, amphibious armored vehicles and large amphibious assault ships, but for now it will try and learn from US forces and gain valuable operational experience, Sankei Shimbuns said.

Yet another American endorsement from Kyodo News:

Japan eyes boosting ground troop communications with U.S. military

Japan plans to boost communications between its Ground Self-Defense Force and the U.S. military using smartphone-type terminals, a Japanese Defense Ministry source said Sunday.

The Japanese government will create prototype software from April with the aim of fully rolling it out in fiscal 2018, the source said.

The move is in line with efforts to more closely coordinate operations between the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and U.S. troops, at a time Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is keen to move forward discussions on allowing Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense, or coming to the defense of an ally such as the United States if it is attacked.

Want China Times covers Chinese anxiety:

Beijing slams US Navy official for ‘aiding Philippines’ remarks

China’s government on Friday slammed a US Navy official’s remarks concerning the South China Sea and asked the United States to keep its position neutral on territorial disputes between China and the Philippines.

Admiral Jonathan Greenert, commander of the US Navy, said on Thursday that his country will come to the aid of the Philippines in the event of any conflict with China over disputed waters in the South China Sea.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying responded to the remarks at a regular press briefing. She said China has repeatedly expressed its firm position on the disputes and will address the issue through discussions and negotiations directly with concerned parties.

As a bilateral arrangement, the US-Philippines alliance should not undermine the interests of third parties, Hua said.

And a demand from the China Post:

Kerry presses China to ease Internet controls

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday he urged Chinese leaders to support Internet freedom and promised to look into whether American companies help Beijing curb access to online material.

“Obviously, we think that Chinese economy will be stronger with greater freedom of the internet,” Kerry said at a meeting with bloggers following talks with Chinese leaders.

Kerry met earlier with President Xi Jinping and other senior officials to underscore the Obama administration’s commitment to refocusing U.S. foreign policy on the Asia-Pacific. He urged Beijing to convince neighboring North Korea to return to stalled nuclear disarmament talks.

During the 40-minute meeting Saturday, the bloggers appealed to Kerry to support Chinese human rights activists and freer use of the Internet.

After the jump, more on the ever-shifting Asian security crises [including rebukes, recriminations, and a meeting of old enemies], plus an Israeli deal to sell arms to Iran [really] an Icelandic leak probe, George Washington, spookfather, and cyber-stalking in the cereal aisle. . .

The Guardian covers one area of agreement that’s about a lot of hot air:

Kerry announces ‘unique co-operative effort’ with China on climate change

Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday announced a “unique co-operative effort” with China on the issue of combating climate change.

In a press conference at a Beijing car-making factory, the Cummins-Foton Joint-Venture Plant, which he visited as part of an Asia tour, Kerry said he and local representatives had “succeeded in completing our agreement with respect to some steps we are going to take to move the climate change process forward”.

Kerry is scheduled to continue his tour, which started with talks in Seoul at which he heralded China’s stance on North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, with visits to Indonesia and Abu Dhabi.

On Saturday, he continued: “One of the most important challenges that we all face here in China, in America, in Europe and other countries … is how do we improve the quality of the air that we breathe and at the same time reduce the greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change? To be successful, it is going to take the cooperation of China and the United States – not just our governments, but also our industries.”

But SINA English adds a discordant note:

Beijing urges Washington to respect historical facts

Nobody can shake China’s resolve in safeguarding sovereignty, Kerry told

Beijing on Friday urged Washington to respect historical facts and not take sides on territorial disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea, as US Secretary of State John Kerry met Chinese leaders.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Kerry that Beijing is committed to peacefully settling the disputes through consultations.

“However, nobody can shake our determination in safeguarding national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Wang said. “We hope the United States will respect historical facts and China’s sovereign interests, view relevant issues objectively and fairly, and not take sides,” Wang said. He urged Washington to take steps to maintain regional stability.

While JapanToday assesses:

Japan on backfoot in global PR war with China

Japan risks losing a global PR battle with China after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to a controversial shrine for war dead and comments by other prominent figures on the wartime past helped Beijing try to paint Tokyo as the villain of Asia.

Sino-Japanese ties have long been plagued by territorial rows, regional rivalry and disputes stemming from China’s bitter memories of Japan’s occupation of parts of the country before and during World War Two. Relations chilled markedly after a feud over disputed East China Sea isles flared in 2012.

Beijing, however, has stepped up its campaign to sway international public opinion since Abe’s Dec. 26 visit to Tokyo’s Yasukuni shrine. The shrine is seen by critics as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism because it honors leaders convicted as war criminals with millions of war dead.

That strategy has helped China shift some of the debate away from its growing military assertiveness in Asia, including double digit defense spending increases and the recent creation of an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea that was condemned by Tokyo and Washington, experts said.

China itself has some historical and zonal  problems with another neighbor, as the Mainichi reports:

Vietnam deploys dancers to foil protests

Anti-China protesters hoping to lay wreaths at a famous statue in the Vietnamese capital on Sunday were obstructed by an unusual sight of ballroom dancers and an energetic aerobics class held to a thumping sound system.

The demonstrators suspect the government deployed the dancers as a way to stop them from getting close to the statue and make their speeches inaudible. The few who tried to get close to the statue of Ly Thai To, the founder of Hanoi and a nationalist icon, were shooed away.

The protesters were marking the 35th anniversary of a bloody border war between China and Vietnam, where anger over Beijing’s increasingly assertive territorial claims on islands in the South China Sea that Hanoi insists belong to it is already running high.

Relations with China, Vietnam’s ideological ally and major trading partner, are a highly sensitive domestic political issue for Hanoi’s rulers. They don’t want anger on the street against China to spread to other areas of its repressive rule.

And from Want China Times, another assessment:

PLA Navy better than Soviet but still has weaknesses: report

Ronald O’Rourke, a specialist in naval affairs, has claimed in a report to the US Congress that China’s navy has better capability to carry out an anti-access or area-denial strategy than the Soviet Union during the Cold War, while the Pentagon has said the PLA Navy still has two major weaknesses to overcome, reports the Hong Kong-based Ta Kung Pao.

O’Rourke said one advantage of the PLA Navy is that it possesses anti-ship ballistic missiles with the capability to strike moving ships at sea, which the Soviet Union did not. The expert gave his view however that China is only able to establish a regional navy with limited global capability as it has not resolved the Taiwan issue.

The Pentagon highlighted two weaknesses of the PLA Navy in launching anti-access or area-denial tactics against the US Navy in a potential Taiwan Strait crisis.

Want China Times again, with more:

China plans to build 4 carriers, including nuclear: report

China plans to build four aircraft carriers in total to boost its naval power and exert its maritime claims, according to a Russian media report.

Official reports in January said that the PLA plans to have at least two aircraft carriers by 2015 or 2016 and said the country’s second aircraft carrier is indeed under construction as previous unofficial reports had claimed. The country plans to build four aircraft carriers in total, the state newswire Xinhua citing a Russian weekly newspaper as reporting.

China commissioned the Liaoning, a refitted Soviet-era carrier purchased from Ukraine, in 2012. Future carriers are expected to be built domestically and take the Liaoning as their blueprint, at least initially.

The report further said construction appears to be behind schedule, but Beijing has mapped out a clear plan for its development. China’s aircraft carrier program is set to be implemented in two phases, the report said, the aim being to build two carriers to establish carrier battle fleets to operate while two more advanced carriers are developed.

Al Jazeera America poses a question:

What’s next for China-Taiwan relations?

Beijing, Taipei and Washington praised first cross-strait diplomatic encounter since ’49, but future remains uncertain

Ever since Taiwan and China sent diplomatic representatives to the mainland city of Nanjing this week for their first formal talks since the two sides split amid civil war more than six decades ago, newspapers on both sides of the Taiwan Strait have been plastered with headlines declaring a “new chapter” in relations and a “step toward reunification.”

China still claims self-governing, democratic Taiwan – an island about 100 miles off its coast – as its territory, and has threatened to take it back by force if it takes too many steps toward formalizing its de-facto independence. The mainland keeps about 1,200 missiles pointed at Taiwan, and in 1995 and 1996 fired missiles and conducted provocative military exercises off the Taiwanese coast.

Tuesday’s meeting between Wang Yu-chi, head of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, and counterpart Zhang Zhijun, director of the mainland’s Taiwan Affairs Office, was the first such encounter between the two sides since the 1949 civil war – in which Mao Zedong’s Communists defeated the Nationalists, who fled to Taiwan.

China’s state-run Xinhua news agency called Tuesday’s meeting “unimaginable” and “the result of deepening mutual political trust,” ambitious assessments that can perhaps be chalked up to the groundbreaking symbolism of the moment for the two sides.

And from China Daily, the once utterly impossible becomes real:

KMT honorary chairman to visit Beijing

Kuomintang Honorary Chairman Lien Chan will lead a delegation from Taiwan to visit the Chinese mainland this month, a mainland spokeswoman announced on Friday.

Lien, also chairman of a foundation on cross-Straits peaceful development, will visit Beijing at the invitation of the mainland side from February 17 to 20, according to Fan Liqing, spokeswoman for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council.

“We welcome and will encourage people on the two sides of the Straits to boost exchanges, enhance communication, increase mutual understanding and kinship and make joint efforts to push forward the development of cross-Straits ties,” Fan said.

From Jiji Press, a firm denial:

S. Korea Denies Summit with Japan in March

South Korea has had no talks with Japan for a bilateral summit, Yonhap news agency reported Sunday.

An official at the presidential office categorically denied a Japanese media report that the Japanese government plants to propose holding a meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shizo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun Hye when they attend a nuclear security summit in The Hague in March, according to Yonhap.

In order to materialize a Japan-South Korea summit, the issues of Korean “comfort women” and Japanese history textbooks “need to be first addressed by the two sides,” the official, who asked not to be named, was quoted as saying.

But that’s not to say that talks weren’t going on. From NHK WORLD:

Japan explores fence-mending with S.Korea

Japan’s government plans to send an envoy to Seoul next week to pave the way for improved relations with South Korea.

The government will send Junichi Ihara, the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau chief, to Seoul next Tuesday.

Ihara is expected to meet Lee Sang-deok, the Director General of the South Korean Foreign Ministry’s Northeast Asia division. The two will exchange views on the situation in North Korea and other issues.

Japan is moving to hold working level, fence-mending dialogue with South Korea amid US concerns about strained relations between Japan and South Korea, both of which are US allies.

And a report from the other Korea from the Mainichi:

N. Korea celebrates birthday of late leader amid easing tensions

North Korea on Sunday celebrated the birthday of late leader Kim Jong Il amid improving relations with South Korea, with no signs of belligerence toward Seoul seen on the streets of Pyongyang.

Unlike last year, when regional tensions were heightened by North Korea’s third nuclear test and a torrent of threats from it against South Korea and the United States, the anniversary was marked in a tranquil atmosphere.

North Korea has started making peace gestures since the late leader’s third son Kim Jong Un, who inherited power following the death of his father in December 2011, expressed his readiness to create a favorable climate for improved relations between the two Koreas when he delivered a New Year’s address.

North Korea’s conciliatory approach in part led to Friday’s agreement with South Korea on holding reunions later this month for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War for the first time since 2010, although Pyongyang still strongly opposes Seoul’s plan to carry out its annual joint military drills with Washington from Feb. 24 through mid-April.

Elsewhere in Asia another crisis, via The Independent:

Pakistan braced for Afghan refugee crisis which could see three million cross the boarder in July

Islamabad fears that political change in Afghanistan will worsen its own humanitarian problems

The turmoil that has blighted Afghanistan, particularly over the past 15 years, has forced huge swathes of people out of their homes. Many of them have long since abandoned hope of ever returning.

Now there are increasing fears that the refugee situation will get much worse, with millions more predicted to flee fighting in Afghanistan.

There are an estimated 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees who, having fled conflict in their homeland over the past three decades, now live in slums and – initially makeshift, now permanent – camps in neighbouring Pakistan. Many, like 12-year-old Awal Gul, live in sprawling slums on the outskirts of Islamabad where poor health is caused by stagnant water and a lack of basic amenities. “My land is in Afghanistan, and we have nothing in Pakistan,” he told Associated Press this month.

Instead of decreasing, as Pakistani authorities had hoped they might, the numbers of Afghans seeking refuge across the border is now set to dramatically increase. This week, reports emerged that Pakistan was braced for a “worst case scenario” in which an estimated three million refugees would cross from Afghanistan during 20 days in July.

And from Kathimerini English, a very, very curious story:

Israelis tried to send arms to Iran via Greece, probe finds

Israeli arms dealers tried to send spare parts for F-4 Phantom aircraft via Greece to Iran in violation of an arms embargo, according to a secret probe by the US government agency Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) carried out in cooperation with the drugs and weapons unit of Greece’s Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE).

According to the probe, which Kathimerini has had access to, the operation was carried out in two phases – one in December 2012 and the second in April 2013. In both cases, officials traced containers packed with the F-4 parts on Greek territory. The cargo had been sent by courier from the Israeli town of Binyamina-Giv’at Ada and had been destined for Iran, which has a large fleet of F-4 aircraft, via a Greek company registered under the name Tassos Karras SA in Votanikos, near central Athens. SDOE officials established that the firm was a ghost company, while the company’s contact number was found to belong to a British national residing in Thessaloniki who could not be located.

According to HSI memos, the cargo appears to have been sent by arms dealers based in Israel, seeking to supply Iran in contravention of an arms embargo, and using Greece as a transit nation.

The Reykjavík Grapevine covers a leak investigation:

Police Confirm Minister’s Brother Will Not Be Part Of Investigation Team

Assistant commissioner for the capital area police Theódór Kristjánsson – who is also the brother of Minister of the Interior Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir – will not be amongst the police officials taking part in the investigation of the ministry.

Apart from his commissioner position, DV reports, Theódór is also in charge of the Technical, Computer and Electronics Investigation Department for the Reykjavík area police. Capital area police commissioner Stefán Eiríksson has confirmed, though, that Théodór will not be taking part in investigations of the Interior Ministry.

Police have already begun their investigations, with all ministry employees compelled to grant the police access to their e-mail inboxes. An initial investigation was conducted by the Management Office of Government Offices within the ministry, although many ministry employees called for an independent investigation – a request which was summarily dismissed by the minister.

As reported, the State Prosecutor decided earlier this month to launch the criminal investigation at the behest of attorneys for Nigerian asylum seeker Tony Omos and the mother of his child, Evelyn Glory Joseph. These charges include breach of confidentiality, slander, and abuse of public office.

And from the Yomiuri Shimbun, America’s first spymaster:

George Washington document on view at Spy Museum

An original letter written by George Washington that initiated a spy network during the Revolutionary War is going on display for a limited time at the International Spy Museum in Washington.

The museum says Washington’s letter, written on Feb. 4, 1777, launched the nation’s first spy network. While then-Gen. Washington was commander in chief of the Continental Army, he wrote to confidant Nathaniel Sackett, commissioning him to spy for his country as Washington’s “intelligence director.”

Sackett was to be paid $50 per month to create a spy network in New York. He was given a $500 bonus up front.

And for our final item, cereal stalkers via The Hill:

Surveillance in aisle three

Federal regulators are beginning to scrutinize retailers that secretly track the movements of customers in their stores.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is holding an event this week to explore the growing use of commercial surveillance, which often happens without customers’ knowledge.

While the FTC is billing the event as an exploratory workshop, privacy advocates are hoping it is the first step toward cracking down on an increasingly popular practice that has raised eyebrows on Capitol Hill.

Through a smartphone’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities, retailers can use mobile location technology to track customers as they move around stores or shopping centers.

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