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Geopolitics of Racism: The NSA and the 'Five Eyes' Network

As Edward Snowden's disclosures continue to reverberate, the racist contours of geopolitics are becoming ever clearer. According to recent reporting, the Anglo, English-speaking countries of the world, including the U.S. and its allies Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, jointly participate in a spy group called the "Five Eyes" network. Though the classic age of imperialism has long since ended, revelations from the National Security Agency (NSA) scandal suggest that whiter nations of the world continue to harbor a deep and abiding distrust of poorer nations and people of color.

In the 19th century, the world's paramount imperialist power was Britain, but today Whitehall "outsources" its foreign policy to its former English speaking colonies. According to recent reporting in the Guardian, Washington's closest ties are with the British GCHQ intelligence service. In South America, Britain is a shadow of its earlier formidable self, and therefore relies on the U.S. to shore up its interests. On Ascension, a tiny rocky Atlantic island lying halfway between Africa and South America, the NSA and British intelligence service GCHQ are reportedly spying on Brazil.

British and Canadian Interests

Just why the British are so interested in obtaining American assistance on such sensitive intelligence isn't clear, though Whitehall is indeed nervous about protecting the nearby Falkland Islands. There, American and British oil companies hope to cash in on a potential offshore oil bonanza. Argentina, however, has long disputed British claims over the islands, and wants to secure the area's oil riches for itself. Much to the chagrin of Britain, Brazil is backing up Argentine claims and has developed its own innovative offshore oil technology.

Another former British colony, Canada, hopes to benefit from the Five Eyes network in South America. Though Ottawa likes to portray itself as a respectful international player, Snowden's disclosures paint a very different picture. As I discussed earlier, the Canadian intelligence service C.S.E.C. has mushroomed in recent years and invests heavily in the collection of economic espionage. In Latin America, Canada backs up its financial interests by supporting backwards political elites. Like Britain and the U.S., Canada apparently views Brazil as an up and coming threat and recently hacked into the Rousseff government's Ministry of Energy and Mines.

Aussie "Imperialism-Lite?"

Even as Anglo powers U.S., Britain and Canada spy on poorer nations in South America, other junior partners are aggressively seeking out their own sphere of influence. Far away in the Pacific, Australia backs up Washington by keeping tabs on Asian countries. According to recent reports, Australian embassies are being secretly used to obtain data across the region as part of the Five Eyes network.

From its embassies in Jakarta, Bangkok, Hanoi, Beijing and Dili, as well as High Commissions in Kuala Lumpur and Port Moresby, the Australian Defense Signals Directorate collects everything from radio and telecommunications to internet traffic. The Sydney Morning Herald quotes one former intelligence operator as saying that the Australians' main focus is on "political, diplomatic and economic intelligence." Reportedly, Canberra carries out its spying from a massive satellite station called Pine Gap, which is located in the remote center of the country. There, the NSA works side by side with its Australian counterparts. The Aussies also have spy stations in Canberra, Western Australia and the Shoal Bay Receiving Station near Darwin.

Some of the espionage is reportedly very crass in nature. Recently, the East Timorese government complained about Canberra's spying, which allegedly included interception of government communications during sensitive negotiations over the Timor Gap oil and gas reserves. According to the Australian, Canberra spies actually broke into the cabinet rooms of the Timorese government under direct instructions from Canberra's Foreign Minister. Once inside, the spies carried out a kind of "mini-Watergate" by planting listening devices.

An Unsavory History

Reports about Australia's covert dealings are certainly nefarious, but should not come as any great surprise. Like Ottawa, Canberra likes to present itself as a breed apart and certainly not as interventionist as the United States. According to Links, a socialist journal affiliated with Australian Green Left Weekly, Sydney-based corporations have long exploited cheap labor and resources within the wider region. Australia has played a key role in such sectors as mining and petroleum with a sizable economic presence on the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

During the era of decolonization, Canberra backed Britain when the latter sought to suppress the Communist Party of Malaya. Later, the Aussies supported right wing rebellions in Indonesia and in 1965, after General Suharto staged a military coup, Australia echoed official U.S. foreign policy by offering political, diplomatic and military support for Jakarta. To make matters worse, Canberra supported Suharto's 1975 invasion of East Timor, and continued to back Jakarta even after the notorious Dili massacre of 1991.

Kiwi Junior Partners

However improbable, it also seems that remote New Zealand plays a role in the Five Eyes network. According to reports the Kiwis have two spy stations based at Waihopai and Tangimoana. At any given time, the U.S. posts three or four of its own analysts to work alongside New Zealand's Government Communications Security Bureau. Like Australia and Canada, New Zealand prides itself on being a non-interventionist power in stark contrast to the U.S. Moreover, for some time New Zealand has asserted an independent foreign policy by banning nuclear ships.

Nevertheless, even the junior Kiwis have their own political and economic agenda centered on Polynesia, including Western Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands and Niue. After dislodging the native Maori people from their lands, New Zealand set its sights farther afield. According to one scholar, "from the 1870s imperial moves on the Pacific started in earnest. New Zealand's imperialists took the British and Dutch East India companies (which, although established as trading companies, in effect exercised political power) as their models. A trading company, the New Zealand and Polynesian Company, was to be established to develop Pacific trade."

One of New Zealand's first leaders, Richard Seddon, was known for his imperialism in the Pacific and sought "a New Zealand empire, one that offered resources as well as the responsibilities that signaled the maturity and right of New Zealand to rule over lesser others, offering them hope and comfort." Seddon was particularly paternalistic toward the rulers of Niue, an island lying some 1,600 miles northeast of Auckland. In 1900, Seddon persuaded Britain to allow New Zealand to openly annex the possession.

Some forty years later, Auckland's resident commissioner jailed hundreds of Niueans for drinking, gambling and adultery. He even threw couples into jail for holding hands in public no less. Incensed, three prisoners broke out of prison and, armed with machetes, hacked the commissioner to death. In 1974, Niue was granted "free association with New Zealand," though Auckland resents having to pay financial aid to the island. In 2010, a Kiwi parliamentary committee even suggested turning Niue into a retirement community.

From South America to the Pacific

In the 19th century it was Britain which propagated lofty ideals of white superiority through its own imperialistic policies. Today, such blatant racism has faded though the NSA scandal demonstrates that some of Britain's former English speaking colonies have banded together in a crass effort to take advantage of people of color. From South America to the Pacific, many countries are waking up to the fact that white privilege and racism still play an unfortunate yet significant role in geopolitics.

Nikolas Kozloff is the author of Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left.

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