World Insights: U.S. is world’s biggest spy power

Living up to the epithet of "surveillance empire," the United State has, for decades, conducted indiscriminate mass surveillance of foreign governments, companies and individuals as well as its own citizens.

3 mins read
Photo taken on Feb. 19, 2020 shows the Pentagon seen from an airplane over Washington D.C., the United States. [ Photo Credit: Xinhua/Liu Jie]

Living up to the epithet of “surveillance empire,” the United State has, for decades, conducted indiscriminate mass surveillance of foreign governments, companies and individuals as well as its own citizens.

[Xinhua]An utterly harmless, unmanned civilian airship has been in the cross-hairs in the latest anti-China stunt pulled by some U.S. politicians and media.

However, the ploy of accusing China of flying surveillance balloon has only made their smear attack look quite clumsy and ludicrous as it’s no secret the United States itself is the world’s biggest spy power with the world’s widest intelligence network.

Living up to the epithet of “surveillance empire,” the United State has, for decades, conducted indiscriminate mass surveillance of foreign governments, companies and individuals as well as its own citizens.


When it comes to surveillance, it’s necessary to point out the United States is the world’s No. 1 surveillance state, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin has said in a recent press briefing.

According to Politico, the Pentagon has spent billions of dollars developing high-altitude reconnaissance balloons since 1997 and quietly transitioned the balloon projects to the military services in 2022. The balloons may be used to track hypersonic strategic cruise missiles being developed by China and Russia.

Permeating through every part of the world, the U.S. surveillance network also targets the country’s allies.

In May 2021, Denmark’s national broadcaster DR News reported that the Danish Defense Intelligence Service had given the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) open Internet access to spy on senior politicians of countries, including then German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The NSA purposefully obtained data and thus was able to spy on targeted heads of state, as well as Scandinavian leaders, top politicians, and high-ranking officials in Germany, Sweden, Norway and France, the report said, which caused global shock and fury.

French President Emmanuel Macron said in May 2021 that this “is unacceptable between allies, even less between allies and European partners,” and Merkel said she “could only agree” with Macron’s comments.

But that was not unfamiliar to European leaders. In 2013, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that Washington had been spying on the email and cell phone communications of as many as 35 world leaders.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald exposed in his book No Place to Hide that a single unit of the NSA had collected more than 97 billion emails and 124 billion phone calls from around the world in just 30 days in 2013.

The powerful mass surveillance system has helped the United States make profits.

For example, in 2013, reports of the U.S. magazine WIRED surfaced that Brazil’s state oil and gas giant Petrobras was a prime target of U.S. government spying activity.

“Washington is losing its moral ground,” the German magazine Focus quoted an expert on foreign policy as saying.

With its global surveillance network, “the United States itself is the true eavesdropper,” Focus said, though the country prefers to frame itself as a victim of spying.


According to a recent report by Georgetown University Law Center’s Center on Privacy and Technology, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has expanded far beyond its role as an immigration agency to become a “domestic surveillance agency.”

The ICE has developed a dragnet surveillance system that allows it to collect detailed dossiers on nearly every person in America at any time, without any judicial, legislative, or public oversight, said the report titled “American Dragnet: Data-driven Deportation in the 21st Century.”

From 2008 to 2021, the ICE has spent approximately 2.8 billion U.S. dollars on surveillance, data collection and data-sharing initiatives, the report said, noting the agency has been able to access utility record information of over 218 million customers across all 50 states.

The ICE is not the only agency in the United States that has overreached its authority and abused citizens’ private personal data.

In fact, mass surveillance in the United States has become institutionalized. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the United States enacted numerous laws to expand the government’s surveillance powers for national security reasons.

The U.S. Congress greenlighted the Patriot Act in 2001, which covers Section 215, one of the most controversial programs for domestic and international surveillance.

In 2008, Congress approved Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows the government to collect communications concerning foreign intelligence targets without a warrant.

Following the disclosure by Snowden and Wikileaks of the U.S. government’s abuse of power to collect millions of Americans’ private data, the ensuing public outcry prompted Congress to prohibit the notorious bugging project PRISM.

However, the government actually never stops abusing its power to carry out indiscriminate surveillance on its citizens.

In 2021 alone, the FBI has conducted up to 3.4 million warrantless searches of Americans’ phone calls, emails and text messages, the Hill reported, citing the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Xinhua News Agency

Founded in 1931, Xinhua News Agency is one of the largest news organizations in the world, with over 10,000 employees across the globe. As the main source of news and information for China, Xinhua plays a key role in shaping the country's media landscape and communicating its perspectives to the world. The agency produces a wide range of content, including text news articles, photos, videos, and social media posts, in both Chinese and English, and its reports are widely used by media organizations around the world. Xinhua also operates several international bureaus, including in key capitals like Washington, D.C., Moscow, and London, to provide in-depth coverage of global events.

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