How the US Government Uses Information From Spying on Foreign Companies

US officials insist they don't use the information gleaned from industrial espionage to help US corporations.

There’s no longer doubt that the US government spies on foreign multinational corporations as well as governments, thanks to the disclosures by former National Security Agency contractor turned international fugitive Edward Snowden.  The NSA vacuums up mountains of classified information from a rich array of sources. The CIA assists by launching digital “black bag” operations aimed at manually penetrating the computer systems of some of the world’s largest foreign multinationals.

Washington isn’t alone, of course; dozens of other governments do the same, in collaboration with each other and individually. But one thing that US officials insist they won’t do is use the information gleaned from industrial espionage to help US corporations, like the Chinese do with their state-run defense, oil and other companies.

Is it really possible that US government spies surreptitiously collect confidential information from foreign multinationals and don’t share it with domestic US business interests to give them a leg up? And why would it collect the information if not for such purposes?

Here are some reasons:

National security. US intel agencies acutely focus on foreign companies, especially defense, technology and telecommunications firms, to gauge what kind of threat they might pose to US interests. That includes finding out what kind of products they are developing, who they’re selling them to and what kind of strategic plans they have. This is particularly the case with weapons manufacturers and those making dual-use products that can be used to build nuclear weapons programs. It’s also done when such companies, like China’s telecommunications firm  Huawei, seek to buy US companies. The information is used to help the Commerce Department and secretive Committee on Foreign Investment in the United Statesassess whether or not the US should object to such sales as being against US national security interests.