spy-who-loved-meEllen Nakashima has a startling, but I guess unsurprising, article in this morning’s Washington Post on internet giant Google’s new partnership with the NSA:

Under an agreement that is still being finalized, the National Security Agency would help Google analyze a major corporate espionage attack that the firm said originated in China and targeted its computer networks, according to cybersecurity experts familiar with the matter. The objective is to better defend Google — and its users — from future attack.

Google and the NSA declined to comment on the partnership. But sources with knowledge of the arrangement, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the alliance is being designed to allow the two organizations to share critical information without violating Google’s policies or laws that protect the privacy of Americans’ online communications. The sources said the deal does not mean the NSA will be viewing users’ searches or e-mail accounts or that Google will be sharing proprietary data.

The article indicates Google initiated the matter by approaching the NSA after the recent discovery of intrusive attacks by Chinese interests last month, which is interesting in light of the fact Google made a point of publicly stating in 2008 they had never cooperated with the NSA on the Terrorist Surveillance Program.

Nakashima also notes that NSA is also soliciting involvement of the FBI and Department of Homeland Security. You have to wonder exactly what the FBI and DHS are going to lend that NSA cannot if this is truly just technical advice, because neither agency is particularly known for its geeky brilliance with computers. You would have to wonder is this is not a step in the direction of the “cyber protection” program the government has been hinting at initiating for some time now.

More from Nakashima and the Post:

“As a general matter,” NSA spokeswoman Judi Emmel said, “as part of its information-assurance mission, NSA works with a broad range of commercial partners and research associates to ensure the availability of secure tailored solutions for Department of Defense and national security systems customers.”

Despite such precedent, Matthew Aid, an expert on the NSA, said Google’s global reach makes it unique.

“When you rise to the level of Google . . . you’re looking at a company that has taken great pride in its independence,” said Aid, author of “The Secret Sentry,” a history of the NSA. “I’m a little uncomfortable with Google cooperating this closely with the nation’s largest intelligence agency, even if it’s strictly for defensive purposes.”

Mr. Aid isn’t the only one a little uncomfortable with this new spirit of cooperation between the world’s most spooky governmental spy agency and the world’s most ubiquitous information technology and database company. And so the descent down the slippery slope picks up a little more speed.

(Image courtesy of SearchEngineWatch.com, a very nice resource by the way)