Sunday, November 03, 2013


"We are not reassured by the often-heard explanation that everyone spies on everyone else all the time. We are not advocating a return to 1929 when Secretary of State Henry Stimson banned the decryption of diplomatic cables because “gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.” But there has long been an understanding that international spying was done in pursuit of a concrete threat to national security. That Chancellor Merkel’s cellphone conversations could fall under that umbrella is an outgrowth of the post-9/11 decision by President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney that everyone is the enemy, and that anyone’s rights may be degraded in the name of national security. That led to Abu Ghraib, torture at the secret C.I.A. prisons, warrantless wiretapping of American citizens, grave harm to international relations, and the dragnet approach to surveillance revealed by the Snowden leaks".
Editorial. "The White House on Spying". The New York Times. 28 October 2013, in
"It’s important to make a distinction between the NSA’s collection of bulk foreign Internet and phone data for counterterrorism investigations and the surveillance of political leaders. The former has helped to protect both the United States and its allies, including Germany, from al-Qaeda attacks; when it came to light last summer, Ms. Merkel helped to stifle controversy about it. The latter can be connected to counterterrorism or non-proliferation operations only with a great stretch. While there may be some circumstances where spying on a nominally friendly allied leader may be justified — former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s collaboration with Russia’s Vladi­mir Putin to counter the George W. Bush administration comes to mind — it should be rare. And it should not happen without presidential authorization and disclosure to Congress.".
Editorial, "NSA spying shows how to lose friends and alienate allies." The Washington Post. 29 October 2013, in
The recent hysterics concerning the American National Security Agencies spying programme abroad (as well as at home) has provoked a storm of outrage in both locations 1. Much of which is as per the leader in what is still the leading American broadsheet publication, The New York Times, is silly or mendacious. Since most officials will readily acknowledge privately, that allies have and always will spy on each other. As the equally outraged Financial Times own Paris correspondent wrote in their week-end edition (apropos French un-official nonchalant response to the scandal):
"A foreign diplomat in Paris said: “The French were probably aware of what had been going on. The ground rules are you use as much of what you have as much as you can and try not to miss any opportunities. That’s what all states do 2."
One would imagine that au fond, with a soupcon of Germanic naiveté, that the government in Berlin's own response is not altogether too different. However, in the real (if unfortunate) world of domestic politics and political opinion, there was not much in the way of an alternative for the government in Berlin and elsewhere other than to take the (some-what histrionic) response that it has shown so far. To the public way of mind worldwide, 'allies' do not spy on each other. That is no doubt an ignorant and one-sided way of looking at matters but it is an attitude that all governments have to take into account when responding to this type of incident. In a certain sense, I am much more willing to overlook the Merkel government's response to the entire business because in fact, the entire matter is one which was a result of the fact that the American government and indeed its spying and intelligence apparatus has not shown itself to be in any way shape or form truly 'secure'. The fact that a mere contractor employee as Edward Snowden has been able to reveal such ultra-classified information, more than a year after the previous scandal of Wikileaks, shows that this is undeniable fact. Therefore unlike say Annie Appelbaum, who explains the German response to the business by citing the prior history of the DDR, I would say that regardless of such history, the fact is that it is imperative that the American government make absolutely as secure as possible its intelligence gathering 3. Otherwise, I am afraid that there will diplomatically speaking nothing left to be done but for the American government resurrect some modern-day version of the state of affairs described in Secretary Stimson's famous saying, perhaps along the lines that "gentlemen who are allies, do not read each other’s mail".
1. See for an example: Leader, "US pays a price for spying on Merkel." The Financial Times. 28 October 2013, in
2. Hugh Carnegy, "France, a master at espionage, under few illusions on US spying." The Financial Times. 1 November 2013, in
3. Annie Appelbaum, "Spying for the sake of spying." The Washington Post. 31 October 2013, in


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