Europe needs to stop huffing over eavesdropping by the US
SO THE United States is eavesdropping on your cellphone calls, Chancellor Merkel? Man up, so to speak, and get over it.
More usefully, instead of whining, get Germany a new intelligence chief who understands counterintelligence and encryption. And as your technical experts apparently warned, you also need to dump that crappy old cellphone you bought in a supermarket and upgrade to something that they can protect.
Angela Merkel, who snivelled that “spying among friends is not at all acceptable”, was reacting to leaks from renegade former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. He claimed that the US National Security Agency (NSA) has for years listened in on the communications of about 35 foreign leaders, including Ms Merkel.
Yawn. So what’s new? For decades now, there has been no such a thing as privacy for anyone using any electronic device to move text, voice, images or funds through the ether. That means, to all intents and purposes, all of us.
It’s something ordinary citizens don’t much like, but have had to accept as a reality. Fortunately for the world’s spy agency bosses, most of us – even the self-absorbed Me Generation – understand that intelligence gatherers are actually not that interested in our mind-numbingly inane electronic burbling, unless it relates to security issues.
For the German chancellor to have thought that the NSA would somehow benevolently omit her from their intelligence harvesting efforts, because Germany is a US ally, is naive.
In any case, in international politics there are no eternal allies. There exist only alliances of various degrees of solidity, shifting in shape and form with unfolding political events. A year ago the Germans and Greeks were EU allies bonded in supposed perpetuity. Today the leaders of those two countries can find barely a civil word to exchange with each other.
It is unlikely that Merkel is as naive as she seems. After all, she grew up in East Germany, where it was taken for granted that every communication, whether by telephone or letter, would be intercepted by the all- pervasive Stasi secret police.
More likely then that her outrage is feigned – playing to German voters who, dating back to the Cold War and John F Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” assurance, have a romantic illusion of the US’s special commitment to their country. Also, the polls show, communication privacy, is an important issue for the German electorate, hence the anger that intercept programmes scoop half a billion of their phone calls, e-mails and text messages every month.
The Germans join a predictable chorus of sanctimonious squeals from all around Europe over the intercepts. This is despite various EU intelligence services conceding that the intelligence gathered in such US intercepts has been instrumental in foiling several terror attacks on European soil in the past decade.
What the NSA is doing is entirely within its remit; it is prohibited only from surveillance of US citizens without judicial authorisation.
The US has come a long way since 1929, when Secretary of State Henry Stimson closed down the State Department’s decoding section with the explanation: “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.”
Fortunately for the safety of what quaintly once used to be called the Free World, one can presume that President Barack Obama realises that the Germans – as well as every other spy service in the world – are trying to access his “personal” phone calls.
So whatever promises now made to placate the Europeans, the information gathering will continue, just more discreetly.
In a radio interview Bernard Kouchner, a former French foreign minister and founder of Medecins Sans Frontieres, offered a frank explanation for all the European huffing and puffing, including threats to suspend talks on the transAtlantic trade deal in retaliation.
“Let’s be honest, we eavesdrop too. Everyone is listening to everyone else. But we don’t have the same means as the United States, which makes us jealous.”