Europe needs to stop huff­ing over eaves­drop­ping by the US


Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES - WIL­LIAM SAUN­DER­SON–MEYER Jaun­diced

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.”

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