Snow­den’s in­con­ve­nient truth about spies

Every­body does it, but no­body does it like Barack Obama

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By David A. Keene

Al­though many Amer­i­cans con­tinue to re­gard Ed­ward Snow­den as some sort of traitor, he is seen in­creas­ingly by many in Europe as a whistle­blow­ing hero, and for Rus­sia’s Vladimir Putin, he is the gift that keeps on giv­ing. No longer hiding, Mr. Snow­den is be­com­ing more and more vis­i­ble in Moscow, where last week it was an­nounced that he’s landed a job with one of Rus­sia’s so­cial-net­work­ing firms, is in­creas­ingly will­ing to meet with re­porters and was even spot­ted play­ing the tourist on a Moscow river­boat.

When Mr. Putin’s gov­ern­ment orig­i­nally de­cided to thumb its nose at Pres­i­dent Obama by grant­ing the fugi­tive Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency (NSA) con­trac­tor the right to re­main in Rus­sia with­out fear of extradition for at least a year, the Rus­sians rel­ished stick­ing it to the U.S. pres­i­dent, but ap­par­ently didn’t ex­pect what’s come since.

Mr. Putin said fa­mously at the time that try­ing to squeeze much ben­e­fit out of the af­fair would be like “sheer­ing a pig … there is lots of squeal­ing and lit­tle wool.” The Rus­sian pres­i­dent must not have known at the time what Mr. Snow­den had ar­ranged to turn over to Western press out­lets be­fore land­ing in Moscow early last sum­mer or he might used a dif­fer­ent anal­ogy.

Since then, of course, Mr. Snow­den’s rev­e­la­tions have shocked many in Congress, put U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers and ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials on the spot, dis­rupted Wash­ing­ton’s re­la­tions with our most re­li­able al­lies, and al­lowed Mr. Putin, a for­mer KGB op­er­a­tive, and Rus­sian of­fi­cials to act like out­raged ACLU mem­bers shocked at the ex­tent of U.S. spy­ing. Rus­sia even went so far as to host the Sam Adams Awards in Oc­to­ber, at which Mr. Snow­den was hon­ored for pro­mot­ing “in­tegrity in in­tel­li­gence.”

Amer­i­can de­fend­ers of NSA spy­ing con­tinue to ar­gue in the face of out­rage in Ger­many, France, Spain and else­where that it is hyp­o­crit­i­cal for any of th­ese na­tion’s lead­ers to act shocked at learn­ing that gov­ern­ments spy not only on their en­e­mies and ad­ver­saries, but their friends. To an ex­tent, they are right. In the real world, gen­tle­men do read each other’s mail, and Euro­peans have plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence with the “or­gans of state se­cu­rity” in their own coun­tries.

The out­rage, how­ever, is real and seems to stem from a feel­ing that nei­ther the East Ger­man Stasi, Mr. Putin’s old em­ployer or Hitler’s spies went to the lengths that U.S. in­tel­li­gence does to col­lect ev­ery­thing they can on every­body, ev­ery­where. Mr. Obama might sim­ply like to dis­miss the mat­ter. Rep. Peter T. King, New York Repub­li­can, went fur­ther on tele­vi­sion by sug­gest­ing that Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel ought to get over the fact that we bugged her pri­vate cell­phone be­cause, af­ter all, we did it “for her own good.” That is the same thing NSA de­fend­ers have been telling Amer­i­cans about do­mes­tic in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing. If our gov­ern­ment can­not seem to sell that jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to Amer­i­cans, one won­ders why they think it will sell in Ger­many.

For­mer Ger­man De­fense Min­is­ter Karl-Theodor zu Gut­ten­berg summed up the prob­lem as well as any­one last week. He told The Moscow Times that “Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and his ad­min­is­tra­tion have yet to com­pre­hend the scale and sever­ity of the dam­age caused to U.S. cred­i­bil­ity among its Euro­pean al­lies. The prob­lem is not that coun­tries spy on each other. They all do, of course. Rather, it is the ex­tent of U.S. in­tel­li­gence-gath­er­ing and U.S. at­ti­tudes to­ward al­lies that is most dam­ag­ing.”

We Amer­i­cans are like a friend of mine whose wife told me once that what­ever her hus­band thought worth do­ing was worth over­do­ing. Our in­tel­li­gence peo­ple do want ev­ery­thing on every­body and cer­tainly don’t seem deterred at home by con­sti­tu­tional prob­lems, or out­side the United States by the con­se­quences of get­ting caught. The East Ger­man Stasi may have com­piled files on ev­ery East Ger­man back in the day, but we’ve got files on Amer­i­cans, Spa­niards, Ger­mans and al­most ev­ery­one else.

Mr. Putin the civil lib­er­tar­ian is out­raged, but one sus­pects Mr. Putin the for­mer KGB man is jeal­ous. Maybe that’s why his gov­ern­ment an­nounced last week that Moscow will hence­forth be­gin ac­cess­ing Rus­sian cit­i­zens’ phone calls and In­ter­net com­mu­ni­ca­tions with­out need­ing court or­ders.

He’d bet­ter hope there aren’t any home­grown Ed Snow­dens within the Rus­sian bu­reau­cracy, or he’s likely to learn as we in the United States did that gov­ern­ments can’t get away with what they could back in the good old days. David A. Keene is opin­ion ed­i­tor of The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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