Tuesday, July 2, 2013 at 7:20 AM

I Spy, You Spy, We All Spy

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

images-1According to Edward Snowden’s latest rolling disclosures, when it comes to international spying, the United States targets allies like France and Germany as readily as it targets frenemies like China and Russia.

Unsurprisingly, the Europeans are “shocked, shocked,” and are expressing feelings of profound betrayal:

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and French president, François Hollande, demanded quick explanations from Washington about disclosures by the Guardian and Der Spiegel that U.S. agencies bugged European embassies and parliament buildings. Berlin stressed there had to be mutual trust if trade talks were to go ahead in Washington on Monday.

(London Guardian, July 1, 2013)

The Americans are wiping egg off their faces, but do not seem too worried. Indeed, no less a person than President Obama dismissed European outrage as little more than the pot calling the kettle black. For here is what he said yesterday during a joint press conference with President Kikwete in Tanzania – the last leg of his six-day African tour, which included Senegal and South Africa:

I think we should stipulate that every intelligence service—not just ours, but every European intelligence service, every Asian intelligence service, wherever there’s an intelligence service—here’s one thing that they’re going to be doing:  they’re going to be trying to understand the world better and what’s going on in world capitals around the world from sources that aren’t available through the New York Times or NBC News…

And I guarantee you that in European capitals, there are people who are interested in, if not what I had for breakfast, at least what my talking points might be should I end up meeting with their leaders… If I want to know what [any European leader] is thinking, I will call.

(whitehouse.gov, July 1, 2013)

Secretary of State John Kerry duly echoed Obama’s dismissive sentiments.

imagesTruth be told, except for stoking idle anti-Americanism in some European countries, I am convinced that these disclosures will have no material impact on U.S.-EU relations. Not least because Europeans threatening to abandon bilateral trade agreements with the United States over spying is even less credible than the United States threatening to do the same with China over human rights.

But as much as I agree with Obama, his response raised this White House press-like question:

Mr President, if, as you assert, you and all heads of state are the “end users” of the intelligence your respective spy agencies gather, and if, as you assert, all each of you has to do to know what the other is thinking is to call, then what, Sir, is the point of all of the friendly spying going on between the United States and its allies?

Related commentaries:
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