We know that electronic spying has completely run amok when tiny Luxembourg’s prime minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, just resigned over a nasty scandal involving his nation’s tiny intelligence service.
According to some reports, Luxembourg’s ruler, Grand Duke Henri, was bugged by means of a Dick Tracy-style watch. All this recalls the late comic Peter Sellers’s delightfully silly film, “The Mouse that Roared.”
Europe, however, is not laughing. Recent revelations of massive, ultra-intrusive US electronic spying in Europe by fugitive National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden have ignited a firestorm of outrage – and hypocrisy – across the European Union.
Germany, with sinister memories of the Gestapo and East German Stasi, is particularly incensed. The magazine “Der Spiegel” says documents shown it by Snowden show that NSA read half a billion phone calls, emails, faxes and bank communications in Germany alone – in a month. German officials called this spying “disgusting” and “intolerable.”
France’s foreign minister, Alain Juppé, denounced the US for spying on a close ally. Russia and China rubbed their hands in glee over Washington’s acute embarrassment.
Two points to keep in mind. First, dear old Uncle Sam indeed spies on everybody and everyone. His big electronic ears, and those of his very close allies, hoover up all electronic communications – and have done so for decades. Every foreign embassy in Washington is bugged; most secret codes are broken by NSA’s giant computers and math wizards.
Now we learn that even our personal computers, cell phones and keyboards are bugged. It’s clear that surveillance technology has far outdistanced the restraints of law or good government. The giant security bureaucracy is out of control.
One wonders just how much useful information Big Brother can distill from the sea of data he acquires? In East Germany and the Soviet Union, a “listener” was always eves dropping and taking notes.
But that was so Cold War. Today, computers filter and parse every word, looking for key phrases, red-flagged words, or patterns.
Second, Europe’s politicians are loudly denouncing the US for spying on their people. But Britain, Germany, Italy, Holland, Spain and Belgium signed secret pacts with the US decades ago allowing NSA and CIA to spy on their citizens, and to share intelligence with Washington. The largest NSA listening post in Europe is inside NATO HQ at Brussels.
France’s intelligence agencies, notably, DGSE and predecessor SDECE, were notorious for bugging their citizens, politicians and foreign targets. Most French assumed everything said on the phone was recorded. Even pillow talk with one’s mistress was risky. DGSE even went so far as the bug the First Class seats on Air France’s flights.
Britain’s hush-hush GCHQ listening agency was almost a subsidiary of NSA and CIA. Ditto for electronic listening agencies in Australia, New Zealand, Denmark and Canada. The Soviet-run Warsaw Pact had a similar structure: the East bloc’s security agencies became “little brothers” of KGB. Bulgaria’s spy agency was used for “wet affairs:” the Czechs for sophisticated operations; the East Germans for infiltrating West Germany. US intelligence uses the same subsidiary structure in Europe and parts of Asia.
The recent refusal by France, Spain, Italy and Portugal to allow the president of Bolivia’s aircraft to transit their air space because of an erroneous CIA report Ed Snowden was aboard shocked most Europeans and made them wonder just how strong American influence really is over their governments.
France, the self-proclaimed champion of human rights and asylum for political refugees covered itself with shame and dishonor in “la affaire Snowden.”
Even so, Washington’s lame excuse “everyone does it” or blaming “terrorism” is clearly bogus. No other nation mounts such an intensive worldwide electronic spying operation. Spying on EU trade negotiators discussing banana quotas has nothing to do with so-called terrorism.
Bureaucrats and politicians hate whistleblowers. Not so much because these brave, public-spirited people reveal deep dark secrets of state, but because they cause sharp political embarrassment and identify all sorts of dirty business concealed from voters. That’s why lynchings are planned for both US Army whistleblower Bradley Manning and Ed Snowdon.
The real “national security” issue involved here is the security of hypocritical politicians and career bureaucrats.