Stung by an embarrassing series of revelations about NSA snooping on world leaders and coming under withering criticism from allies, Barack Obama has ordered a review of espionage policies in the US. The Obama administration promises to rethink what we capture on surveillance, and the targets of our snooping, in order to make sure the US gets what it needs rather than just whatever it can collect:
That may not cut it for Germany and France:
It’s not enough for the leaders of Germany and France. Both countries want a halt to eavesdropping on leaders, companies and law-abiding citizens after allegations the National Security Agency gathered tens of thousands of French phone records and hacked German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone.
The German leader said trust has been severely shaken and something had to change. The spying revelations come from leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden – reports that the U.S. had spied on 35 world leaders. Brazil’s president canceled a state dinner after learning she was a target. Spain’s prime minister says he’ll summon the U.S. ambassador.
But Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron pointed the finger back at Snowden, saying the leak of classified information would make it harder for his and other countries to keep citizens safe. He said, “What Snowden is doing, and to an extent what the newspapers are doing in helping him doing what he’s doing, is frankly signaling to people who mean to do us harm how to evade and avoid intelligence and surveillance.”
I’m tempted to make reference to Obama’s promise to raise our standing with our allies after the supposedly arrogant Bush administration, but in this case that kind of criticism would be unfair. This kind of surveillance didn’t start under Obama, as we have seen with respect to trawling domestic communications, and the inclusion of world leaders in our surveillance wouldn’t have gotten out except for Edward Snowden. In that sense, I’m more sympathetic to Cameron. Snowden’s central conceit was that he was rescuing America from a surveillance state, but more of his revelations have damaged legitimate American intelligence abilities abroad and recklessly attacked our diplomatic standing at a time when Western unity is needed against the real threats of Islamist terrorism.
As for France’s demands, let’s just keep this in mind:
Back in 2001, European leaders accused the United States government of operating a vast industrial espionage network that was eavesdropping on European businesses and giving trade secrets to American companies.
According to the latest WikiLeaks cable release, they should have been looking internally.
France is the country that conducts the most industrial espionage on other European countries, even ahead of China and Russia, according to leaked U.S. diplomatic cables, reported in a translation by Agence France Presse of Norwegian daily Aftenposten’s reporting.
“French espionage is so widespread that the damages (it causes) the German economy are larger as a whole than those caused by China or Russia,” an undated note from the U.S. embassy in Berlin said.
Most of this outrage is designed for domestic consumption in France and Germany. Obama’s review is designed to allow France, Germany, and others to save a little face until the next leak from Snowden. But the key point to keep in mind is that all of these countries share in the information trawled by NSA and US intel, as we share in theirs. If NSA gets kneecapped on its ability to do foreign SIGINT, they will all lose in the transaction.