One key indicator of the health of an international relationship might be how often one gets compared to a brutal Big Brother apparatus. If so, then Barack Obama discovered that the US-German relationship needs a little medicine ASAP. According to the New York Times, the relationship has hit the rocks thanks to the revelations in the NSA scandal — and Angela Merkel bluntly told off Obama in an October phone call by using a comparison that hardly compliments the US:
In an angry conversation with Mr. Obama in October after the phone monitoring was revealed, Ms. Merkel said that the N.S.A.’s activities reminded her of growing up as the daughter of a Protestant minister in East Germany. “She told him, ‘This is like the Stasi,’ ” said one person who had discussed the conversation with the chancellor.
Another person familiar with the conversation said Ms. Merkel had told Mr. Obama that she was particularly angry that, based on the disclosures, “the N.S.A. clearly couldn’t be trusted with private information, because they let Snowden clean them out.”
Over the next several weeks, the situation hasn’t improved much. In part, that’s because the US refuses to give any guarantees that it will stop listening to German officials, only committing to leaving Merkel’s communications alone. Merkel wants the NSA to stop snooping in Germany altogether, but the US worries that setting that kind of precedent would force the NSA out of other countries as well:
“Susan Rice has been very clear to us,” one senior German official said, referring to Mr. Obama’s national security adviser. “The U.S. is not going to set a precedent.”
Frankly, I’d guess that Merkel is a lot more worried about NSA security than its actual activities, although the insult of being personally spied upon certainly can’t have helped her disposition. No one seriously expects the US to ignore communications in Germany, especially given the activity in Hamburg prior to the 9/11 attacks. What Merkel wants is for it to remain secret, and almost certainly to be better targeted to actual security threats, so that her government isn’t embarrassed again by revelations of indiscriminate communication collection in the US. The outrage over espionage is just a little hypocritical coming from other nations that conduct intelligence operations for their own purposes, and coordinate with the US for common security against terrorist threats.
The same is true for those who aren’t front-line partners with the US. Edward Snowden appealed publicly to one of those countries, Brazil, asking them to help settle his status so that he could travel to nations looking to protect themselves from Uncle Sam’s snooping:
In a letter obtained and published early Tuesday by the respected Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, Snowden said he’s been impressed by the Brazilian government’s strong criticism of the massive NSA spy program targeting Internet and telecommunications around the globe, including monitoring the mobile phone of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.
Brazilian senators have asked for Snowden’s help during hearings about the NSA program’s aggressive targeting of Brazil, an important transit hub for trans-Atlantic fiber optic cables that are hacked.
“I’ve expressed my willingness to assist where it’s appropriate and legal, but, unfortunately, the U.S. government has been working hard to limit my ability to do so,” said the letter, translated into Portuguese by the newspaper. It didn’t make the English original available online.
“Until a country grants me permanent political asylum, the U.S. government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak out,” the letter added.
News agencies assume that Snowden appealed specifically for Brazilian asylum, but the letter doesn’t explicitly request it. Nonetheless, Snowden would probably accept it if offered at this point. Brazil has its own track record of domestic and diplomatic espionage that extends the hypocrisy past the US circle of allies, but it still would be a friendlier place than most for Snowden specifically now.
It would be friendlier than the US, certainly:
That’s not like the Stasi, by the way.