Home Opinion Europe and US Eavesdropping: Get Use To It

Europe and US Eavesdropping: Get Use To It

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Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Contributor for In Homeland Security

Europe’s reactions to the US National Security Agency (NSA) spy programs monitoring their populations are understandable after such publicity and outrage. Still, it is inconceivable to assume that their governments were not aware of such programs. Moreover, France, who has been one of the most vocal, has an extremely active intelligence mission against the USA and a large immigrant Muslim population- a good number that are susceptible to violent extremism.

And as for Germany, it was in that country that the Hamburg Cell terrorist operatives gained entry into the US to kill almost 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001. And just yesterday, an estimated 200 German jihadists are believed to be taking part in the Syrian jihad, according to open media sources. Of course, they are doing this from many Western nations, including Norway, the US and the UK as well.

The point is that Islamic violent extremists are everywhere and it is the priority of the NSA to root them out- even in the backyards of allies. That is what is should be doing everywhere indiscriminately, so the reasoning goes.

While I do not condone the US spying on American citizens without probable cause, a specific warrant and the mentioning of specific things to be searched or seized as evidence of a suspected crime; the true purpose of the NSA is to actively and rigorously spy on every other country BUT ours. This will now include their populations as the European public have learned. All states have foreign intelligence services that do so. The US just happens to have a better one and one that was severely exposed and continues to be. The President said as much in his speech/rebuttal.

Europe has summoned US diplomats to address the issue and with admonition of damaged relations. The real anger is coming from the European public, and consequentially now, penetrating their democratic leadership. French President Francois Hallande expressed that they could not accept this type of monitoring of their country; and that it “is not just political — it is mainly an economic issue.”

Two important issues here: One, this is new to the public- electronic surveillance of their social media and phone calls on a massive scale. Two, it is about protecting the European information stream that is worrying Europe, not the US claim to track terrorists and prevent attacks. Traditional human intelligence (HUMINT) is an acceptable practice of secret information gathering, short of espionage in ‘friendly’ states.

A third issue is the question of how much longer the Snowden exposure will continue or if others will join the fight against the NSA’s global public surveillance programs. If this continues at the same rate, it is likely to run out of steam and Snowden must have anticipated this as he is sparing documents to be released in order to buy more time. Moreover, the quality of the documents has not diminished. Yet the topic is getting old and Snowden likely does not have anything beyond old memos and conferences. If he does, he is keeping an ace up his sleeve, but less likely. He is instead waiting on other leakers to pick up where he started but none have publicly come out.

In the meantime, the most advanced technological systems of the NSA are powerful enough to frighten even the one of the next biggest technological rivals into what appears to be an effort that is gathering a strong and genuine continent-wide political momentum against the US. If Snowden receives no rebel friends to join his quest, the anti-NSA/USA backlash in Europe should die down; but in the interim, some verbal exchanges and minor concessions could be made.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is forced by opposition parties to make comments like: “Obviously, words will not be sufficient. True change is necessary.” At the same time, the SPD opposition leader, Sigmar Gabriel continues to criticize highlight the issue rather than the fault: “It’s about more than just a bugging scandal with the chancellor. It’s about freedom and civil rights in the digital age.”

President Barrack Obama denied monitoring German Chancellor Merkel’s phone calls and said that the US will not do so in the future. This was during a phone conversation between the two state leaders. Edward Snowden released another document (a classified memo dated in 2006) to the French paper Le Monde. It stated the NSA intercepted 70 million French calls and monitored 35 world leaders.

White House Press Secretary Jim Carney made a statement directed more to the European leaderships than their populace: “There are real threats out there against the American people and against our allies, including Germany, including allies around Europe and around the world.” He has a convincing point: a state needs to protect their populations at all costs. What is implied is this: ‘we are doing that too for you.’ And also: ‘we have to protect our own people from violent extremists living in or commuting through your countries too.’

President Obama’s response was to apologize more to the Europe and world leadership for spying on them than to their foreign populations- as he is not expected to. The President tried a reasonable approach and also correctly informed the Europeans that they are collecting information on what is happening around the world and that “so does every intelligence service…”

Lastly, the President was adamant to review and to some extent may limit but not change its overall signals intelligence policies aimed at Europe: “Going forward, we will continue to gather the information we need to keep ourselves and our allies safe, while giving even greater focus to ensuring that we are balancing our security needs with the privacy concerns all people share.”

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