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Yes, we spy on allies. Want to make something of it?

27 Comments

If not yet the consensus opinion, by tomorrow morning most everyone with a keyboard and a connection to the Internet who isn't also a head of state will concede that the ally-on-ally spying by the United States - revealed in documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden to Der Spiegel - won't matter much in the long run.

This is not to say German Chancellor Angela Merkel has no right to be personally ticked off about the U.S. snooping on her phone calls since 2002. She does. The Wall Street Journal reported that upwards of 35 world leaders were spied on by the U.S. They have a right to be ticked off, too, but the protests are largely contrived. As Max Boot and David Gewirtz wrote in Commentary's blog and ZDNet, respectively, nations have traditionally spied on allies both putative and stalwart. One excellent reason to spy on an ally, Gewirtz notes, is to confirm that the ally is really an ally. Allies sometimes become adversaries, so shifting signs must be monitored. Likewise, allies may be allies, but they always have their disagreements. What better way to prevent unpleasant surprises from an ally than by monitoring him? Boot quotes Lord Palmerston, the 19th century British foreign minister and prime minister, on this score: "We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow."

Other reasons to spy on allies: It keeps them honest, or if not honest, it at least puts them on notice that their lies might get found out. Spying gives countries a diplomatic leg up on allies, as well as an edge in things military. The downside - well, there is really no downside unless receiving the stink eye from an ally for a couple of weeks qualifies as a downside. And so it has been for a long time, as Slate's Fred Kaplan wrote in 2004. In 2009 Britain's Telegraph reported that spy agencies from 20 countries, including France and Germany, had sought to steal Britain's secrets. Earlier this year, the Guardian disclosed that British spooks eavesdropped on the G20 dignitaries when they convened in London in 2009, dispensing a little what-goes-around-comes-around to their allies. Apprehended spies may suffer, as has the American Jonathan Pollard, who pleaded guilty to spying for Israel in 1987 and is serving a life sentence in prison. But the spymasters don't, so don't expect them to stop any time soon.

The longitudinal interest by the U.S. in all things Merkel may be informed by her past. She was a citizen of East Germany before reunification, and her personal history has long been controversial. It became more so after the publication, earlier this year, of Günther Lachmann and Ralf Georg Reuth's book, The First Life of Angela M. An ardent Russophile, Merkel thrived in East Germany, which makes some question her deeper loyalties. Well, not everybody questions her loyalties, as this recent Foreign Affairs (registration required) piece indicates. But if you were one of America's top spies, wouldn't you have opened a file on Merkel as she rose in German politics after the Berlin Wall fell? Wouldn't you have kept it updated as she became the head of state?

Just as Germany has yet to expunge its Nazi past, its eastern, totalitarian provinces have not come close to expunging their Communist past. The East Germans were brilliant at spycraft, placing the productive spook Günter Guillaume in the office of Chancellor Willy Brandt for several years. When he was arrested in 1974, the Brandt government fell. In 1993 Guillaume said, "The two men I was happiest to serve were Willy Brandt and [East German spymaster] Markus Wolf." Even if the Guillaume penetration had never happened, Western intelligence services would still have had cause to keep tabs on German politics and politicians.

It may be that Merkel's public carpet-calling of Obama is just for domestic show, as she tries to figure out what the country's next government will look like. Or maybe in a weak moment, she said something in a text message that she forgot could be monitored. Who among us hasn't? And if we haven't, it's only a matter of time before we do. But as scandals go, this seems like a Snapchat moment: it's designed to disappear.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2013.

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

27 Comments
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"...nations have traditionally spied on allies both putative and stalwart."

Some people refuse to believe that THEIR government is capable of such things.

"...but the protests are largely contrived." "It may be that Merkel’s public carpet-calling of Obama is just for domestic show..."

And some people can't seem to see through the political stagecraft.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Just as Germany has yet to expunge its Nazi past, its eastern, totalitarian provinces have not come close to expunging their Communist past.

So US's manifest destiny lives on.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Double standards.

People spy on the US or blow the whistle on US dirty dealings = TERRIBLE!

The US spies on its own citizens and the politicians and diplomats of other countries = "NOTHING WRONG, EVERYBODY DOES IT!"

We notice a similar thing with waterboarding:

Japanese military waterboard US soldiers in WWII = WAR CRIME (PUNISHED BY HANGING)

Bush orders suspected "terrorists" to be waterboarded - PERFECTLY OK, IT'S NOT TORTURE, IT'S AN ADVANCED INTERROGATION TECHNIQUE

3 ( +3 / -0 )

So if spying is okay, why does America go all out to arrest hackers from other countries. Hey, everyone does it.

What it really means is that America wants to know what everyone is doing, but will come after you if you do the same to them.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

@Frungy

Sadly the U.S. seems to have lost all connection with its mythic past where "a man was as good as his word" and "I'll do what I say", etc.

I wonder what promises Mr. Snowden made when he was hired?

Individuals lie. Governments are made up of individuals. Therefore, all governments lie.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

kurumazakaOct. 31, 2013 - 09:44AM JST ... becuse he knew very well that he absolutely violated both the law and the oath he took when he recieved that top secret clearance. Those who receive such clearances are made very much aware of the consequences of divulging info they are privy to. Why does the US want to prosecute him? Are you serious?

Some idiot was just arguing that the U.S. had nothing to hide. Yet it plainly did. The same idiot tried to argue that the U.S. didn't get upset when its secrets were exposed. It did, as evidenced by the international stink they raised about Snowden.

Now I have more idiots trying to argue a different issue by quoting me out of context.... sigh I'm surrounded by idiots.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It would be nice to see humankind evolve and not regress back to the dark ages of war, cold war, creating rifts and other kerfuffle only close to the heart of politicans and their friends.

And anyone who had parents knows the answer to "everybody is doing it" is. (-> if your friends would jump of a cliff ...)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

bass4funkOct. 31, 2013 - 11:38PM JST So you are implying that people who are using reasonable logic to delegitimize your weak argument and you to use ad hom attacks to those that would challenge your rant are idiots??

... if you were actually using logic of any sort this might be legitimate criticism, but given the complete absence of logic in your posts I'd say that it is fair comment.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

One thing you can depend from America is to lie about everything that their government says.

0 ( +6 / -6 )

The spying is not the issue here. The level of detail is. Yes spying is as old as humanity but it was usually confined to what you put out there. Now with electronics you can capture movements, all communications and even what the other person eats.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

U.S. spy chief defends spying on foreign leaders Get over it!!! Every country spies its just that the one with the most toys and who have the capability either loses or eventually get caught. In this case the US was ratted out. Russia tried too by giving out gifts and they too got caught. If anybody has a clue of what Embassy are then they will know they are nothing but BIG SPY HOUSES!!!

This happened at this years G20 Summit in Russia

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/10/30/russias-goodie-bag-gifts-bugged-g-20-delegates/?intcmp=latestnews And the world is mad at The US for spying...

0 ( +2 / -2 )

bass4funkNov. 01, 2013 - 01:00AM JST I see, so it means you can't understand that most of the world spies on everyone and not ONLY the US.

rofl Would you and your imaginary friend like to continue your argument? Because I didn't even post on this issue.

Thanks for admitting it. Now if you would admit that Snowden is a criminal and should be brought to justice under the law. That would seem to be putting it right, logically speaking.

Again ROFL. "Admitting" something I never even posted about? In your dreams. And whether Snowden is or is not a criminal? Again, not even under discussion. The discussion was about whether the U.S. caused a fuss and tried to cover up their secrets.. which they undeniably did.

You can't even TELL what the issues are. You're doing a wonderful job of confirming what I had to say about your intelligence.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

One of the things I have found interesting is that very little to no mention has been made of which administration this took place in, ie the one before the present one. Is spying kept entirely separate from whoever is in charge? Did Bush know this was going on?

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I wonder what promises Mr. Snowden made when he was hired?

@Yardley--If you made a promise to keep secrets for your boss, then found out he was murdering people and needed your silence to keep murdering more, would keeping your promise to him be the honorable thing to do? Would it even be legal?

No. Keeping promises is a basic moral, but there are exceptions. If you violate the exceptions, you are immoral. You cannot keep promises and secrets that do harm to people and be in the right. That is why the U.S. protects whistle blowers any other day.

But rifling through your friends' things when you don't even have a suspicion they may be up to no good is totally wrong.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Yes, we scan! Deal with it.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Bertie

It's a sad state of affairs, and all the fresh air in the world isn't going to do a bit of difference. It's better we just get used to it.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Other reasons to spy on allies: It keeps them honest, or if not honest, it at least puts them on notice that their lies might get found out.

... and yet the American government goes ape when it gets spied on... which I guess means that they're lying so hard that they are terrified that the U.S. people will find out.

As for this article, it is probably true in the U.S. where people are so used to their government lying that they frequently can't even recognize the truth because it looks so unfamiliar. However Mr. Shafer, not everyone lives in the U.S, and you projecting your cultural paradigm of "being lied to is normal" onto other nations just displays all that is wrong with the U.S. today.

Some of us still expect honesty from our governments, and while we don't always get it we do get hopping mad when they're caught out and heads roll. Sadly the U.S. seems to have lost all connection with its mythic past where "a man was as good as his word" and "I'll do what I say", etc.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

Ironically, spying keeps nations honest.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

@frungy

If the U.S. had nothing to hide and wasn't trying to hide, then why procecute Snowden? You have no answer? I thought not.

I do. Because he is a criminal that STOLE government secrets, violated company policy, breach of contract. More than enough reason to prosecute him. You think any other country would just turn a blind eye and say, it's ok, just go home have a coke and a smile?

... wow, U.S. education really sucks. Ever heard of Reagan? I guess not.

so now because you can't say anything else, you have to resort to ad hom attacks? Typical.

How short your memory is, does breakfast in the U.S. include a nice dose of rohypnol so you can't remember yesterday's lies? Don't you remember Bush (senior or junior, take your pick), who broke promises on a regular basis?

Uhhh, where does Bush fit in all of this?? I never heard of Merkel and the other European leaders say anything about Bush...younger or senior. I suppose WWII was caused by Bush as well.

@thunder

So if spying is okay, why does America go all out to arrest hackers from other countries. Hey, everyone does it.

Spying and breaking into or hacking into a computer system are two completely different things. Everyone spies that's the game they all play. Hacking is a serious crime, many countries do it, nonetheless, it is a crime. The Chinese are MOST famous for it.

?What it really means is that America wants to know what everyone is doing, but will come after you if you do the same to them.

If you hack, sure. So if China and Russia hack into our systems, we are NOT allowed to know sensitive and vital intel from them?

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Anyone ever used to watch the TV series JAG? On one episode the CAG of a US Navy Air Group was on trial and he made a rather brilliant comment. He said, when he "sees another fighter plane in the sky, unless it has USA markings, it could be a possible enemy." Who knows what the future holds, allies now could be enemies in 10 years time.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

@frungy

Some idiot was just arguing that the U.S. had nothing to hide. Yet it plainly did. The same idiot tried to argue that the U.S. didn't get upset when its secrets were exposed. It did, as evidenced by the international stink they raised about Snowden.

Now I have more idiots trying to argue a different issue by quoting me out of context.... sigh I'm surrounded by idiots.

So you are implying that people who are using reasonable logic to delegitimize your weak argument and you to use ad hom attacks to those that would challenge your rant are idiots??

Well, then maybe you are right.

@control

No. Keeping promises is a basic moral, but there are exceptions. If you violate the exceptions, you are immoral. You cannot keep promises and secrets that do harm to people and be in the right. That is why the U.S. protects whistle blowers any other day.

But he wasn't whistle blowing, If Snowden would have lawyered up, gathered together up some journalists, worked out a deal with the lawyers as to the right procedures to come forward! he would have had a lot of support! deals could have been made and maybe I would have even supported him. But that's not what happened. The guy planned to steal, got on a plane and fled, innocent people NEVER do that, sorry! Why go to Russia and China? If he really was concerned about his country and people, there is No way, he would have done this, the way he did. He wanted to destroy his country, pure and simple. The man belong behind bars and have his mouth welded shut! I hope the guys freezes in Russia, good riddance.

But rifling through your friends' things when you don't even have a suspicion they may be up to no good is totally wrong.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

as always with this administration the fault will be laid at president bush's door- even though president obama kept the program in place and probably expanded it - as he did with the drone program, the prism program, the patriot act program etc......

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

@bear

One thing you can depend from America is to lie about everything that their government says.

So which government is honest and which government lies?

@frungy

... and yet the American government goes ape when it gets spied on... which I guess means that they're lying so hard that they are terrified that the U.S. people will find out.

No one is going Ape anything, everyone knows it, no one is hiding it, so I don't get it, why you shout fire, when there is NO smoke?

As for this article, it is probably true in the U.S. where people are so used to their government lying that they frequently can't even recognize the truth because it looks so unfamiliar. However Mr. Shafer, not everyone lives in the U.S, and you projecting your cultural paradigm of "being lied to is normal" onto other nations just displays all that is wrong with the U.S. today.

Yo, hold up! The US got used to the government lying after This President came into office, because more and more people are dependent on it. As for being lied to is normal, all the more reasons why countries have spy agencies.

Some of us still expect honesty from our governments,

Good luck with that. Name me a government that is honest.

and while we don't always get it we do get hopping mad when they're caught out and heads roll. Sadly the U.S. seems to have lost all connection with its mythic past where "a man was as good as his word" and "I'll do what I say", etc.

Since this president came into power, his word is as good as a pile of....!

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

bass4funk No one is going Ape anything, everyone knows it, no one is hiding it, so I don't get it, why you shout fire, when there is NO smoke?

If the U.S. had nothing to hide and wasn't trying to hide, then why procecute Snowden? You have no answer? I thought not.

Yo, hold up! The US got used to the government lying after This President came into office

... wow, U.S. education really sucks. Ever heard of Reagan? I guess not.

Since this president came into power, his word is as good as a pile of....!

How short your memory is, does breakfast in the U.S. include a nice dose of rohypnol so you can't remember yesterday's lies? Don't you remember Bush (senior or junior, take your pick), who broke promises on a regular basis?

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

I see, so it means you can't understand that most of the world spies on everyone and not ONLY the US. Thanks for admitting it. Now if you would admit that Snowden is a criminal and should be brought to justice under the law. That would seem to be putting it right, logically speaking.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

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