“GENTLEMEN do not read other gentlemen’s mail” sniffed US Secretary of State Henry Stimson in 1929 when told that American cryptographers had broken Japan’s naval and diplomatic codes.
Stimson, who later headed the War Department, ordered code-breaking shut down.
Alas, there are not any old-school gentlemen left in Washington these days. Revelations of US electronic spying by whistleblower Edward Snowden have ignited a furore across Latin America and now Europe.
This week’s uproar was intensified by claims that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had tapped into the cell phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Europe’s most important and influential leader. Further outrage erupted in France after reports that its leaders and diplomats had been tapped by NSA’s big ears.
To no surprise, President Obama officially denied listening in to Merkel’s calls. A US source sought to lessen the damage by claiming NSA had only tapped her office phone, not her cell phone. German anger was not assuaged.
Back in the day, French Interior Ministers – notably Nicholas Sarkozy – used to stay up late poring over wire taps of fellow officials’ peccadillos. That was good fun. Today, by contrast, the NSA and CIA are sweeping up all communications of supposed allies as part of the runaway US national security state. Call it the Stasi meets Apple’s late Steve Jobs.
Last month alone, NSA reportedly sifted through 70 million French phone calls, text and email under the lame pretext of fighting terrorism. What NSA was really finding were the phone numbers of prominent Frenchmen’s mistresses or boyfriends – very useful for CIA blackmail ops – and important commercial information.
Terrorism is a red herring. NSA’s run amok spying, allegedly to combat “terrorism,” is making a lot of Americans wonder again about the events of 9/11 that triggered the explosion of America’s spy state, restrictive laws, and foreign wars.
Still, one wonders if President Obama knew what his spies were doing. He has little control over the Pentagon and probably even less over America’s mammoth, ever-growing spy state built by former President George W. Bush that costs over US$80 billion per annum. Some 4.8 million Americans now have secret security clearance and work for the octopod national security state.
Obama would not be the first president not to know what his spooks were up to. But he should have been this time. Bugging the leaders of America’s closest European and Latin American allies was an incredibly stupid act. Nothing thereby learned could have been worth the damage caused.
US Elint (electronic spying) has humiliated European and Latin leaders and made them and NATO look like American vassals to be dismissed or disdained.
How can Europe’s leaders face their own voters after this shameful episode? Revelations by Snowden and Army private Bradley Manning show that Washington treats its NATO allies in the same imperious manner the old Soviet Union bossed around the Warsaw Pact.
Europe’s leaders are under mounting pressure to demonstrate their independence of Uncle Sam by taking some stern retaliatory action against US interests.
A starting point would be building a brand-new electronic communications architecture for Western Europe that resists US penetration, and creating a truly independent Europe military capability. Time for Europe to stop being foot soldiers to America’s nuclear knights.
US reputation in Europe and Latin America is now at an all-time low. The next NSA spying scandals will likely come from the Mideast, India and Pakistan, Canada, South Korea and Japan. Obama may be remembered as having gotten the world even angrier at the US than predecessor George W. Bush – quite an accomplishment.
Washington claims “everyone does spying.” True enough, but no one is anywhere close to NSA’s giant vacuum cleaner and all-hearing bugs. What the US has been doing is far more than information gathering against a handful of anti-American militants. It’s heavy-duty intimidation. A reminder that Big Brother is watching and listening.
The deeply corrupt US Congress won’t do much to curtail NSA’s information theft. Too many of its members profit from market trades made on the basis of NSA snooping.
The question remains: how come US foreign policy is such a mess considering that Uncle Sam is listening to everyone’s phone and reading their mail?
Eric S. Margolis is an award-winning, internationally syndicated columnist, writing mainly about the Middle East and South Asia.
This article appeared in The Sun Daily, a leading Malaysian newspaper. Click here to go to the original.