Ever since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden fled the job he held for three months, taking four laptop computers full of U.S. intelligence with him to Hong Kong and Russia, other countries have become "outraged" by the Snowden disclosures about American intelligence practices. What, exactly, is so alarming? Apparently, the fact that spies actually spy. Give me a break.
The average person might be excused for being surprised at what spies actually do and by Snowden's revelations about passive data mining -- even though such programs have existed for years. The fact that most people didn't even know about data mining supports the notion that the program hasn't been misused to undeservedly target the average citizen. And despite Snowden's revelations about PRISM data collection, there is zero evidence to suggest that the government won't remain steadfastly disinterested in the banalities of people's private lives.
Michael Hayden, the former director of both the NSA and CIA, thinks the solution is greater transparency with regard to spying. Really? American spy agencies are overmarketed and overexposed as it is. Keeping the American public, along with the rest of the world, more thoroughly informed about America's intelligence-gathering methods can't possibly outweigh the benefits of secrecy.
Not that it isn't a tricky equation. I'm generally in favor of transparency. I like having access to as much data as possible. Every time a batch of classified WikiLeaks documents was dumped, I found myself rifling through it for info treasure, and there were some gems that eventually led to new information about the role of intelligence think tank Stratfor and about the wheeling and dealing done by the British government to secure the release of the Lockerbie bomber in order to protect a deal between Libya and British energy giant BP.
But I also realize that national security generally isn't served by transparency. Even though I appreciate access to such information, so do the enemies of America and its allies.
European governments have been expressing faux outrage over American intelligence activities in the wake of a 2010 document released by Snowden indicating that the U.S. bugged European reps in Washington, D.C.
Look, government intelligence agencies spy. That's their entire raison d'etre. And it's particularly acceptable to spy on foreign entities -- both friendly and hostile -- especially on their own turf. If you're in a role that's important enough to warrant being actively targeted by surveillance, then you should also be savvy enough to take responsibility for yourself and adopt counteractive measures to minimize your exposure.
Funny that no one seemed to care about Russia's capabilities for such things when the U.S. ambassador to that country, Mike McFaul, tweeted last year: "Everywhere I go NTV [Russian television] is there. Wonder who gives them my calendar? Wonder what the laws are here for such things?" He added: "I respect press right to go anywhere and ask any question. But do they have a right to read my email and listen to my phone?"
We're talking here about a diplomatic chief of mission protected by the Vienna Convention from such things. But no one's ever going to stop Russia from spying itself silly -- so why handicap every other nation involved in the game?
Spies are gonna spy, and no one knows that better than the governments currently whining the loudest about it: Germany and France.
A German-language document from 2006 obtained by WikiLeaks -- hey, I just said that I wasn't above rifling through the leaks -- detailed the extensive collaboration (58 meetings, in the case of one journalist) between Germany's secret intelligence service, the BND, and agents within the nation's mainstream media to identify sources and provide useful coverage. Yet German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger had the audacity to refer to the monitoring of foreign representatives on U.S. soil as a "Cold War" tactic. Meanwhile, Germany is planning to invest another $130 million over the next five years in its own online surveillance program.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called the American surveillance of visiting diplomats "completely unacceptable," which is utterly laughable. Fabius served as the French prime minister during the presidential tenure of Francois Mitterrand, who had once ordered a special counterintelligence cell to tap numerous phone lines, including those of journalists, political opponents, writers and entertainment figures. It was also reported by Peter Schweizer in his 1993 book Friendly Spies: How America's Allies Are Using Economic Espionage to Steal Our Secrets that the French tapped the calls of foreign companies with French subsidiaries, with the express purpose of passing the competitive intelligence to French competitors.
Either the representatives of these nations are experiencing amnesia, or they're straight-up hypocrites.