Editor’s Note: The reactions to the latest allegations of US spying against major European nations, even if they are 100% true (and I hope they are, because it means the US’s intelligence community is doing its job), are much ado about nothing. “We caught you spying, and we’re pissed.” Well, world, your moral outrage is duly noted. We could say we’re sorry and that we won’t do it again, but 1) we’re not, and 2) we will. So climb down off your high horse and realize that states spy on other states, even allied ones. This spying goes both ways; it always has and it always will. Don’t be mad at us because our spying is better than yours.
Well, that’s awkward… again. US-Germany relations suffered yet another blow recently when it was revealed that the US had bought off not one, but two German government officials who subsequently gave the US secrets related to, ironically, an internal German investigation into the US’s earlier efforts to spy on German government officials.
Reporters and political pundits were quick to make dire predictions about the potential future of the relationship between the two allies, opining that the two countries might be near a breaking point.
As much as some would like to see the US/Germany relationship crumble it’s not going to happen anytime soon, at least not over something like this. The concept that “allies do not spy on each other” is ridiculous. Sure it’s embarrassing to both sides when it gets made public, but it doesn’t mean that everyone can’t still be friends. Case in point: the US regularly catches Israel spying, but we still give them all kinds of security guarantees on top of $3 billion a year in foreign aid. Why? Because it’s in our national interests to do so.
In the same sense that “good fences make good neighbors,” good spying makes for good national security. And for the same reasons: it helps keep everyone honest. Germany and America need each other, and it is in the interests of both sides to continue to have close relations. Since state interests are the only things that really matter when it comes to alliances, the US-German relationship is in no danger of serious jeopardy in the immediate future.
“The actual humiliation is that the Americans obviously don’t care what we think,” pouted German newspaper Der Spiegel in the immediate aftermath of these most recent revelations. That is absolutely not true. Germany is an important economic, political, and military partner of the United States. Of course we care what Germany thinks; we just don’t care about it more than we do our own national security. After all, things that go on in Germany can and do directly impact us here in the United States sometimes literally. Sorry Germany, we’re going to keep spying on you. It’s in our national interests to do so.
Don’t worry though, your intelligence services are doing the same thing to us. How do I know? Well, in an interesting twist to this story, it turns out that some of the German secrets recently revealed by the US-controlled spy included details of recorded conversations of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton… that were made by Germany’s intelligence service, the BND. And it looks like you guys listened in on now-Secretary of State John Kerry too. Turkey, a NATO ally of both Germany and the US, has been getting a little love from Germany’s BND recently as well.
But wait a minute, Germany, wasn’t your chancellor just last month talking about how “…(Germany and the US) don’t spy on each other” and that doing so was “unacceptable?” That’s interesting, since Merkel’s comments came AFTER you had the goods on Clinton AND Kerry. Hm, it looks like allies DO spy on each other after all.
In light of this recent dust-up, it seemed reasonable to dust off the below article from the Havok Journal archives. After all, nothing much has changed when it comes to allies spying on each other. Nothing ever does.
The following article was originally posted 30SEP14
Well, that’s awkward.
It seems that included in the trove of highly-classified government documents that former NSA turncoat Edward Snowden released to the world included details related to US collection efforts directed against European allies and South American partners, including France, Germany, and Brazil. The fallout of these revelations was predictable. The prime minister of France said he was “deeply shocked” by the revelations. The leader of Germany, Angela Merkel, stated that relations between her country and the US have been “severely shaken.” And the president of Brazil was so incensed, that she cancelled a state visit to the US.
The hypocrisy and false outrage of foreign political leaders to these latest US spying allegations is astonishing. Guess what, folks? Gentlemen do, in fact, read each other’s mail. France’s former intelligence chief admitted that France does (or tries to do) the exact same thing that the US does with regard to spying. Germany inadvertently revealed its own collection efforts inside the United States in 2008. And remember Brazil’s outrage over US collection efforts against them? Well, unsurprisingly, it turns out they were doing pretty much the exact same thing to “friendly” foreign diplomats (including US ones). To the degree that the US’s erstwhile allies do not spy on the US “in the manner” or “to the same degree” as the US does is a question of capability, not courtesy. Chatham House analyst Anand Menon explained it like this:
“When this sort of thing comes out I think governments need to show they’re horrified and appalled and will do something about it, but I very much doubt any European government is particularly surprised,” he said. “I very much doubt any European governments would turn down the chance of having transcripts of Barack Obama’s phone calls.”
Of course the US spies on Germany. Angela Merkel is considered to be one of the top five most powerful people in the world. Her country is an economic and political juggernaut, with a great deal of latent military potential. Yes, Germany is allied with the US, as is France, and the US has close ties with Brazil as well. But every country spies on every other country, to the degree that they feel is necessary, and to the maximum level they can. After all, the primary goal of any state is to simply ensure its survival. Survival depends on information. And because of this, while there are friendly nations, there are no friendly intelligence services. It is the way of the world, and political leaders who don’t understand that basic fact are either bewilderingly naïve, or are playing to a bewilderingly naïve domestic audience. So, the US spies on everyone. Is anyone really surprised by that? Or that everyone else spies on the US in return? They shouldn’t be.
Noticeably absent from the hypocritical false outrage expressed by European and South American leaders is a corresponding level of public condemnation from their intelligence services. This is because these intelligence professionals know or at least suspect what the US is doing, they know that their own countries do the same things themselves, and more often than not, these same intelligence professionals know their countries benefit from the US’s intelligence efforts in some way. What is not adequately addressed in all of the articles bashing the US’s intel collection efforts in these countries is the degree to which the host nation intelligence services are themselves involved in the operations, and the value that these countries gain from the finished intelligence being shared with them. All of the focus is on the mere fact that collection is occurring.
The reactions to these latest spying allegations, even if they are 100% true (and I hope they are, because it means the US’s intelligence community is doing its job), are much ado about nothing. “We caught you spying, and we’re pissed.” Well, world, your moral outrage is duly noted. We could say we’re sorry and that we won’t do it again, but 1) we’re not, and 2) we will. So climb down off your high horse and realize that states spy on other states, even allied ones. This spying goes both ways; it always has and it always will. Don’t be mad at us because our spying is better than yours.