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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2731

US Spying Mission on European Leaders

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

European leaders are up in arms against the US over the claims that its National Security Agency, NSA, is spying on them on regular basis with the aid of very sophisticated electronic surveillance systems. The simmering row took a turn for the worse, when it emerged this week that the agency was eavesdropping on the mobile phone used by Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor.

It was reported that Ms Merkel phoned President Obama to express her shock at the ‘unacceptable’ behaviour of the American spies. Since the US neither admitted nor denied the charge, it makes sense to assume that the two leaders may be working on a mutually-acceptable damage-limitation exercise: after all, both are politicians and know the need of mutual survival; they have left the business of dealing with the rhetoric to the respective aids.

In the light of these developments, it looks like the NSA came into being in the early 50’s to define allies at regular intervals, while being engaged in numerous secret things. The countries, which are said to have been spied on, were routinely categorized as the ‘international community’ by the respective US administrations, when the latter identified ‘enemies’ beyond the geographical realm of the allies at a time of its choice – especially, when the US was in clear breach of UN guidelines or legality was in a grey area.

Ms Merkel, on her part, tried to make light of the embarrassment while attending a EU meeting in Brussels while implying the futility of deciphering her conversations: “Basically, everybody always hears the same thing from me,” she told reporters when asked about her position over the issue.

The German public, meanwhile, do not seem to be entirely sympathetic towards Ms Merkel, judging by the position taken by the major newspapers: “When an entire population is spied upon, it’s OK. Only when Merkel’s cell is involved does anyone get upset,” a business consultant ranted. Some are clearly angry at Ms Merkel over her reluctance to voice concern over the extensive NSA activities on Germans civilians – up until Ms Merkel herself became a victim, of course.

In the US, meanwhile, the tone seems to be unapologetic on the basis that everyone spies on everyone else. Some talk show hosts have even used the opportunity to poke fun at the Germans while scanning over unpleasant chapters of its recent history:"Germany is mad at the United States for the NSA eavesdropping.

This, ladies and gentlemen, from the country that gave us the Gestapo,” said one of them while leaving the audience in a hysterical laughter.

“If everyone eavesdrops on everyone else what is the issue here?” one may always wonder. “It is the magnitude of eavesdropping that shocked us,” says Bernard Kouchner, the former French foreign minister.

"Let's be honest, we eavesdrop too. Everyone is listening to everyone else. But we don't have the same means as the United States, which makes us jealous." In short, the row is not only about the breach of privacy, but also about a certain human attribute – pure jealousy.

The developments will certainly dilute the ability of some European leaders to make a distinction between the elected leaders and ordinary citizens when it comes to espionage. They now know everybody is in it together.

Moreover, they may come under immense pressure not to corporate on widespread spying practices in the name of national security in future, as they can easily get out of hand.

It is not just in Europe that the US has come under scathing attack for its conduct while portraying itself as a friend. In Brazil, for instance, president Dilma Rouseff is taking steps to safeguard online security and independence as a matter of urgency, after learning that her phone had been tapped by the NSA. President Rouseff wants Brazilian data to be stored locally in Brazil in order to protect them from NSA snooping.

If President Rouseff gets what she wants, it is not only unprecedented, but also very detrimental to the growth of the internet as we know it. Even Google has expressed concern over the reaction, as Brazil is the largest economy in Latin America; the tech giant knows the tendency may accelerate when Mr Snowden disclose more secrets about NSA tactics in due course when the time is ripe – and the targets too.

Moreover, the long-term impact on major US tech companies such as Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple and even Google will be damaging if individual countries start bringing in legislation to tighten the privacy laws; most digital giants, if not all, already have admitted that they provided the NSA with data on request.

Although spying on each other is nothing new even among friends, the revelations have seriously damaged the reputation of the US as a moral tsar. The difficult position that the US is in, with regard to this particular issue, has the potential to rob the Superpower of its supremacy to act hypocritically on global issues in the future, as its enemies now have plenty of ammunition to shoot the US in the foot before getting away with it.

- Asian Tribune -

US Spying Mission on European Leaders
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