What is in the public interest and what is vital for the national security? The U.S. government, but also the UK Cabinet, seemed to have found the answer to this dilemma: all information is crucial in the so-called war on terrorism. This unilateral decision taken by Washington and London to snoop in the life of millions of innocent people, and most probably by other world powers (not yet caught red-handed) resulted in the mass spying of the citizens of the world, from the most remote American farm to the suburbs of New Delhi. According to the latest bulk of information released by NSA defector Edward Snowden, in one month only the National Security Agency and its British counterpart GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) had tapped some 100 billion phones worldwide, the majority in South-East Asia.
The fact that the world leaders are spying on each other, is a sign of our much troubled times.
It is a direct consequence of 9/11, namely of the new paradigm of our globalised society: trust no one, fear everyone, including your ‘friends’, partners and allies. This is how one should read the statement of NSA director Gen Keith Alexander before the US House of Representatives, two days ago: the monitoring of foreign leaders is ‘a key goal of operations’. Whilst, President Barack Obama, apologized for bugging Angela Merkel’s phone for a decade, and as a consequence ordered a review of spy operations, the U.S. security bosses neither apologized nor admitted to any wrongdoing. They claim that all operations carried out abroad were in line with their legal duties. The fact that the White House leader says he was not aware of NSA spying on the German Chancellor and other 34 world leaders, as The Guardian revealed a week ago, it is hard to believe, as Obama is the commander in chief, and as he himself said, the end user of the intelligence gathered by NSA. The different responses to the NSA spying scandal given by Obama and the intelligence chiefs has two possible explanations: either there is a rift between the White House and the American intelligence community, with the agencies having turned into a self-regulated and out control body out of the reach of the government, or the shock of the revelation took the entire U.S. administration aback, hence the confusion and the lack of coordinated response.
What the NSA leaked documents (to the still free press) are truly revealing to the general public is not the way the U.S. is spying on world leaders as they are not so many nor on terrorists but on hundreds of millions of innocent civilians, illegally intruding in their personal life in the name of the sacrosanct ‘security’. Terrorists know that they are spied on, and it would be childish to assume that a terrorist would plot and conduct an attack using unencrypted messages, be it by phone, or the internet. The reality is far more complex and goes beyond the already known ‘security reasons”. As the former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald who works with Snowden on revealing to the public the true nature of the American and British illegal spying activities and abuses on citizens, revealed a few days back, gathering economic and financial intelligence on foreign companies is also targeted by the NSA. The Brazilian oil company Petrobras (hacking the CEO’s phone), which is sponsoring social programmes in the country, is just one example. The Petrobras disclosures hardly come as a shock. As NSA has also sought intelligence on Venezuela’s state oil company PdVSA, thus proving that Washington has its sights on South America’s rising energy profile and, specifically, leftist countries which have access to abundant natural resources.
There are many worrying things in this new NSA scandal that follows a string of revelations about the way the American intelligence community is abusing the civil liberties of U.S and world citizens, such as the right to privacy (the Spying revelations made by WikiLeaks back in 2010 through the SpyFiles, the tapping of millions of Verizon clients in the U.S and not least the PRISM scandal). The embarrassment of the American leadership is not one of them, as Washington survived to many similar episodes in the past, including the 2008 publication of diplomatic cables, that revealed to the general public and to America’s friends the dirty tricks of the U.S diplomacy. One should not forget that the disclosure of the Afghanistan and Iraq war Logs, revealing war crimes, didn’t make the U.S officials flinch and those crimes remain unpunished to the day. Despite the fact that the tapping of Merkel’s phone outraged European leaders, except London and Bucharest, and created a breach of trust in the Trans-Atlantic relations, this is not the most resounding revelation. The revelation lies in the tapping of billions of phone calls at global scale with the aim of the creation of a phone log of all users worldwide.
General Alexander denied that his agency spied on millions of Spanish citizens or other phone users in other countries. He defended the NSA mass spying saying that the intelligence collected this way has thwarted ‘dozens of attacks” so far. The problemme is how far the U.S. and other Western governments are willing to go in crushing civil liberties and democratic rule in the name of national security and selfish economic interests and what kind of society will emerge when all citizens will be scrutinized on a daily basis by spying agencies? Is it the way to follow or time has come to rather change the ways the intelligence community is working and bring it under much needed civilian overseeing? The answer is of course included in the question, but the question remains: who is protecting the citizens against the illegal spying? As we have seen the European leaders can not avoid being spied on themselves…
It was striking to hear the reaction to the new NSA scandal of UK PM Cameron, who warned the press about the consequences of revealing ‘sensitive’ security information, but also of president Basescu, who, as usually, found appropriately to joke, saying that one can not expect intelligence agents to behave like nuns… Between nuns and unscrupulous spies, we need something in between. That’s for sure.