Foreign and Defense Policy, Europe and Russia

Faux outrage over US spying on Europe

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Image Credit: Shutterstock

European governments are reacting with outrage to revelations that the US National Security Agency spied on European officials. “Clarity and transparency is what we expect from our partners and allies, and this is what we expect from the United States,” the European Commission spokeswoman declared. “Bugging friends is unacceptable,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said, adding, “We are no longer in the Cold War.” French President François Hollande said the spying allegations threaten the EU-US trade pact.

European leaders need collectively to take a deep breath. Espionage is nothing new and, indeed, the Europeans are among the worst offenders. On February 26, 2004, Clare Short — the United Kingdom’s former secretary of state for International Development, told BBC that the British had spied on the United Nations, including  UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Hollande’s complaints are especially rich, given how ambitious French intelligence can be, both in Europe and the United States. France even hosts its own Economic Warfare School.

The chief espionage threats to Europe come not from the United States, but from China and Russia: the same countries which target the United States. While both Americans and Europeans will always look for competitive advantage in negotiations — something which requires top-of-the-line intelligence capability — European naïveté not only invites espionage, but requires it: if European countries believe they are immune from espionage, then they open themselves to Russian, Chinese, Turkish, and Iranian penetration, and it then becomes necessary for the United States to run counterespionage operations to defend itself and the defense and industrial technology it shares with its European partners.

US leaker Edward Snowden confirms what it seems everyone but European leaders understood: Hollywood bargains in both fiction and fantasy, but what makes them entertaining and persuasive is the research which underlies their films. Whether the 1992 Robert Redford film “Sneakers,” the 2007 Bruce Willis thriller “Live Free or Die Hard,” or even “The Simpson Movie,” the National Security Agency is depicted listening expansively to telephone calls. Long before Edward Snowden leaked details of America’s intelligence gathering, national security lawyers quipped that the ‘e’ in ‘e-mail’ stood for evidence.

Espionage is a fact of life. The technology exists and will be used, whether by friend or foe. Europe’s problem, it seems, is a continued belief that neutrality and goodwill are defense enough against the world’s threats. Liberty, however, is not the world’s default position. Defending freedom against the Russians, Chinese, and others who favor dictatorship over democracies requires a constant fight and, indeed, surveillance as well.

2 thoughts on “Faux outrage over US spying on Europe

  1. Wow. Just… wow. That is probably the weakest defense of these actions I have ever read. There is a conversation in the movie “Thank you for smoking” about the “yuppie nürnberg defense” where white collar criminals would justify their actions by claiming everyone has a mortgage to pay, therefore everything is allowed. Here you claim that espionage is tolerable by an ally just because someone else has done it.
    The point here is that, as allies, all the US should have to do in order to get the information they could need is to ask. Spying on persons of power generally means that they want information not willingly given up, and that is information usually used for nefarious means. And when it comes to blackmail, the US does not have a pretty history, especially in its intelligence community.
    Europeans aren’t as naive as you seem to think. We recognize the threats of China and Russia who are overtly malicious, but we like to trust our friends at least. The US has gotten the support of European leaders in every misadventure it has been through in the past 30 years. Why can it still not show its hand?

  2. Espionage is a fact of life. The technology exists and will be used, whether by friend or foe. Europe’s problem, it seems, is a continued belief that the neutrality and goodwill are defense enough against the world’s threats. Liberty, however, is not the world’s default position. Defending freedom against the Russians, Chinese, and others who favor dictatorship over democracies requires a constant fight and, indeed, surveillance as well.

    If EU countries know that the US is spying on it and Russia, China, Iran, etc., expect spying that means that Snowden has not done anything to diminish the security of the United States. I trust that you will sign the petition to let him go in peace.

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