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.