German Chancellor Angela Merkel is shocked, SHOCKED I tell you that an allied country like the US would tap her phone. The media is outraged that the US is “collecting European phone data” without the citizenry’s permission. The NSA is a monstrous deviant organization jerking it to Spanish selfies and Italian sexting. They’ve done all this unilaterally of course because apparently Europeans have now bought into the myth once reserved exclusively for developing countries, the US can do anything, anywhere.
This dust up is about two things, blame for who is collecting European metadata and Europe’s inability to tap President Obama’s phone. If any European country could do the latter they would do so in a heartbeat. They’d be fools not to. Trust between allies is based on verification and the ability to understand their true intentions. There is no better way to do this than simply listening to the phone calls of their nations leaders. It may seem seedy but the intelligence biz is seedy, surprise.
And why would Obama want to listen to Merkel’s phone calls? What could she possibly be saying that’s any concern to the US? Iran, the EU’s economic plans, whether the EU wants to change the terms of an enormous bilateral trade agreement between the EU and the US (it WILL go through, mark my words). In short, there are tons of things that the US might want to know about the plans and intentions of their German ally and Europe’s largest economic engine. Knowledge is power. Should the NSA stop it now that Merkel is aware of it? Well, yes they should and I’m sure they already have. I’m sure Merkel has long since switched numbers at this point. Is it embarrassing that the sausage making process of espionage among allies has been revealed? Yes. Should the German’s feel their national pride has been offended? Oh yes, definitely. But lets not act as if allies don’t spy on one another as often as possible. It’s happened since alliances began. It does happen and that’s not a bad thing. The threat of spying can help keep countries honest.
As to US collection of European caller data, this one really annoys me because of the unwillingness on the part of European leaders to own up to their part in it. When Edward Snowden first began leaking information indicating that the US collected caller information from France the French blew up about it in the press. They were shocked, shocked that the US would do such a thing. Then, about a week later it was revealed that it wasn’t the US that was collecting this information, it was the French collecting information on their own people and sharing it with the US. Surprise, surprise, the US then did call analysis on the data provided and shared the results of it with the French. The same goes for Spain and Italy. These countries are involved in a bilateral arrangement with the US to counter extremism in their countries. You’ll note that Spain, France, and Italy are right across the pond from North Africa, a hotbed of Islamic extremism. They have reason to remain vigilante and they’d be fools not to leverage the NSA’s capabilities in order to conduct analysis on certain data.
The problem is that they want to have their cake and eat it too. They want access to US analytical resources while at the same time denying to their own people that they’re using these resources. That’s what you’re seeing in the news right now and reading in the papers. Europe’s leaders are acting as if this is all news to them. They’re acting as if the US is so amazingly powerful that they can make the rain fall and the earth shake. It’s simply not so.
There are lots of problems with the NSA programs designed to intercept terrorist communications while vacuuming up the entire internet but this specific case is politician’s nonsense. Don’t believe the hype. The Europeans are covering their own asses.
However, there is a very real danger that Europe’s leaders will let public outrage over “spying” go too far simply because it diverts from their own domestic and economic problems. That would be a massive mistake by European leaders who well know that the US/EU alliance is for all intents and purposes a permanent one. The economic collapse of 2008 has already pissed Europeans off more than any spying programs possibly could. If European leaders continue to pile on this way even when the US is not at fault then they’ll create divisions they can’t easily repair without destroying their own political careers. Here’s hoping we see some nuance in the coming weeks.