If German newsweekly Der Spiegel and citizen-at-large Edward Snowden can be believed, the United States has been eavesdropping on European Union offices in our nation’s capitol, the European Union’s headquarters, and at the permanent home of the United Nations in New York.
According to Reuters, Der Spiegel reported on its website on Saturday, June 29, that the U. S. National Security Agency had “bugged” EU offices in Washington, D.C., Brussels, and New York City, and has infiltrated the EU’s internal computer networks. On Sunday, June 30, says Reuters, Der Spiegel reported that the U.S. Secret Service – the executive branch agency most famous for protecting the President – typically taps half a billion German telephone calls, emails, and text messages per month.
Having suffered at the hands of both Nazi Germany’s Gestapo (short for Geheime Staats Polizei – “Secret State Police”) and communist East Germany’s Stasi (“State Security”) for nearly half a century after the Allies toppled Hitler, Reuters notes, Germans may be particularly sensitive to eavesdropping fears. Still, European Parliament president Martin Schulz, a German, demanded by email “full clarification and … further information speedily from the U.S. authorities with regard to these allegations” and reportedly said that if Mr. Snowden’s claims are true then it would have a “severe impact” on US-EU relations.
“Partners do not spy on each other,” Reuters quoted European commissioner Viviane Reding as adding at a Sunday event in Luxembourg. “We cannot negotiate over a big transatlantic market if there is the slightest doubt that our partners are carrying out spying activities on the offices of our negotiators.”
Really, Mr. President and Madame Commissioner? Where have you been the past several centuries? The history of the West is one of political allies spying on each other, from the days of Robespierre to the present. Roosevelt didn’t trust Stalin, Stalin didn’t trust Hitler, and all rightly so. Israel spies on the U.S. and the U.S. likely spies on Israel. A substantial part of the world’s United Nations delegations consists of intelligence operatives, as does much embassy staffing worldwide. “Gentlemen do not read other gentlemen’s mail,” Herbert Hoover’s secretary of state Henry L. Stimson once aspirationally said, but they do. Alliances are impermanent, partners don’t trust each other, and the world remains a dangerous place.
But “[i]f it is true that EU representations in Brussels and Washington were indeed tapped by the American secret service, it can hardly be explained with the argument of fighting terrorism,” Reuters quotes German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger as arguing. “If the media reports are correct,” she reportedly said, “this brings to memory actions among enemies during the Cold War. It goes beyond any imagination that our friends in the United States view the Europeans as enemies.”
Really, Madame Minister? Where have you been the past five years? The current administration apparently believes its own citizens are enemies and spies on us as well.
Do Europeans really need reminding that then-candidate Barack Obama promised on the eve of his November 2008 election as U. S. President that the “fundamental transformation of America” was about to begin? In October 2008, some eighty thousand Germans turned out at a public pep rally for Obama, cheering his promised “hope and change,” and the following October the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded him the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” Yet within four years he was urging his supporters to “punish” their “enemies” and disparaging his general election opponent based on snippets of clandestinely-recorded private remarks. And all the while his Internal Revenue Service was singling out for special scrutiny organizations with the words “tea party” or “Constitution” in their names to prevent them from organizing against him.
Now that Obama has been re-elected as President he is busily devising ways to circumvent Congress, disparaging the Supreme Court, and personally selecting drone targets. At the same time, his NSA monitors every electronic communication in the country and his Attorney General names a news reporter a criminal conspirator in order to subpoena his personal phone records.
“The spying has taken on dimensions that I would never have thought possible from a democratic state,” Reuters quotes the head of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, German Christian Democrat Elmar Brok, as saying. “How should we still negotiate if we must fear that our negotiating position is being listened to beforehand?”
When the Germans solve that problem, perhaps they can notify their friends here in the U.S.
After all, fair is fair: we did help rescue them from the Gestapo and the Stasi.