Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics

Spying on allies


Reading about President Obama’s speech on the significant but minimal changes he is planning to make to US intelligence gathering in the wake of (but in no way as a consequence of, it goes without saying) the Snowden revelations, I found myself wondering: How much shit are US allies expected to take? I don’t mean their leaders (who have been promised a personal exemption from espionage). I mean the average people, who have put legal regimes in place that prevent their own governments from spying on them. Why should they be more accepting of spying by the US?

And it’s not as though there’s nothing they can do about it. The solution would be to limit the role of American companies in the European market, particular with regard to sales of computer technology and collecting private information. As well as monitoring US embassies and diplomats more closely for engagement in illegal espionage. The US is assuming they won’t dare, because of the economic power of the US, the goverments’ reliance on US military and diplomatic power. That’s probably true, in the short term, but it’s clearly going to be an expensive, ongoing drain on US influence.

And then there’s the recent full court press by US legislators on the various intelligence committees to assert that Edward Snowden is a foreign agent — a pretty egregious assertion to be making publicly, since it would potentially make him liable to the death penalty. For example, here’s Michael McCaul, chairman of the House committee on homeland security:

Hey, listen, I don’t think … Mr Snowden woke up one day and had the wherewithal to do this all by himself. I think he was helped by others. Again, I can’t give a definitive statement on that … but I’ve been given all the evidence, I know Mike Rogers has access to, you know, that I’ve seen that I don’t think he was acting alone.

What’s most interesting is that, for all the bluster about “evidence”, it sounds like the claim he’s making is, the NSA couldn’t possibly be so incompetent that some random guy could just come in and walk off with their complete files. Since Snowden is obviously not a master criminal, it can only be that he was being steered by brilliant, nefarious foreign intelligence services.

It’s not hard to guess who put the idea in his head that the NSA couldn’t possibly be so incompetent…

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