The latest leaks by former NSA technician Edward Snowden have caused new tensions between the United States and its European allies, but these tensions will probably be short-lived.
French officials have called new reports that NSA spied on French citizens “shocking” and “unacceptable.” The French outrage is the result of a leak by Snowden of alleged NSA spying against France “on a massive scale” that reportedly included the interception of more than 70 million French phone calls over a 30-day period.
German officials were upset earlier this year at reports that NSA counterterror programs targeted German communications. This week, the German Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. ambassador to Berlin over a new report that NSA may have targeted German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone.
White House spokesman Jay Carney denied this, stating at a press conference, "The United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of the chancellor."
There was a similar report last June based on Snowden leaks that the United States had bugged European Union offices in New York, Washington, and Brussels.
Brazil and Mexico have expressed outrage over reports that the NSA spied on their citizens. In response to Snowden leaks about alleged NSA spying against EU citizens, the European parliament is discussing cutting off the sharing of banking data with the United States that has been used to track terrorists.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper rejected the new report on NSA spying against the French, saying in a written statement: "Recent articles published in the French newspaper Le Monde contain inaccurate and misleading information regarding U.S. foreign intelligence activities. The allegation that the National Security Agency collected more than 70 million 'recordings of French citizens' telephone data' is false.”
“ . . . We have repeatedly made it clear that the United States gathers intelligence of the type gathered by all nations. The U.S. collects intelligence to protect the nation, its interests, and its allies from, among other things, threats such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."
Clapper’s statement touched on what this story is all about: All nations spy, and major powers must conduct extensive espionage to protect their security. Former NSA Director Michael Hayden stated this best in a June 30, 2013 “Face the Nation” interview: “No. 1, the United States does conduct espionage. No. 2, our Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans’ privacy, is not an international treaty. And No. 3, any European who wants to go out and rend their garments with regard to international espionage should look first and find out what their own governments are doing.”
France and Germany have robust and very capable intelligence services. The only reason they were not caught up in the Snowden leaks debacle is that there is no special relationship between U.S. intelligence agencies and French and German intelligence services like there is between the United States and the UK.
If there were such relationships, French and German officials would be scrambling to respond to Snowden leaks about their intelligence programs.
There also is a naïve view by many in the West that much less espionage has been going on since the end of the Cold War. Tell that to Russia and China, both of which continue to increase their foreign intelligence efforts.
China is engaged in aggressive cyberespionage efforts that have stolen huge amounts of U.S. military and industrial secrets. There is a 12-story building in Shanghai that reportedly is the headquarters of China’s military intelligence-led cyberwarfare group.
Just this week, there were press reports that the head of a Russian government-run cultural exchange program in Washington is being investigated by the FBI for trying to recruit young Americans as intelligence assets.
In 2010, the United States arrested and deported 10 deep-cover Russian “illegals,” including the sultry Russian spy Anna Chapman.
I have represented the United States at many international arms control and U.N. conferences. It is well-known that such conferences are flush with spies. Sometimes spies from different nations trip over each other at these conferences because they are pursuing the same target.
U.S. intelligence has many targets in the post-Cold War world. A major target is radical Islamist terrorist groups. I know from my work in the intelligence field that U.S. counterterrorism programs — mostly enacted under President George W. Bush — have been very effective and stopped many terrorist plots since 2001.
As angry as I am at Edward Snowden for betraying his country and harming U.S. national security, his leaks revealed something comforting to the American people — their government is engaged in aggressive intelligence operations to defend our homeland.
I also am confident that the recent protests to the U.S. by French and German officials will be quietly dropped since both states are engaged in similar spying that one day will be made public.
Fred Fleitz served for 25 years with the CIA, the State Department, and the House Intelligence Committee staff. He is currently chief analyst with LIGNET.com, Newsmax Media’s global intelligence and forecasting service. Read more reports from Fred Fleitz — Click Here Now.
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