A comment by Bob Jones on Facebook is typical of one type of response to disclosures of U.S. spying on foreign leaders and, more generally, widespread data collection and eavesdropping on foreign businesses and governments.
At the risk of repeating myself, this “don’t spy on us” demand by Germany and others is ridiculous. We use satellites and eavesdropping to get all the intelligence we can. Friends? They sometimes deal with enemies. They know we spy and so do they. So why this hurt feelings stuff? There’s something much deeper going on and it will eventually come out.
I’ve heard the same perspective put forward in other news reports in recent days.
But the suggestion that our spying on friends and foes is no big deal, and that protests by other governments are for public consumption only, seems to miss the point.
First off, there’s an issue of scale. Try this analogy. Everybody knows athletic teams scout their opponents and try to learn as much as they can about the strategies and tactics they will eventually face. But we would all be genuinely appalled if we learned that UH bugged the hotel rooms of visiting teams and their coaches, or put listening devices in their bedrooms and vehicles.
In some ways, our technology has transformed the whole spy game. The unprecedented extent and intrusiveness of the spying revealed by these latest revelations goes far beyond the kinds of things properly dismissed as just “a mutual dirty diplomatic secret.”
And when allies spy on us? We do take it seriously.
Remember Jonathan Pollard?
He was busted for spying for Israel, a U.S. ally. No big thing? Just a little game among friends? No way. Pollard was sentenced to life in prison.
It’s a big deal.
This was the reaction of David Brooks and Mark Shields Friday on the PBS NewsHour.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, another big headache for the administration in — just in the last few days, these revelations, David, that the NSA is spying on our allies, our friends in Europe, all the way up to heads of state, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, President Hollande of France, how much damage has been done by this?
DAVID BROOKS: I think a lot.
I’m offended by it. I was offended when they were spying on reporters. And then now they are spying on Angela Merkel? I mean, who are these people? Is there no sense of prudence, of what possibly we can learn from this? Is there no sense of respecting the privacy, some instinctual respect for the privacy of someone you need and trust?
I’m trying — I’m just wondering where these people’s heads are at. If you are going to run a government, you have to have a passion. You have to have a passion to protect the country, but you have to have some sense of proportion, some sense of prudence. And I haven’t seen that in our national security apparatus all over the summer.
One thing after another, where they seem to put — we’re going to invade anybody’s privacy. We place no value on that. And no one apparently thought about what happens if this goes public. Whose trust are we burning her? How do we create a community without trust? So I’m moderately offended by all this.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Offended?
MARK SHIELDS: I am. David — David is right.
First of all, is there a more important ally than West Germany? Is there a more important ally than Chancellor Merkel? And so the idea of listening in on her cell phone, is that the kind of thing we did it because we could do it? I mean, did anybody ask, should we do it, is it the right thing to do? How is it going to be for her when this is revealed we’re doing it, in a country where she — she grew up, with Stasi listening in on everybody’s conversation? What is it going to do for her relations with the United States, the charge that she has been too complicit with the United States and not independent enough?
I just think it’s — there is something — the technology is so fascinating, it kind of takes over and it leaves prudential judgments way in the dust.
Anyway, it’s food for thought on this sunny Sunday.