Spy vs Spy

11/2/13
 
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from TIME Magazine,
10/31/13:

NSA spying on U.S. allies is impolite, but it’s not a scandal.

Secretary of State Henry Stimson in 1929 made the quaint declaration: “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.”

More than 80 years later, that warning is haunting President Obama. New revelations from fugitive NSA leaker Edward Snowden have exposed extensive U.S. surveillance on overseas allies, including a program that targeted 35 foreign leaders, even tapping German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone. Not very gentlemanly at all.

An infuriated Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman announced “a major review” of all U.S. intelligence operations. “The reports are very disturbing,” Republican Senator Susan Collins told ABC News. “Friends don’t spy on friends.”

Yes, they do. The latest NSA flap may be less a story about a spy agency run amok than a peek into a world where for political leaders, the walls (and phones, tablets and laptops) always have ears. “All big countries use espionage, and some of the countries that are complaining spy on the U.S.”

The bugging of foreign leaders has had particular power because it seems so personal. Obama has befriended Merkel, for example, so the snooping on her cellphone carries a whiff of betrayal. Which is why Obama is reportedly weighing a ban on tapping friendly heads of state.

Intelligence insiders say that would amount to unilateral disarmament by the U.S. “Let’s be honest — we eavesdrop too. Everyone is listening to everyone else,” former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told France Info radio.

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