The tsunami of spying leaks that has Europe shaking with rage and Americans looking for a place to hide amid a crumbling spying edifice blown up by Edward Snowden, doesn’t seem to end. Not very long ago, Snowden was wasting at a Moscow airport, today his leaks — released in tranches — are chipping at the giant US intelligence machinery. Few would disagree that Washington has been caught on the wrong foot over the spying revelations, especially at a time when talk of US losing its edge is gaining traction across the world.
The multi-layered snooping controversy puts the US in a position it finds hard to defend. It is true that espionage and bugging phones are an essential part of international politics, but it is easy to repudiate this fact when close allies are involved. Though the United States has a non-spying agreement with four English-speaking countries — Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand — the four would find it hard not to suspect the American data gathering machine, National Security Agency. Who knows after America spied on one of its closest allies — German Chancellor Angela Merkel — for ten years, what it is up to, even with those nations?
US President Barack Obama seems busy with other things in the giant enterprise that is the United States, however, not being out of the loop. An embarrassed Obama, one can imagine, would have fumbled and stuttered on the phone line after a livid Merkel called him up from this side of the Atlantic. She was understandably angry at her mobile phone being under surveillance for the last ten years by the US. Now, Obama has directed the National Security Agency to crimp the amount of information it gathers from spying on the UN headquarters in New York. This proves that the hub of the world body at the Big Apple was a major target.
At a House of Representatives Intelligence Committee hearing, National Security Agency chief General Keith Alexander mounted a spirited defence of spying on European leaders. Claiming that it was legal and necessary to protect Americans from attacks, he argued that it was important to understand the intentions of world leaders.
Washington has risked losing credibility in the rumpus and intelligence for its bureaucrats has proved to be unintelligent.
With the decision to curtail snooping on the UN, Obama has tried to restore some semblance of honesty to the situation. However, the argument that it is necessary to snoop on world leaders, which can include allies like Merkel, does not sound credible. By bugging phones and offices of its close friends, the US may not only earn the mistrust of allies, but also inflict damage on the battle against terrorism and extremism. The only reason that US can eavesdrop on leaders of friendly countries is anticipating their moves and gaining an edge in bilateral talks and in multilateral fora•