US spying games

January 20, 2014 - 4:12:30 am

US lawmakers hinting at Russia’s involvement in the Snowden leaks adds another dimension to the spying saga.


The United States’ spying saga and its aftermath has increasingly started looking like a whodunnit tale. Sounding unusually contrite, US President Barack Obama has assured German Chancellor Angela Merkel that her phone would not be spied on till he is president. Speaking to German televison channel ZDF, Obama said that snooping on Merkel’s phone was a mistake and it won’t be repeated.  It was an upset Angela Merkel who had apparently read the riot act to Obama last year when it was revealed that the now infamous National Security Agency had broken into her mobile exchanges.

At the same time, the US president also said that Washington will not stop spying on other governments. The US penchant for spying over the years has often put Washington in an uncomfortable position. Be it electronic snooping of rivals’ vital networks or sending an agent to Moscow or a spy drone into Iran, the US policy on intelligence gathering has been increasingly controversial.

And then came Snowden. The NSA contractor upset the applecart of the gargantuan US intelligence machinery by carrying secret details of how Washington spies on all and sundry. Snowden, who spent quite some time at a Moscow airport — in a virtual no man’s land — following his days’ long stay in Hong Kong where he broke the story of American intelligence gathering, became a thorn in the side of Washington. US tried its best to have Snowden brought back and tried for treason, bit to no avail. Countries that had long been at the receiving end of US snooping, for obvious reasons refused to accede to Washington’s request.

A new facet has been added to the Snowden saga after US lawmakers hinted yesterday that Russia might have been involved in the Snowden operation that shamed Washington no end.

The head of the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee is investigating whether Snowden had help from Moscow in spiriting away US government secrets.  US Representative Mike Rogers told NBC television yesterday that he believed the whistleblower ended up in the hands of the Russian FSB, implying that it was not by accident, but by design.

“I don’t think that’s a coincidence,” Mike Rogers said. Other lawmakers also hinted as much.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Senate Intelligence Committee chief said that Snowden got employed with NSA so that he could take away as many secret documents that he could. Though she didn’t say it in so many words, purportedly for lack of evidence, the hint is clear. Cultivation of Snowden by a foreign power is also on the mind of US Representative Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.  Allusions to Snowden’s links to Russia, if proved true, would set off another storm in the world of intelligence. More than discrediting Russia, it is likely to become a tool for Washington to hit its Cold War rival with.