October 21, 2020

America is listening

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

America is listening

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

BRUSSELS – Europeans still love us, but they are about as fond of the American government as Americans are. With revelations of U.S. eavesdropping espionage abounding, the Belgians, French, Dutch, and Germans are particularly distressed over the prospect of Big Brother running amuck.

The highest profile instance of electronic spying has been the monitoring of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone by America’s super-secret NSA. But the super secrets are not so secret now, in part, due to public exposures made by Edward Snowden, now residing in Russia. Whether history will label him a whistle blower or traitor is not now of consequence. The fact is that such high-profile spying would leak out sooner or later, a fact that should have been obvious to the folks running America’s various espionage agencies.

Even so, no damage-control plan was in place. The White House claims it was unaware; then it noted that foreign intelligence agencies were complicit; then it explained that this activity has gone on for years, keeping Americans safe from terrorist attacks during the Bush and Obama eras.

The NSA director, General Keith Alexander, pointed elsewhere, saying, “We the intelligence agencies don’t come up with the requirements. The policy makers come up with the requirements.” And by “requirements” he means “targets,” and by “policy makers” he means the White House, an interesting observation coming from someone who reports to the White House.

The reality, of course, is that friends have always spied on friends. The difference today is that technology makes it much easier than it once was, which means the number of targets can be exponentially expanded, a fact that creates consternation among Europeans in all walks of life. After all, does the person on the street really care if world leaders tap each others’ phones?

Gone are the days when Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson famously said, “Gentlemen do not read each others’ mail.” In 2009, Britain’s intelligence agency, GCHQ, spied on attendees at the G20 meeting of world leaders in London. Jonathan Pollard is whiling away his days in an American prison after pleading guilty to charges that he spied against the U.S. for Israel. The list is unending.

What then are the lessons learned? First, assume secret eavesdropping will eventually be known. Second, prepare a cover story that includes plausible deniability, that “who me” phrase elevated to an art form by President Ronald Reagan. Third, be prepared with counter punches that expose similar activities by our friends.

In the end, the Obama administration’s ham-handed handling of these electronic spying revelations did at least acknowledge a need and justification: Ever since 9/11, America’s espionage activities, known and unknown, have been a critical element in preventing another major terrorist attack here at home.

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

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