EDITORIAL: Security bureaucracy out of control
It makes perfect sense why the United States is desperate to get its hands on Edward Snowden. Perhaps because he is likely to spill even more beans about the United States National Security Agency’s (NSA) clandestine activities.
This is exactly what he is doing though being holed up in Russia where he is desperately seeking asylum. A report leaked by Snowden to the German paper Der Spiegel cites a 2010 official document alleging that the NSA had been involved in spying on European Union (EU) offices in the United States.
The controversial news has caused a furore in EU circles, with leaders warning of a deterioration of US-EU ties if the leaked information turns out to be true. German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said that the alleged behaviour “recalls the methods used by enemies during the Cold War”.
And he has a point. If Snowden’s information is authentic, it shows that the United States still retains the posture of the Cold War security state that impinges on citizens’ rights and freedoms supposedly for the sake of security.
We know that electronic spying has completely run amok when Luxembourg’s Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, recently resigned over a scandal involving his nation’s small intelligence service.
When Snowden made shocking revelations in the media about the NSA’s extensive spying on American civilians, the Obama administration tried to quickly diffuse the controversy and to paint him as a traitor.
President Barack Obama said that spying on personal phone records and Internet data was essential in the post-9/11 security environment. The director of the NSA, General Keith B. Alexander, backed up Obama’s claims by saying that the spying had thwarted many terrorist attacks.
These carefully choreographed explanations elicited mixed responses: some Americans bought these explanations wholeheartedly, while others raised an eyebrow at the state’s blatant violation of personal freedoms.
Europe, however, is not laughing. Recent revelations by fugitive NSA contractor Snowden of massive, ultra-intrusive United States electronic spying in Europe have ignited a firestorm of outrage and hypocrisy across the EU.
Germany, with sinister memories of the Gestapo and East German Stasi, seemed particularly incensed. The magazine Der Spiegel says documents shown it by Snowden show that NSA read billions of phone calls, emails, faxes and bank communications in Germany alone. It called this spying “disgusting” and “intolerable”.
France’s Foreign Minister Alain Juppé denounced the United States for spying on a close ally, but its intelligence agency DGSE does the same thing. Russia and China rubbed their hands in glee over Washington’s acute embarrassment though they are just as guilty.
Two points to keep in mind: first, everybody spies on everyone via personal computers and cellphones. It is now clear that surveillance technology has far outdistanced the restraints of law or good government and we are at the mercy of the major powers.
While Snowden might have jeopardized America’s security by divulging classified information to global scrutiny, he also exposed the transgression of the very values that it overtly seeks to protect.