The Man in the Mirror

What´s with the not-really-outraged-but-slightly-scandalized reaction
from European politicians to the US spy operations?
They really are listening in on conversations and messages between European
citizens, within and between European institutions.
This really is outrageous!

And what´s with the “If this proves to be true”-comments from most of them?

“If it is confirmed that diplomatic representations of the European Union and
individual European countries have been spied upon, we will clearly say that bugging
friends is unacceptable… “, said a government spokesman in Berlin.

“Ces faits, s’ils étaient confirmés, seraient tout à fait inacceptables », says French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

“The US authorities have told us they are checking on the accuracy of the information
released and will come back to us as soon as possible, says cooly Catherine Ashton, High
Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy.

No need to hang about waiting for more information, the American President himself has confirmed it.
What more assurance do you need before you protest loudly and clearly?

And what´s with the unconvincing American response to the European reactions?
The initial answers from Barack Obama were – to say the least – not very well phrased,
from a European perspective. When the scandal first broke, trying to calm American fears, he explained:
´These are mostly directed towards non-Americans.´
Not so calming to a European ear.

Visiting Berlin and Kansler Angela Merkel in June, he then told an outright lie:
“It´s not like we´re sifting through millions of conversations…”
Yes, actually, that´s exactly what you are doing. (You think the US doesn´t have the manpower
to do it? You would be right. They´ve got computer programs doing that.)

Then it dawned on President Obama that the Europeans were really not happy about his spying.
So he “vowed to listen to the European critics on Internet spying”.
Again, an unhappy turn of phrase from someone accused of listening in a bit too

He went on to try to calm European fears by saying that the information he got, was no more
(but rather less) than what he got from talking to European heads of state.
Well, maybe you could do that then, Mr President? Pick up the phone and call,
instead of installing spying devices all over the place?

President Obamas last line of defence so far, has been that ´you people do it too.´
“I guarantee you that in European capitals, there are people who are interested
in, if not what I had for breakfast, at least what my talking points might be
should I end up meeting with their leaders. That’s how intelligence services

That´s rubbish as a defence of course, but he may not be wrong in claiming that
the European governments have their fingers in the pie as well.
A former NSA agent popped up in media, a Mr Madsen, telling the story of
several European governments having agreements with the US secret services on sharing

Is Mr Madsen a  nutcase? He may well be but listen instead to trustworthy EU journalist
Jean Quatremer of Libération, reminding us in his latest blog post that this sort of “I scratch
your back, you scratch mine” between American and European spies has been going on for decades
and has been revealed at least a couple of times before.
(Here´s a mind blowing quote from the then head of bureau Desmond Perkins: ´I have excellent relations with the NSA. They regularly pop in and verify our encrypting systems to check they´re functioning properly…´)

So, no point in getting our hopes up that any European government is seriously going to protest
to the US or try to put an end to the American spying on us.
They won´t.

And they most probably won´t take in poor homeless whistle blower Edward
Snowden either, who more desperate by the day, now is applying further and
further away for asylum.

The only party we can hope may actually take a strong stand against the spying on
European citizens and European institutions – because they are the only ones completely
out of the loop, not getting any classified information from any one, certain not to have any
spy system of their own set up against anybody  else – is the European

See? There is a point to this institution, after all.




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  1. #1 by Victor on July 3, 2013 - 11:44 am

    Why is the European Parliament mocked for exercising a competence it doesn´t have, when national parliaments let their governments be hypocrites?

  2. #2 by Barry on July 3, 2013 - 12:23 pm

    As there is no such thing as the nation of europe, the eussr doesn’t involve every nation on the continent, there is no such thing as a european citizen, or a european institution so by definition the US can’t have been spying on them. The eussr is a corruption ridden democratically deficient entity and as such it automatically needs to be watched very closely by democratic nations as it is attempting to spread itself to more and more countries in a power grab. Kudos to the yanks for bothering to listen to the tripe from this body.

  3. #3 by cecelia on July 4, 2013 - 1:47 am

    I believed privacy was gone the first time they put video cameras in the changing room at the department stores – then there are those CCTV cameras watching every move we make – not to mention the way our search preferences are tracked by our browsers so targeted ads can be directed at us. So there is a lot to be done if one wants to preserve any real notion of privacy. Consider that even the very notion of privacy would be unthinkable to our great great grandparents who often shared a one room home and slept communally. Perhaps “privacy” is a fluid notion dependent on the current technology and affluence level? Personally – I have no problem with what the NSA does (and has been doing since the ’70′s) as long as it is done within the law. The problem is that a non US country is not treated with the same constitutional regard that US citizens are treated. Under FISA the distinction between wire taping or accessing emails etc for a US citizen versus a foreign government is that the US still must go to the FISA court and show probable cause but the probable cause burden is less and the foreign government is not advised such “spying” is occurring. A solution may be to require the same standards for NSA spying on Euro gov’s as is required for US citizens. Unless of course we wish to claim that any government – including law enforcement – access of private emails, phone calls and wiretapping is completely not allowed. This would be sure to create just a few problems re: law enforcement hence it is unlikely to occur.

    As for the EU’s failure to vigorously respond to US spying – well – the EU member countries ( especially the French) also spy on the US – LOL – what a shock there. One would not want to push this too far for fear the US might start airing the dirty laundry of the EU member countries with regards to spying not just on the USG – but on their own citizens. Hence the less than strong protest from the EU. They are all breathing a sigh of relief that they have no Mr. Snowden’s. And of course they share – that is what allies do – share.

    As to what happens to the zillions of emails and phone calls the NSA has – read FISA – they cannot access an individual record without a FISA warrant – and they have not been getting zillions of warrants so fancy computers or not – they are not reading all of those individual records. In 2007 there were some 2400 wiretapping orders and about the same number of FISA subpoenas re: phone records issued. Hardly any where near all the records they have on file.

    Personally – I would also like to see the CCTV cameras eliminated – they are clearly more intrusive as well as those cameras recording me changing my clothes in the fitting rooms.

  4. #4 by richard bourke on July 9, 2013 - 12:58 pm

    Good column.

    Coincidentally, the European Court of Justice is hearing the challenge to the data retention directive … today.

    The case was brought by irish and I think dutch plaintiffs.
    One of the things constitutional lawyers in germany are watching is whether the ECJ will side with the commission, or the more citizen-level concern with privacy.

    “The ECJ might actually finally turn into a proper european-level constitutional court” suggested one – probably optimistically.

    As regards the spying (as the column pointed out, they’re not allegations, they’re not being denied). The real fury is at the wide-ranging metadata-gathering, the fact that various european worthies are annoyed at being bugged is really neither here nor there.