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Steptoe Cyberblog

Espionage and Allies

Posted in International, Security Programs & Policies

I contributed a short piece to the New York Times on the latest Snowden-generated flap over allegations that NSA targeted Angela Merkel’s mobile phone. Excerpts:

To play the role it has played in the world for the last 70 years, the United States must be able to gather intelligence anywhere in the world with little or no notice. We never know where the next crisis will erupt, where the next unhappy surprise is coming from. It’s the intelligence community’s job to respond to today’s crises, but its agencies live in a world where intelligence operations take years to yield success. That makes it a little hard – and very dangerous — to create “intelligence-free zones.” …

Even the countries we usually see as friends sometimes take actions that quite deliberately harm the United States and its interests. Ten years ago, when the U.S. went to war with Iraq, France and Germany were not our allies. They were not even neutral. They actively worked with Russia and China to thwart the U.S. military’s mission. Could they act against U.S. interests again in the future – in trade or climate change negotiations, in Syria, Libya or Iran? …

That’s just life and international politics. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel too knows quite well. She visited China right after public disclosures that the Chinese had penetrated her computer network, yet she managed to be “all smiles” while praising relations between the two countries as “open and constructive.” …

The United States can’t stop gathering intelligence without running the risk of terrible surprises. So it won’t.