Tuesday, October 29, 2013

With friends like US...

If you watch any classic American television series, there's bound to be an episode where a child sneaks into their sibling's bedroom and reads secret passages written in their diary.

And, of course, by the end of the show, they inevitably get caught, they get in big trouble, and their relationship with their sibling is forever ruined. (Or, at least, they hate each other until the next episode.)

There's a reason why this time-tested sitcom formula works. Whether it's an old-fashioned diary or a modern-age smartphone or email account, everybody knows it's just not cool to spy on your friends.

Everyone, that is, except apparently the President of the United States.

Alas, in the most recent episode of "Scandal - White House Edition" (a scary new reality series), the NSA has been caught snooping on dozens of foreign leaders' phone calls, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel's private cell phone conversations.

You don't have to be a sitcom fan to know that's just not cool.

If you ask us, there would seem to be three simple rules for nations to follow when it comes to espionage, especially spying on friendly nations. Rule Number One – it's wrong to spy on your friends. Rule Number Two – if you do spy on your friends, don't get caught. Rule Number Three – If you do get caught, deny it so as to protect your world relationships, reputation and the sanctity of your intelligence programs.

Unfortunately, it looks like the US broke all three rules faster than you can say "wiretap". And, unfortunately, this isn't just a television show.

So, what is Mr. President of Global Love, Peace and Happiness going to do about this little mess?

For years, the President has been telling us how other nations don't like us and we need to do something to fix it. Well, pardon us for hazarding a guess, but we're willing to bet that listening in on foreign leaders like there's some kind of international foreign policy party line at play isn't going to help matters a whole bunch.

Remember the international uproar when European media organizations were accused of hacking into voicemails of prominent politicians and celebrities? Well, isn't this the same thing -- except even worse?

Once something like this happens, whether it's a matter of sibling rivalry or an international crisis, it's a breach of trust and it's difficult to repair. Frankly, we don't really know how this situation could possibly be repaired, save for a change in leadership the next time Americans go to the ballot box. For Americans, that is the democratic equivalent of our next "episode".

More important questions remain.

First of all, why did the US feel the need to spy on its friends in the first place? Has our relationship with historically-friendly countries deteriorated so much that we don't talk with them anymore, and now we need to spy on them just to know what's going on? What kind of diplomacy is that?

Who can we turn to the next time the US needs a friend? Our international friend list is running perilously thin these days, and that's a big problem for a global superpower up to its eyeballs in debt and facing threats around the world.

Did the President really know about this? (He claims he didn't, but more recent reports suggest he was briefed on the situation and approved of it.) If he did know, why did he allow it? If he didn't, who's running the show?

What exactly is the role of the NSA? Up until this point, we thought it was essentially a domestic intelligence organization, as opposed to the CIA and its international role. Did someone authorize the NSA to go international, and what does that mean? Where does it all end, or does it?

How come the US government can figure out how to hack into international cell phone calls of foreign dignitaries but we can't figure out how to launch a simple health care Web site?

Stay tuned....

1 comment:

  1. They do it to us, we do it to them. Call it an international diplomatic "push."


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