Disclosure of secrets

Disclosure of secrets

Disclosure of secrets


The recent revelations about widespread US surveillance operations, which included the phone calls of German Chancellor Angela Merkel alongside with the 35 world leaders, has sparked controversy over the National Security Agency’s (NSA) activities again. The situation’s gravity came to light subsequent to the Guardian’s and the Washington Post’s release of some of the NSA’s confidential material in June, ensuing in an uproar-cum-breakdown in trust and confidence between the U.S. and its allies. Many European countries, including Germany, France, and Spain, have demanded answers from the Obama administration, even attempting to draft a resolution in the UN that would restrain U.S. surveillance activities.

This is of course neither the first nor the last of such contentious instances in the history of the U.S.’s clandestine intelligence services. In fact, every country tries to use similar methods to gather intel on other countries it has some kind of connection with, whether they be allies, enemies or otherwise. The U.S. used intelligence to a substantial degree against its main rival, the Soviet Union, during the Cold War. Although the significance of intelligence diminished after the Soviet Union’s collapse, it made a comeback after the 9/11 attacks. Under the administration of George W. Bush, the scope of its potential and capabilities expanded more than it ever had before. In today’s world, intelligence teams are vital in safeguarding a nation’s interests. National security, the economy and many other aspects of daily life have become the target of a myriad of transnational surveillance operations.

Nevertheless, the world has been privy to a mere glimpse of the extent of much-rumored US surveillance activities, with the disclosure of top-secret information by Edward Snowden, computer specialist and former CIA employee and NSA contractor. Earlier, Julian Assange, Australian journalist and publisher, released classified material from various sources and whistleblowers in the form of the notorious Wikileaks documents. Accordingly, it became clear that the US had been monitoring the world’s Internet and telecommunication traffic as well as collecting data from the servers of leading internet companies such as Google and Yahoo for years. The US authorities defended themselves against these claims with the argument that the contemporary geo-political situation necessitates such a protection measures given the amount of elusive threats on national security. Yet the disclosure that we all awaited and suspected that the US was monitoring every single move in the world still managed to shock the global community, though not so much surprise.

While the US had to acknowledge certain surveillance operations it had partaken in last summer, the latest allegations of tapping Chancellor Merkel’s mobile phone created another headache for the Obama administration. While the Wall Street Journal reported that Obama was unaware of the eavesdropping on foreign leaders and ordered a halt upon learning it, there is no way to know whether this is true. In any case, it is a fact that the U.S. has been bugging Merkel’s phone since 2002, though there is no direct link between any threat to U.S. security and Merkel. Thus, some have questioned as to whether or not the sole reason behind all this snooping around is to preserve the U.S.’s dominant status in the world, militarily as well as economically.

Germany’s status among international political players has been on the rise following the implementation of notable unilateral policy moves, such as: its opposition of the U.S.’s invasion of Iraq and its suggestions of military strikes on Syria; its stubborn firmness on the need for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear quandary; and finally its assumption of a decisive role in the Eurozone crisis. All these may have been the catalyst in the U.S.’s nod to its intelligence services in monitoring Germany a bit more closely.

Of course, the bigger question is who else the US has been monitoring? Although the Turkish public did not pay much attention, perhaps taking for granted that Turkish leaders had been regularly monitored by the U.S., the latest revelations created serious trust issues between the US and its allies. Although Obama will limit some operations and order more transparency in NSA activities, the trans-Atlantic confidence has been hurt. Repairing it will take time; if at all possible.