Sunday, June 30, 2013

US Spying on EU

The Guardian is reporting that the US has been spying on major European allies. These reports follow similar accusations by a prominent German news magazine. Safe to say, the reaction will be interesting. Although the reports are significant, they shouldn't be shocking. The US has vested interests in monitoring the activities of the EU. The Lebanese Hizballah offers one good example, Iraq 2003 offers another. The simple truth? When it comes to states like France, US interests don't always align with those of our foreign partners. In some cases, these diverging interests are highly significant - there's a rationale for our understanding of these divergences.

In another regard, it's also worth noting that these latest leaks suggest that the US has not spied on the UK or Germany. Again, this is unsurprising. In the UK's case, espionage action would be construed as a major breach of the longstanding US-UK intelligence alliance. The blowback of such an operation would be catastrophic. This being said, though strong, the US-UK intelligence relationship is not without its challenges.

More important is the fact that Snowden has leaked this information. From my perspective, this particular leak is Snowden's most serious so far. It offers the prospect of seriously jeopardized US relations with historic allies and it will likely lead to a termination of active collection efforts. At a basic political level, it's also terribly embarrassing (imagine the calls that Obama is going to have to make over the next few days...). But the leak also points to another concern for the US Government - how was Snowden (who was a contractor not a government employee) able to access such a wide array of specially compartmentalized intelligence materials? This leads to another question - one that will greatly worry US Intelligence - what else does Snowden know and who else has he given that knowledge to? The US must expect that Russian intelligence officers from the FSB are conducting compliant interrogations of Snodwen. As a result, US Intelligence must protect intelligence assets that Snodwen may have compromised. 'May' is the operative word here. The US Intelligence community cannot afford to risk Snowden only knowing some things - they must guard against all those things he could possibly know. And, to borrow a Rumsfeld quote, they likely don't know what he knows. 

The flowing consequence of all this - major intelligence operations may have to be shut down or reformed. That's why Snowden has annoyed so many in the US leadership.

Finally, it's worth examining why these reports surfaced today. I wonder whether, as he sits in limbo at Moscow's airport, Snowden is attempting to increase his support base re- prospective asylum. Perhaps he thinks that Iceland might offer him a passport? Certainly US influence over extradition arrangements will be weakened.

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