The following column originally appeared at aNewDomain.net:
The NSA is way up in the world’s business, but now it has something to deny and that something is that it eavesdropped on 70 million French citizens’ phone calls in 30 days, including politicians and business executives. None of whom were suspected of terrorism. Which is a real relief, because if there were 70 million French terrorists, the terrorists would totally win, what with them being especially well fed.
This allegation, which appeared in Le Monde, is “false,” says NSA spookmaster James Clapper.
False how? “We are not going to discuss the details of our activities,” says Clapper.
Maybe it’s 60 million. Or 80. Meaning it’s only false in that it’s not 70 million. Whatever.
What appears to actually be true, and exactly true to the extent that Clapper hasn’t said boo about it, is that the NSA tapped into the personal communications of the world’s heads of state, including close U.S. allies like German Chancellor Angela “Austerity R Us” Merkel, former President Felipe Calderón of Mexico and at least 35 other world leaders. NSA spies listened to Merkel’s private cell phone calls and read Calderón’s email. The 35-plus randoms, collected from eager-to-please U.S. government employees including State Department diplomats, appear to be personal phone taps. Yep, it’s another Snowden document.
With frenemies like the U.S., who needs terrorists?
Shockingly (sarcasm alert) these intercepts have led, according to the NSA, to “little reportable intelligence.” Little reportable intelligence? That phrase should go on the tombstone of the U.S. government someday. Membership has its privileges, and one of the benefits of hanging out with Barry at Davos is that he’s not supposed to be listening to your phone calls. (Never mind what happens to your nation’s collective citizenry.) Needless to say, Chancellor Merkel told Obama she was pissed. In response, reported The New York Times, “Washington hastily pledged that her calls were not being monitored and would not be in the future but conspicuously said nothing about the past.”
“If that is true, what we hear, then that would be really bad,” Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière told German state television. “It really can’t work like this.”
Yeah, well … it does. A month ago, President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil canceled a state visit to Washington after similar reports that the NSA had been spying on her, her top ministers, and officials of the state energy concern.
“We can’t simply go back to business as usual,” said de Maizière.
Which means? Not much, it turns out, and turns out to mean pretty much nothing instantaneously.
One day after that the Germans complained that, “The leaders of Germany and France offered on Friday to hold talks with the United States in an effort to come up with mutually acceptable rules for surveillance operations, easing a trans-Atlantic spying dispute that has plunged relations between America and Europe to a low point.”
Germany and France led the drafting of a European Union statement that “underlined the close relationship between Europe and the U.S.A. and the value of that partnership.”
Merkel refused to demand a formal apology, saying: “I always take the view that when you leave the room, you have to always contemplate how to get back in again.”
In days of yore, the aggrieved party complained. The penitent apologized and promised to do better.
The way the world works now is that the United States does whatever the hell it feels like, egregiously violating the most-fundamental diplomatic protocols and the rules of common decency, and then its victims offer reassurances that, All is well, hey, no biggie, we can talk about it, we can work it out.
Wanna know how much things have changed? In 1966 France expelled NATO from France (though it didn’t withdraw from the pact) — not because the U.S. had done anything wrong, but as a symbolic expression of the country’s postwar independence and sovereignty. The U.S. has spied on its French ally for decades. But tapping a head of state’s personal communications crosses the line.
It’s not hard to imagine how President de Gaulle would have responded to learning that American spies were reading his mail and listening to his phones — and France certainly wouldn’t have been sending an olive branch. It’s possible that such an insult could have led France to suspend diplomatic relations.
Why are the Euros so compliant now? One of the biggest, but least-remarked-upon shifts in the world is the supplanting of state power by trans-national business interests. U.S.-European trade is too vast and intertwined to risk a rupture over relatively-minor matters — and in the greater scheme of the 21st century, even the most-reprehensible treatment of a key U.S. ally qualifies as a trivial issue. So even though there’s been noise about the latest NSA revelations jeopardizing the trans-Altantic free trade pact (which would be another job-killing disaster for workers), the smart money is that filthy lucre will smooth over Germany’s ruffled feathers.
“Washington doesn’t do contrition very well,” said Julia E. Sweig, director for Latin American studies at the Council on Foreign Relations after the latest revelations of international American assholery. Thanks to the decline of the nation-state and the unchallenged hegemony of corporations which own the U.S. political system, Washington doesn’t have to do contrition well.