Despite the size and scope of Edward Snowden’s NSA whistleblowing, there’s little sign of Washington DC changing its practices, and even less of an indication that any of its European allies will actually hold it to account.
Germany’s change of direction on this issue reveals a lot about the scale of the problem. Angela Merkel’s initial public response seemed to be that of outrage. “We are no longer in the cold war,” said Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert. “If it is confirmed that diplomatic representations of the European Union and individual European countries have been spied upon, we will clearly say that bugging friends is unacceptable”(Guardian July 1, 2013).
Merkel’s public façade didn’t hold up for long after Snowden revealed in Der Spiegel magazine only days later that the US and Germany were in fact partnering in the global spy network. “They are in bed with the Germans, just like with most other Western states”, the German magazine quotes Snowden as saying, adding that the NSA has a Foreign Affairs Directorate which is responsible for cooperation with other countries (RT July 8, 2013). The Der Spiegel report also indicated how German Federal Intelligence Service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) and NSA work together.
The embarrassment of this Snowden bombshell seemed to force Germany down a notch, with Merkel opting for a new policy of appeasement instead. So was the initial rift between the US and Germany mere political theatre?
Merkel told Die Zeit that there was “a need to discuss the balance between privacy and security, but protection against terrorism was not possible without the option of electronic surveillance”. She then added, “(I want) the necessary discussions with the United States to be conducted in the spirit which, despite the many justified questions, never forgets that America has been our most loyal ally over the decades and still is” (Reuters July 10, 2013).
But it’s Merkel’s last statement which indicates that she may be just as out of touch with public opinion as the culture of denial which still dominates Washington DC. “For me, there is no comparison at all between the state security (Stasi) of the GDR and the work of intelligence services in democratic states,” Merkel told Die Zeit (Reuters July 10, 2013). Incredible.
Putting the overall theme of government abuse of power into perspective, this week provided a solid example of what should happen in an advanced civilized democracy. Luxembourg’s long-serving Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker announced his resignation this week over a spying scandal involving illegal phone-taps, alongside a number other highly corrupt activities.
In normal times, what happened in Luxembourg should also happen in other countries like the US, or Great Britain – but these are far from normal times. What passes for normal in this bizarre epoch is anyone’s guess, and the same goes for what is deemed to be ‘legal’, especially in the United States.
Snowden’s revelations should have been a watershed moment, but instead in 2013, there appears to be no parliamentary controls to regulate the practice of warrantless digital surveillance and data theft on the part of government agencies, and even less chance of justice in the courts, where adjudicators have been rendered impotent to enforce the law which have been buried under an avalanche of emergency war-time edicts and executive orders.