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In Defense of NSA Spying on Allies, or, Our Allies Spy on US Too…

Israeli-EspionageIn all the global brouhaha over United States spying on some of its closest allies, what seems to be overlooked is the fact that some of our closest allies are also spying on us.

Thanks to what seem like daily leaks from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, we now know that the US has been spying on friend and foe alike, in every corner of the world. On Thursday, it emerged that the NSA has been snooping on the personal phone communications of as many as 35 world leaders. Allies which have been subjected to US spying include the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Turkey, India and even Israel, viewed by many Americans as something akin to “the 51st state.”

Allies have reacted furiously to the news. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff canceled a planned White House visit and announced that her country would develop a more secure electronic communication network. Germany’s Angela Merkel, who recently phoned President Obama following the revelation that her personal phone may have been tapped, said relations with Washington have been “severely shaken” by American actions. France called the American snooping “unacceptable” and “shocking.”

But lost among all the finger-pointing and furore is the fact that since time immemorial, allies have always spied on other allies. The leaders of the nations targeted by the NSA surely know this; their electorates are a different story altogether. This could explain some of the possibly feigned outrage over all the snooping.

Former French intelligence director Bernard Squarcini said he was “astonished” at his nation’s official ‘shock’ over the allegations.

“I am amazed by such disconcerting naïveté,” Squarcini told Le Figaro. “You’d almost think our politicians don’t bother to read the reports they get from the intelligence services.”

“The French intelligence services know full well that all countries, whether or not they are allies in the fight against terrorism, spy on each other all the time,” said Squarcini. “The Americans spy on French commercial interests, and we do the same to them because it’s in the national interest to protect our companies.”

Indeed, the French have a reputation as being the world’s worst industrial espionage offenders.

Even the Israelis, who depend upon billions of dollars in annual US aid, are spying on us. Washington lets Israel get away with a litany of crimes including illegal occupation and colonization, wars of aggression, and what many critics call apartheid and even the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, because it has been determined that the security of the Jewish state ranks among America’s most important national interests. But it may come as a surprise to the American public– but not its leaders, and certainly not its intelligence community– that the CIA views Israel as its number one counterintelligence threat in the Middle East. In fact, the CIA and FBI have issued scathing reports detailing Israeli spying on US political, military and economic interests. A former US ambassador to Israel once cabled that the State Department “must assume that all conversations in my office are known to the Israelis.”

“It’s a complicated relationship,” former CIA spy Joseph Wippl told the Associated Press. “They have their interests, we have our interests. For the US, its a balancing act.”

The case of Jonathan Pollard, the American intelligence analyst currently serving a life prison sentence after he was caught passing state secrets to Israel in the 1980s, is a stark reminder that even our closest allies have eyes and ears on our business.

Ultimately, critics who claim that foreign heads of state are fuming over US spying only because Washington is doing a better job of it than they are have a valid point. As the 19th century British leader Lord Palmerston said, “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.” When viewed through the prism of state power– the core purpose of the state, any state, being the perpetuation and extension of its own power– it is easy to see why even close allies would spy on each other.

As Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, so eloquently explained in a recent episode, “Nations be spyin’, yo!”

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