New Castle News

October 30, 2013

Our Opinion: Tapping world leaders’ phones is not very smart

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — In the world of espionage, it’s hardly a secret that nations gather intelligence on each other.

That’s true of both friends and adversaries. No matter how close nations are, at times they have competing interests. And certain intelligence can be useful in developing policies and strategies in key areas — even among friends.

But gathering intelligence can take a variety of forms. It can involve combing through testimony of parliamentary hearings. It can involve gossip picked up at cocktail parties.

It also can involve, it seems, the cellphones of other world leaders.

European nations are in an uproar today over reports America’s National Security Agency was bugging the phones of various top officials, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It seems that Merkel’s cellphone was being bugged for years until the activity was halted earlier this year.

The revelations are one of many leaks that came from Edward Snowden, a former employee of a private contractor working for the NSA. Snowden is now living in Russia and information he obtained from the government has been coming out in dribs and drabs, revealing a vast intelligence gathering system by the NSA that gobbles up cellphone, email and other data.

The revelations have been embarrassing to the U.S. government in a variety of ways. And despite assurances the privacy of average individuals is not being violated, doubts linger. We have repeatedly argued that Americans do not know how extensive NSA data mining efforts are and what is being collected.

All we know is that every time we turn around, we learn that the reach of the NSA is far broader than had been let on previously. Now the world is hearing about the tapping of phones of European leaders.

Some defenders of the NSA in Washington have scoffed at criticism, arguing that spying among countries is normal and to be expected. But we wonder if that would be their reaction if some European ally was caught tapping the phones of President Obama and congressional leaders.

We acknowledge espionage is a reality. Yet a risk/benefit assessment of tapping the cellphone of Germany’s chancellor would suggest it’s something to avoid.

After all, we doubt that Merkel is part of some al-Qaida cell. So does the protection of America’s security demand that her phone conversations be monitored?

Anyone who answers yes needs to consider what’s happening now. As a result of these revelations, European nations are debating a suspension of various cooperative intelligence agreements with the United States. They worry that the NSA is seeking economic data to give America a trade advantage, and claims of anti-terror concerns are a cover story.

So the tapping of phones may backfire badly on the United States. In terms of intelligence gathering, that can’t be very smart.