Mardell: US spies act the injured innocent


There are few things Americans dislike as much as Europeans being sanctimonious.

After weeks of being accused of snooping on European citizens, the US intelligence agencies can no longer restrain themselves.

They've hit back with the less-than-elevating message that all spies are as bad as each other.

Some of National Security Agency (NSA) director General Keith Alexander's words to a Congressional committee are clear enough.

Gen Keith Alexander Gen Alexander: European media claims "false"

He said: "The assertions by reporters in France, Le Monde - Spain, El Mundo - Italy, L'espresso - that NSA collected tens of millions of phone calls are completely false."

So, first up, they were the innocent victims, wrongly accused.

The rest of the sentence probably needs running through the modern equivalent of the Enigma machine for some decoding.

He continued, those European newspapers he'd just mentioned "cite as evidence screenshots of the results of a web tool used for data management purposes but both they and the person who stole the classified data did not understand what they were looking at. To be perfectly clear - this is not information that we collected on European citizens. It represents information that we and our Nato allies have collected in defence of our countries and in support of military operations".

It seems he is saying European intelligence agencies collected the data on their own citizens who were operating outside their own countries and then shared it with NSA. In other words, not America's fault.

If this was the "we didn't do it" gambit, he and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper swiftly followed with "and everybody does it anyway".

For the spy chiefs did rather brazenly admit that tapping Angela Merkel's phone was pretty much par for the course.

Ignoring the fact that they had earlier claimed all their efforts were aimed at keeping America safe, they stated that gathering information on friendly leaders' intentions was a pretty basic duty.

They made no distinction between counter-terrorism and more humdrum but terribly useful information about foreign politicians' positions on anything from agricultural subsidies to inter-party factional fighting.

That sort of information is the ammo that allows diplomats to hit the target.

But they were eager to say that the Europeans "absolutely" did it to America.

Perhaps the difference is that the US security services were cautious enough to make sure Barack Obama, the first smart-phone wielding president in history, had a very special ultra-secure Blackberry.

They obviously knew how easy it was to crack. Mrs Merkel's people apparently did not.

This is still hideously embarrassing for the White House, and European outrage is not about to die away.

But the US hates being preached at and needs little encouragement to act as an injured innocent.

Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell Presenter, The World This Weekend

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  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I've always robbed banks, so it's ok, right? The long-term nature of my activities justifies them. Anyway, all bank robbers do it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Mark, about this Clapper chappie, director of intelligence. Funny name for such a daft coot - in popular Dutch '(ver)klappen' = to reveal.

    Clapper's honesty reveals the extent to which the American Dream is now proof of the old adage about how things rotten surface first. Poor Barack, no rotten piece him, is unable to tame this elite. Who can?

    America implodes, ever faster. A shame. Next?

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    It seems like the Europeans are playing this up a little for domestic purposes. The fact remains that they only became concerned when it turned out the leaders themselves had been targeted. Up until then it was perfectly fine for the plebs to be watched.

    Of course it will really hit the fan when the scale of commercial spying is revealed. How much have the NSA been passing to Boeing, Apple, etc?

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    The US has been listening to Merkel's cell phone for 10 years and it took an American to tell the Germans this? Merkel should consider what the Russians, Chinese, French and perhaps British have been doing during the same period. Does the de facto leader of the EU plan to call out other nations or just assume they are too polite to listen?

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    The denials are all semantics. So, NSA bullies foreign intelligence agencies into collecting data and passing it on to them, in the name of the war on terror, and then when the proverbial hits the fan, they blame the domestic agencies of those countries. It's the denial of arrogance, the arrogance is a result of too much power, and power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely!

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    The German guy doesn't like us spying on Merkel.What's he going to do about it, threaten to end the trade talks?That's the last thing the EU wants.It's time for these children to go back home to Europe and work on their own problems.Let the US do the heavy lifting.It's the only one with either the will or the muscle.EU weakness comes from lazing around in some Euro welfare state instead of working

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    it used to be the case that a court order and probable cause where required for wire tapping.

    The USA is increasingly becoming a centrally planned police state.

    The land of the free has become the land of the sheep - and sheep don't have the wit to ask questions.

    I despise the what the USA has become / is becomming.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I'm disappointed NSA didn't gather the metadata itself but had to rely on France and Spain.Hopefully we can capture all European and other phone, e-mail, and video messaging directly and sort through it.Clearly France and Spain don't have the data bases or cyberpower to filter the data themselves.Without NSA it's useless to them.Will Europe learn its lesson from this?I doubt it.Never did so far.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Snowden and the media clowns didn't know what the hell they were talking about.The metadata was given to NSA by Spain and France.We do spy on foreign leaders just as they spy on us.We always have and always will.Questions asked and answered and the answers will not change. European delegation, go spew your hot air back home. You've got your reply. Suck it up, there's nothing you can do about it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I appreciate they began tapping Merkel's phone in 2002, the same year so many of our locals were secretly listed "enemies of the state". Maybe they discovered in those "Old Europe" / "Coalition of the Willing" days, that Angela was just the thing for the future.

    I also admire Dianne "Our Lady of Oversight" Feinstein's perturbation over bugging allied heads of State... problem solved--- glory.


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