Mardell: US spies act the injured innocent

  • 30 October 2013
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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.

Image caption 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.