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Tuesday, 2 July 2013

I spy with my little eye… Nations between mutual paranoia and the greed for information

If you live in a neighbourhood, you want to know what’s going on in the apartment next to you. However, you don’t want them to mess around in your life, nor to even spy on you. But that’s what nations do all the time, and still they react appalled and gutted if one of them secretly gathers information about the others.

In close cooperation with Google, Facebook, Skype, Amazon etc. the NSA (National Security Agency) has gathered billions of information about users all over the globe, around half a billion files from Germany per month. But if you think that only private users are affected by this massive data attack by the US, you were wrong. I fact, in its essence, it’s nothing new.

Bug plague
Espionage is nothing invented by the NSA, throughout human history nations and superpowers always tried to gather as much information from the adversary as possible, to gain a strategic advantage. It was intensified through World War 2, and made perfect and commercially popular during the Cold War. As such, it is nothing unusual to observe and wiretap embassies, consulates, or other government related premises. Even non-governmental organizations are legitimate subjects for tapping.

The idea is simple: the more you know about your enemy, the better off you are in an anarchic international system, the more you can use this data against your enemy. The amount of information and their analysis is a useful weapon. In some cases, even information from allies or partners (no matter if first or third degree partners) is not excluded.

As such, the furious rage all over Europe about the recent news that the US intelligence services have bugged EU delegations and representations in the US and other countries spread all over the world is humongous. Even the cable connection on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean is a subject to be tapped, via submarine (carried out by the US submarine “Jimmy Carter”, as reported by the German news magazine “Spiegel”).

I know that you know that I know…
Germany’s and the EU’s reactions to the recent disclosures about the NSA’s “Prism” and the British “Tempora” programmes raise a question: how many footprints do we leave in the web, and not only through our (daily) posts on Facebook. Every user shall be aware that, no matter what he does on the web, leaves a footprint: getting a delivery from Amazon, sending a regular email, or even chatting. Some users tend to react in panic and take drastic measures, such as closing their Facebook accounts, demanding information from online providers according to European data protection and privacy legislation etc.

What bothers Germany most is something else: that these espionage and bugging activities are happening under the administration of President Obama, the one Europe and the whole world anticipated to withdraw from such Bush-like behaviourism. No one expected that from him and the disappointment it pretty much obvious.

Running the gauntlet for an egocentric traitor
Love him or hate him? That’s the question for Edward Snowden. Fact is that, as a former member of a government intelligence service, he was obliged to remain silence regarding business or governmental related issues in any occasion. After he left the NSA, Snowden started a self-promotion tour throughout the world by providing a vast number of prism facts to the public. However, while he blames the increasing observation and espionage activities by the US and the NSA, he sought refuge in Hong Kong first and currently spends his time in the presumably “neutral” transit area of Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow; basically in two countries which excessively and increasingly observe their own citizens and cut all possible civil rights.
A coincidence? Probably not.

Snowden was working as an external contractor for the NSA, and might have set up some contacts with financially sound background. It sounds wage, but owning exclusive data about the US’ spying and hacking activities in the world wide web makes you the owner of the most delicate and valuable cargo in contemporary times. Russia and China know that, and probably already got some data backups from Snowden. As a result, President Putin’s offer to Snowden to grant him political asylum in Russia was a smart move: to keep him away from US actions to capture Snowden and to get access to classified data.
But who wants Edward? He obviously rejected Putin’s offer and continues his uncertain journey.

Snowden applied for political asylum in 14 different countries, including Germany. However, Snowden is aware that any NATO country – as an ally of the US – will be obliged to hand him over to the US, or that the US will execute a cloak and dagger operation to get him back to the US by force, without the asylum providing country able to protest or to intervene – or not even willing to do so.
Germany has rejected Snowden’s asylum seeking request, and for the moment Snowden will keep staying at Sheremetyevo Airport for another while.

Paranoia as a necessity in international relations
Still, Snowden will not change the on-going espionage activities of countries against others, allies or non-allies. Mutual  and multiple paranoia is a persistent behaviour among countries, and even the “victims” like Germany or the EU as a whole have own espionage networks and observe other countries, even its own allies, on a smaller scale though.

The rule of modern survival is simple: distrust everyone and gather as much information about everyone as you can. Then you can be sure to survive in an anarchic world, and any hysteric reaction is just as hypocritical and illusive as the demand for a footprint free web.

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