Controversy continues over recent revelations of U.S. phone taps of allied leaders, particularly German Chancellor Angela Merkel. While President Obama has assured her that such surveillance will not continue in the future, questions still remain about how extensive the NSA’s program for the surveillance of allies is. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, stated that “We’re talking about a huge enterprise here with thousands and thousands of individual requirements,” with “requirements” meaning surveillance targets. Such surveillance is done, he said, to verify that countries are being truthful about what they say and to keep tabs on policies which affect the United States.
This surveillance includes transcripts of numerous phone calls, which are often discarded but can also be stored for future use. While data collected from allied leaders is naturally less scrutinized than, say, information about Iran’s nuclear program or Chinese political maneuvers, it is nonetheless used to form reports which are used to inform members of the intelligence community. Such data can (and has) been used to prevent terrorist attacks; however, much of it is also probably used to shape American policy in ways that gives us an edge on other nations. In the wake of this most recent controversy, German representatives are visiting Washington both to obtain assurance that surveillance of leaders will cease, and also likely to negotiate for greater access to the United States’ vast intelligence resources.
I can’t imagine that anyone would be surprised that the U.S. spies on everyone, including its allies. Espionage has been ubiquitous in governments since prehistory, and every country in the world today engages in it. It would be foolish to think that other countries are not doing all they can to keep tabs on America. From this perspective, the outrage in Germany might be somewhat unwarranted. However, the world is quickly coming to understand what implications advanced technology have on espionage methods, and many are questioning whether it is right for such invasive means to be used, especially on allied states.