Edward Snowden’s stories keep leaking out, yet Russia says he must not do this. The latest one is on how the NSA spies on European leaders.
They all knew this. Their voters did not. This is the threat Snowden poses, and American foreign policy experts know this.
In an article for the forthcoming edition of Foreign Affairs magazine, Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore argue that it’s the disclosure of such practices rather than their existence that is damaging.”When these deeds turn out to clash with the government’s public rhetoric, as they so often do, it becomes harder for U.S. allies to overlook Washington’s covert behavior and easier for U.S. adversaries to justify their own,” they write.
“The U.S. government, its friends, and its foes can no longer plausibly deny the dark side of U.S. foreign policy and will have to address it head-on,” they argue.
The U.S. government will pretend to address this head-on. It will do nothing substantive, which would involve cutting the NSA’s budget. This, politicians will not do, since the NSA has been monitoring their phone calls. The politicians know who holds the hammer: the NSA.
Snowden has inflicted more damage on the American government than any civilian since Daniel Ellsberg released what became known as the Pentagon papers a generation ago. The difference is this: Ellsberg’s release of papers was a one-shot affair. They undermined Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam war policies, but they were focused on just Johnson and the war. This had tremendous repercussions, but they were all based on an initial equivalent of a thermonuclear blast. Snowden has launched the equivalent of a MIRVed missile. Warheads keep exploding. Nobody knows how many warheads the initial missile had, which is why he is such a liability to the federal government, and why he is such a benefit to the public.
The latest brouhaha was based on the fact that the NSA has been spying on senior German and French officials. These German and French officials are fully aware of the spying capacity of the United States government, and especially the NSA. The thought that these revelations are news to foreign leaders is naÃ¯ve. What is disturbing to the foreign leaders is that their own domestic populations are finding out how subservient the leaders have been to the United States government, and how defenseless all domestic populations really are. It is obvious that if the NSA can spy on Angela Merkel, it can spy on anybody in Germany.
The embarrassment that this is causing national leaders is sufficient to prod Merkel and other leaders into action. They are making verbal protests. Verbal protests are utterly useless, of course. The leaders are aware of this. I suspect that, soon enough, voting populations are going to be aware of this. There is nothing that Merkel the other leaders can do to stop the NSA from spying on them. The NSA probably will say nothing, and Obama will assure everybody that it really isn’t happening, and it really will never happen again. This is utter nonsense, and the leaders know it is nonsense. The technology exists. The desire to accumulate information exists. The spying networks are there to spy. The leaders know that there is not a thing they can do about it. But they are appalled by the fact that Snowden’s revelations have made it obvious to their voters that they are utterly impotent in dealing with United States.
The NSA is not going to be shut down. The NSA is not going to have its secret budget cut. The NSA is going to go on collecting all the information it wants on whomever it wants any time it wants. There is nothing the federal government can do about this, other than simply putting the institution out of business by cutting all of its funds. So, Merkel and all the others can scream, yell, complain, formally protest, but it will not do a nickel’s worth of good. Worse than this: the voters in those countries are going to figure out that this is the case.
If anything, the NSA looks more powerful than ever. It looks as though it is a rogue agency over which neither Congress and the President has any control. That is, in short, it looks as though the NSA is exactly what the NSA is. The NSA is clearly in charge, and while it may protest that it really doesn’t do any of these things, everyone knows it does all of these things and probably a great deal more. The only thing that will stop the NSA is the standard bureaucratic inefficiency of any agency, including various computer programs that probably will not work very well. It will overreach its grasp. But that is an internal problem, not a problem imposed on it by the federal government. Congress is impotent. The President is impotent. Merkel is impotent. The NSA is in charge.
It is good that the voters of the world are becoming aware of this. It is good that they perceive their privacy has disappeared, since it really has disappeared. It is a delight to see Snowden so effective in bringing this information to the attention of the voters. The media cannot resist the leaks. He has proven this. He said he was going to dribble out the leaks, one by one, and that is exactly what he is doing. He has the media eating out of his hand, and his hand is in Russia. There is nothing that the federal government can do other than assassinating him, and that would probably lead to repercussions in terms of public relations. So, the federal government sits there, impotent, fully exposed to the voters of the rest of the world.
It couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch of politicians.
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