By Elisabeth Braw, Politico.eu
Denmark’s European allies were “shocked” this week when they discovered that the small Nordic country had helped the United States spy on Germany, France and other European allies between 2012-2014.
What a horror! (What a horror), said the French Minister for Europe, Clément Beaune, emphasizing that the revelations that Copenhagen allowed the US National Security Agency, NSA, to use Danish eavesdropping systems to listen to the conversations of senior European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and German President Franz-Walter Steinmeier, are “extremely serious”.
“This is not acceptable to the Allies,” said French President Emmanuel Macron. Even Peer Steinbrück, the former Social Democrat candidate for chancellor of Germany and another NSA target, said the issue was a “political scandal”.
But these men know better how things stand, or should have known in principle. Of course, you or I could have a similar reaction if we find out that a friend helped someone else eavesdrop on our phone conversations. Nations have no friends, only interests, once said a famous French leader.
And spying among close allies is not just a common practice, but often a good idea. When it was first reported that the United States had spied on its allies, then-French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he was “deeply shocked”.
But his stance was immediately opposed by Bernard Squarcini, the recently ousted head of the French counterintelligence agency. “I am amazed at such naivety,” Squarcini told the French daily Le Figaro.
“This gives the impression that our politicians do not bother to read the reports they receive from the intelligence services,” he said. And even Berlin has no reason to complain. Six years ago, Germany was in Denmark when the media reported that it had allowed the US NSA to spy on European defense companies.
The Germans know better than anyone else that spying on allies has a long history, precisely because it is so much needed. In the 1970s, trust between US and West German secret services was so weak that it was thought that the latter did not share some data with their American counterparts for fear of being exposed to the US Congress.
Meanwhile, US intelligence agencies were convinced that West German counterparts had been infiltrated by East German spies, and therefore kept much of the information to themselves. And this assumption turned out to be correct.
In 1974 the right wing of German Chancellor Willy Brandt, Günther Guillaume was unmasked as an East German spy.
On one occasion I had the privilege of interviewing Markus Wolf, the legendary East German spy whose operations included Guillaume’s entry into Chancellor Brandt’s inner circle. Among other things, we talked about the CIA’s efforts to recruit him after the collapse of East Germany.
Does anyone think that West Germany’s intelligence agencies praised the US for trying to recruit their biggest asset? Or does anyone think the CIA would have missed out on the chance to work with Wolf, considered by friends and foes alike a master of espionage? Jo.
Countries have a reasonable interest in informing themselves of ongoing and potential developments around the world, including those friendly countries. And that’s because those countries may have different priorities about what matters, and just like the United States and West Germany in the 1970s, they may be reluctant to share what they know with their best allies. close.
Recall the case of former Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl, who danced with Russian President Vladimir Putin during her wedding 3 years ago. It is very likely that the Austrian intelligence agencies made a different assessment of that event compared to their allied counterparts.
You may not know if your ally’s assessment is credible until you have done so yourself. What makes the Five Eyes group unique is their commitment not to spy on each other. Elsewhere, there is no such commitment.
As former US President Ronald Reagan once said, referring to nuclear disarmament: Believe, but verify! European leaders like Steinbrück, Beaune and Macron have every right to be angry. But they should not behave as if they are shocked by this.
Every leader knows what every citizen knew behind the Iron Curtain: Only conversations with another person, conducted during nature walks, are safe from eavesdropping. Even in that case it is not necessarily certain. And it is safe to assume that Merkel, the capable East German-born leader, did not discuss any state secrets in conversations held on her cell phone. /abcnews.al