Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context.
Paris, 21 October 2013
The big news here today is the revelation in the newspaper Le Monde that the United States has been secretly spying on French officials, politicians, businesses and private individuals on a massive scale for an indeterminate period.
What has shocked the French public is that France is a staunch ally of the United States – “our oldest ally,” as US Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed recently – not a sworn enemy.
They ought to have studied Hansard (the report of British parliamentary proceedings). In a speech recorded in the Hansard report for 1 March 1848 (Column 122), the future Prime Minister Viscount Palmerston, then Foreign Secretary, said: “We have no eternal allies and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.”
The Americans, by contrast, seem to have clicked the “like” icon when they read Palmerson’s cynical declaration and then signed up as loyal followers.
According to Le Monde’s 22 October edition (on sale, as usual, the afternoon prior to the date of publication), in the thirty days between 10 December 2012 and 8 January 2013 alone, the US National Security Agency (NSA) made 70.3 million recordings of French telephone communications.
On the surface, the French Government is in a huff about this.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius summoned US Ambassador to Paris, Charles Rivkin, to the Quai d’Orsay today for a dressing-down.
And French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he was “deeply shocked”, adding: “It’s incredible that an allied country like the United States at this point goes as far as spying on private communications that have no strategic justification, no justification on the basis of national defence.”
The revelations made in Le Monde are based on data supplied by Edward Snowden, the former US spy turned whistle-blower, who has fled to Russia to escape American vengeance.
French businesses that have been targeted by US spies are said to include telecommunications specialist Alcatel-Lucent and mobile phone business Wanadoo (part of Orange).
One implication is that the US may be using its intelligence agencies not just to track down terrorists but also to gain commercial advantage for US businesses by snooping on commercially sensitive data owned by rival overseas companies.
The data appear to show that, apart from France, the US secret services have been spying on a whole raft of allied countries, not just those like Russia and China, which are deemed hostile to the West.
These are said to include Germany, Austria, Belgium and Poland as well as “Anglo-Saxon” allies such as Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Moreover, the NSA is said to have bugged not only European Union (EU) offices in Washington and at the UN in New York but also the Justus Lipsius building which houses the EU Council in Brussels.
Britain, however, seems to fall into a special category since, at least according to the reports in Le Monde, the US is intercepting the electronic communications of British citizens – with the agreement of the UK Government!
In fact, this is hardly surprising as earlier reports using data disclosed by Snowden have revealed that Britain’s GCHQ (General Communications Headquarters), a secretive government agency which specializes in eavesdropping on electronic telecommunications, has been co-operating wholesale with the American spooks – in exchange for financial bungs from Washington.
Britain’s assistance to Washington is said to have included intercepting the telephone calls and computer communications of diplomats and heads of state who attended the G20 summit in London in 2009.
In fairness to the Americans, it is not only foreigners that have been the subject of clandestine surveillance. The Snowden data suggest that US intelligence has been spying on US citizens as well.
Now what could be fairer than that! “We spy on our own people as well as yours. So where’s the problem?”
There is also a suspicion that the French government is making a song and dance about the latest revelations solely in order to show French public opinion that they are not afraid to stand up to the Americans.
Because it seems that the French too are up to their eyes in it. In July this year Le Monde revealed that the French Directorate General for External Security also intercepted electronic and telephone communications.
According to a BBC report today 21 October, the White House has claimed that “all nations” conduct spying operations. According to US National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden, “As a matter of policy we have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations”.
So that’s all right, then! They’re all doing it. Which, of course, makes it OK.
What makes the bid for full-spectrum surveillance particularly chilling is that major non-government corporations, many of them household names, appear to have been co-operating secretly and unprotestingly with the machinations of the spooks.
Le Monde today fingers the following web giants as the source of data for “Prism”, the NSA’s major electronic surveillance programme: AOL, Google, Paltalk, Facebook, Apple, Skype, YouTube, Microsoft and Yahoo.
Naming other firms in the telecommunications field, Le Monde claims that these have been the source of data for surveillance programmes run by GCHQ under the code name “Tempora”. The firms are: British Telecom, Vodafone Cable, Verizon Business, Global Crossing, Level 3, Viatel and Interoute.
Readers of our Mission Statement will know that the double inspiration for this blog came from the ancient Greek play “Antigone” by the tragedian Sophocles (496-406 BC), which depicted the tyrannical suppression of political dissent, and the novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” by the English writer George Orwell (1903-1950), which describes a totalitarian state where individual privacy has been eliminated. Wherever they go in this sinister state, its browbeaten subjects see a poster with the following words:
“BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU”
You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts. For instance:
1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
5.Ladder (21 June 2012)
6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)
Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.