Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Caught Red Handed. Again.

By Luka JankovicPublished November 8, 2013

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America's spying allegations have transcended the domain of its private citizens and entered into the realm of foreign governments, potentially straining global foreign relations. Actions such as spying on allies undermine the perceived loyalty of the United States to its allies, and ultimately, these allegations could have unintended consequences in the future.
By Luka Jankovic, Published 11/8/13


America's spying allegations have transcended the domain of its private citizens and entered into the realm of foreign governments, potentially straining global foreign relations. On Monday, the U.S. ambassador to France, Charles Rivkin, met with French diplomats over allegations that the National Security Agency (NSA) tapped into more than 70 million phone calls in France over a thirty day period. The French Foreign Ministry summoned Rivkin to Paris after the story broke in French newspapers. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has deplored these practices that violate domestic privacy and question alliances. U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande met on Monday as well to discuss the breach of privacy. "The President and President Hollande discussed recent disclosures in the press - some of which have distorted our activities and some of which raise legitimate questions for our friends and allies about how these capabilities are employed," a White House news release said. "The President made clear that the United States has begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share."

Reports from French newspaper Le Monde, citing documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, reveal that the monitoring took place between December 10, 2012 and January 8, 2013 with an average of 3 million intercepted calls per day. The allegations come a day after Der Spiegel, a German news source, reported that the NSA also intercepted communication from the Mexican government. Der Spiegel also cited Snowden's released documents. The documents allege that the public e-mail account of former Mexican President Felipe Calderon was hacked. The email was also used by several of his Cabinet members. The Mexican government has demanded for an investigation into the reports.

When asked, the NSA said that it would not "comment publicly on every specific alleged intelligence activity, and as a matter of policy we have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations. As the President said in his speech at the U.N. General Assembly, we've begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share."

Spying allegations on allies could easily strain foreign relations. While protecting the safety and privacy of American citizens is important, tapping into private email accounts and phone calls of foreign citizens oversteps the jurisdiction of the NSA. Ultimately, the question comes down to a matter of privacy versus security. Naturally, in times of turmoil or national security, the government should have the right to interfere. However, this right does not necessarily translate into a commonplace activity. Spying on the citizens of allies in times of peace is unnecessary and detrimental. Understandably, foreign governments are unhappy with the United States. 
Actions such as spying on allies undermine the perceived loyalty of the United States to its allies. Ultimately, these allegations could have unintended consequences in the future. It may strain future negotiations over a variety of issues such as Middle Eastern relations and economic policies. Allies may distance themselves from the United States and complicate relationships. The costs of spying on foreign governments outweigh the benefits of the gathered intelligence. The United States should stop spying on foreign allies and their citizens in order to repair and sustain their relationships for the present and future.