For decades intelligence agencies in the United States have stuck to the Russian proverb made famous by former President Ronald Reagan ‘trust, but verify’ as a guiding principle in their relations with other countries.
In September, Secretary of State John Kerry said that Washington had updated the quote to “verify and verify”.
This really fits in with the reports of large-scale electronic snooping by the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA), made public after intelligence contractor Edward Snowden leaked the data to news agencies.
What makes the latest exposé on US snooping startling is that it says Washington was spying, not just on potential terror suspects, but also on close allies, right up to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.
Earlier France had raised objections with the US after it was revealed that the NSA was monitoring phone and Internet data of its citizens. The heads of the EU raised concerns over the NSA’s actions and Germany and Brazil are working on a UN General Assembly resolution to safeguard Internet privacy.
Ms Merkel was quoted by her spokesman as having told Obama that: “between close friends and partners, there should be no such surveillance of the communications of the head of government”. These acts reiterate that Washington still holds on to Henry Kissinger’s idea: “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests”. However, this is unlikely to pacify a livid Merkel.
That this information would not have been available if not for the revelations by Mr Snowden, and consequentially, the NSA would have gone about snooping not just on terror suspects but also government heads, points to how close we are to the dystopian world seen in George Orwell’s 1984.
Also pertinent is the issue that at present all the major Internet-related data storage is America-centric. Brazil recently had planned a legislation to ask major networks to store data locally after snooping by the NSA was reported.
Unfortunately, at present there is no better alternative to secure data storage than the US. It is in the interest of every nation, including India, that this imbalance is addressed to protect data from getting into the wrong hands, even if it is the NSA.