Finger-pointing over the NSA's spying habits ascends to a new level of complexity with the latest revelations of how the United States spies on foreign officials. However, U.S. officials now tell The Wall Street Journal that the phone records at the center of the surveillance scandal in Europe were actually collected by European spy agencies, not the NSA.
This is not a small amount of spying we're talking about. Earlier this week, Le Monde and El Mundo both reported that the NSA had collected phone records on 70 million and 60 million people in France and Spain, respectively, between December 2012 and January 2013. After the U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, said that the reports contained "inaccurate and misleading information," WSJ's unnamed U.S. sources claimed that French and Spanish intelligence agencies were actually the ones who collected the data, and that they then passed it on to the NSA.
It's hard to decide what to make of this scoop. On a practical level, it's a well-timed reminder that the U.S. isn't the only country spying on other countries. This is literally happening all the time, all over the world, and it's been kept in the dark for years because, well, that's the whole point of spying. It's secret. On a more conceptual level, though, it's hard not to feel like global powers are just passing the buck at this point. Allied countries are constantly sharing intelligence information—there are even formal agreements in place that dictate how it's done—so why should we be surprised when we catch them doing it?
Because people don't like to be spied on, that's why. Whether it's the NSA or their own governments doing it, people feel especially violated when friendly forces are peeking into their private lives. If, indeed, it was the domestic spying agencies that collected phone records in France and Spain, then the NSA still doesn't get off the hook. For better or worse, the agency is now the poster child of unwanted and even unwarranted surveillance, and it looks worse—and altogether more ominous—if it has foreign spy agencies working for it.
The last thing people want Big Brother to have is a bunch of Little Brothers doing its bidding. [NSA]
Image via Flickr / Celso Flores