by John Q on November 21, 2013

So far, the Snowden revelations regarding NSA spying, both domestic and international, have produced plenty of outrage, but not much in the way of effective pushback. As we already learned during the Bush years, the US government can do pretty much whatever it likes to just about anyone. Only Angela Merkel has received a promise that her phone won’t be tapped in future.

That’s not true for junior partners in the English-speaking “Five Eyes” agreement.[^1] It turns out that, under the recently defeated Labor government DSD (the Oz NSA equivalent) tapped the phone of the Indonesian President (generally known by the acronym SBY) and his wife. The new conservative PM, Tony Abbott has refused even the same gesture as Obama made to Merkel, defending Australia’s right to spy on anyone we want to. But Australia isn’t the US, and the Indonesians are furious. The Ambassador has been recalled, and all bilateral co-operation programs have been suspended or placed under review. THat includes co-operation with Australian efforts to stop the flow of asylum seekers, which Chris discussed recently.

I was going to write a more detailed analysis, but I can’t improve on this by Tad Tietze.

[^1]:.The Five Eyes are US, UK, Canada, Oz and NZ. It’s striking that this ethno-linguistic bloc has been maintained even though NZ has long pursued an independent (notably, anti-nuclear) line in foreign policy. It’s also unsurprising that (just out today), even here, http://www.computerworld.co.nz/article/532448/draft_memo_suggests_us_spying_five_eyes_allies/.



bt 11.21.13 at 3:02 am

Honestly, this whole thing is just such a dog and pony show, with all of the feigned outrage. Tellingly, A few Israelis government figures pointed this out, they wondered what the fuss was about and that ‘they all know they’re being spied on all the time’.

Embarrassingly, it turned out quite a few European agencies actually turned over their raw telcom data to the US so that it could sift them with its assumedly awesome data grinders. And then they complained about it after the whole thing went public, because politicians are aware that a lot of people don’t really assemble facts well or pay attention when facts and words don’t match.

Most of the furious politicians are preening for their home audiences and trying to get a few digs in and score some indignation brownie points.

But in the long run, its hard to predict if there really will be true pushback and retrenchment of these new tracking systems, surveillance has become pervasive, and for most people most of the time, they’ll trade a little privacy for ‘secutiry’, and there’s a lot of room for abuse in that equation.


SC 11.21.13 at 6:18 am

“effective pushback”
Perhaps a commonplace saying but . . . Snowden’s leaks look like a far more accurate history of US intelligence practice than, say, all previous journalism about the NSA, the FISA court, US counterintelligence practices and the like. Assuming it takes about as long to write history, perhaps longer, as it does to make history, “effective pushback” related to Snowden’s leak is still possible. I admit I could end up eating my words but so far I think Snowden has provided detailed documentation that more than a few laws were broken by numerous NSA/FISA/WH employees/officials/appointees/judges/soldiers/etc. Whatever pushback we see is likely to be years away.


An American Anthropologist in Goettingen 11.21.13 at 10:45 am

Angela Merkle’s phone won’t be tapped? So I guess if she doesn’t want to be spied upon, her only option will be to converse only with herself. Because everyone else’s phone will be.


Manta 11.21.13 at 5:54 pm

Without any special knowledge about Australia, the “normal” thing I would expect is for a PM in his situation is to pull an Obama and say that they will stop spying on the head of a friendly state, and that they never did it in the past anyhow.

So, my question is: why isn’t he doing that?
Possible answers I can think of:
1) Because he want to show what a tough guy he is: pissing off Indonesian President is a plus
2) Because he thinks that if he lies, in a few years the fact that he is lying will come out
3) Because he is a honest person


roger gathman 11.21.13 at 5:59 pm

#1 is right to an extent. Snowden has revealed the extent of cooperation – or perhaps I should say cooption – of a number of European spy departments. Cooperation that I would wager came as a surprise to those officials who are merely elected to run things, and thus are not on a need to know basis.
But I think that revelation is not a dog and pony show – it has the potential of making it majorly difficult to do business as usual this way. Since the establishment left and right parties are now separated less by ideology than by the self-interest of their activists, it may be that this is simply swallowed. But it adds to the sense, in Europe, of something completely wrong – and the growth of a populist model that brings together a leftist economic program (counter austeria) and a racist nationalist program. Perhaps the establishment can pursuade the populace that making their spy agencies wholly owned subsidaries of the NSA is a good thing. But I doubt it.
Of course, the crucial factor is to keep this in the news – which I think CT is doing admirably. For the more it is in the news, the less its chance of being normalized, I think.


Straightwood 11.22.13 at 5:26 pm

What has gone unnoticed in the Manning and Snowden affairs is the remarkable implicit revelation of class decadence. Both of these men were “losers,” very far below the status of the elites who now want to crush them. It his hard not to conclude that the best and the brightest have been bought off. The high-ranking Daniel Ellsbergs of today are very comfortable and don’t wish to step out of line.


Ken_L 11.23.13 at 4:06 am

#4 I think the probable reason is a variation of your first option. It’s not so much that he wants to look tough, as that he doesn’t want to look weak. Apologising is just not the sort of thing that white Australian male politicians do to Asian heads of state. It would cause the kind of offence amongst a section of the Australian population that Obama did in the USA when he bowed to an Arab. Not really overt racism, just an unthinking behavioural norm created by centuries of assumed cultural superiority.

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