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In a previous article for The BRICS Post, I wrote: “The BRICS countries do best to assume that they, as well, are being watched. As a security expert once told me: “It would surprise me, that they wouldn’t do it.”
Only a few weeks later NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s documents proved that the NSA and it’s British counterpart GCHQ were spying on the Brazilian petroleum company Petrobras and on the Brazilian Ministry of Mining. If that wasn’t embarrassing enough, a few days later, Brazilian president Dilma Roussef found out that her personal e-mail account in her cabinet office was being bugged as well.What I wrote in July here was only a hunch, a premonition of things to come, if one were to follow things to their logical end. Since then, the scandal has spread and, all fake appearances to the contrary aside, the US is now at a complete quandary over what to do.
Washington has no idea how it should deal with ‘the problem’ (the problem not being that they spy on everybody, but that they were caught at it). On October 25 the Guardian reports that 35 leaders of state have been monitored by the NSA. Latest Spanish media reports say 60 million phone calls were tapped in the country by the NSA in one month. Spain and Germany have both summoned the respective US Ambassadors to do some explaining. Even before the US administration could start dousing some fires, came fresh allegations by German newspaper Bild am Sonntag (BAMS) that reported that NSA chief Keith Alexander had personally told US President Barack Obama about the eavesdropping.
India, Russia, Italy and most recently France and Germany have voiced their anger. French President Hollande deemed the massive spying on French citizens ‘unacceptable’. German Chancelor Angela Merkel said similar things. So far however, none have equalled Brazil in its resilience to deal with this. President Dilma Rousseff’s speech of September 24 at the UN general Assembly is historic in more than one way. She openly condemned the US for violating Brazilian sovereignty – sovereignty being one of the cornerstones of the UN Charter. Brazil is the biggest Latin-American economy. This is not some old-fashioned communist ruler ranting on about the evil empire of the west, this comes from a solid western ally.
Even more so, this comes from the traditional backyard of the US. Full control over Latin-America has been the fundamental cornerstone of US foreign policy since president Monroe issued his famous doctrine. Rousseff’s speech at the UN was largely ignored or downplayed in the western media, predictably so. Nevertheless, this is a major setback for the US. The EU did not issue any statements of support for Rousseff at the UN General Assembly.Their indignation came later. Now the EU and the respective EU member states have issued some diplomatic declarations, ambassadors were summoned, the usual stuff. So far nothing compared to what Brazil has done. Some politicians like the social-democrats in Germany are now voicing their doubts about the upcoming free trade agreement between the EU and the US. The European Parliament is going to decide on stronger regulation of privacy protection, the SWIFT banking cooperation with the US might be suspended.
This scandal is indeed historic, but if history teaches us a lesson, it is that the EU and the separate EU countries have never been serious in their protest against whatever the ally overseas was doing against them. You never know, this time it might be different, but until I see real decisions being taken, I will take EU passivity on this issue as a given.
There is also an element of utter hypocrisy in the EU protests. One could indeed add a sentence to president Hollande’s statements about the US spying on French citizens: “That is unacceptable. Only WE are allowed to spy on our own citizens”. The recent scandal focuses on US spying, but in the meantime all EU countries spy on their own citizens. It is only a matter of time before that part of the scandal breaks out as well.
It would not surprise me that this is already part of the US counterstrategy, namely threatening the allies of exposing their own spying operations. We have not yet seen the end of this.
If the EU is serious about tackling this ‘problem’, there is one thing to do, immediately. Join the statement that Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff made at the UN General Assembly and adhere to the five principles for a democratic and transparant internet system that she stated in her speech. Brazil is working on an e-mail system of its own, to be in operation by the end of November. Do that as well. Brasilia will host an international conference on the subject in April next year. Now, that is what I call taking real steps.
None of this in the EU. I could be wrong – in fact I hope I am wrong – but my hunch is that the EU will let the matter slide once media attention has turned elsewhere. In the meantime, Karel De Gucht, member of the European Commission, has already stated that the negotiations on the free trade agreement should continue as planned.
Lode Vanoost is former deputy speaker of the Belgian Parliament and is an international consultant. He writes for www.dewereldmorgen.be.