Rome, Italy. 31 October. In Blazing Saddles, an old Mel Brook comedy western, a black sheriff is pursued by a racist crowd intent on lynching him. Just as he is caught he puts a pistol to his head and says “no-one move or the black guy gets it!” In fact the sheriff uses the ‘N’ word which will never be seen in this blog. The crowd stop and plead with him not to pull the trigger. European hysteria over revelations of US spying is a bit like that stupid crowd: “If you Americans spy we Europeans will refuse to be defended by you”. This crisis speaks volumes about disconnect between the Euro-world and the real world, the information anarchists who are driving it and the nature of European politics these days.
Yesterday in Rome I spoke with a former European intelligence chief who told me that European hysteria is pure theatre. He was clear. “There is a big difference between the public outrage of politicians and the day-to-day reality of intelligence co-operation between Americans and Europeans”.
Some of aforesaid politicians talk of blocking US access to critical intelligence on money flows in Europe that might support terrorist networks. Some members of the European Parliament are even threatening the US with suspension of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership talks. This week a group of Euro-parliamentarians are in Washington to talk to anyone who will listen. European parliamentarians must seek re-election next year and most Europeans have not the faintest clue who these people are so manufactured outrage is very useful.
This is but the latest attempt by the EU to insert itself into matters of hard national sovereignty – both big and small. Yesterday it was announced the European Commission wants to regulate how Europeans flush toilets, which I suppose one would call soft sovereignty.
The crisis has also revealed the relationship between journalism and information anarchism. According to the BBC The Guardian’s soon-to-be departed Glenn Greenwald and Le Monde’s Jacques Follorou reported that an alleged NSA eavesdropping in France had collected more than 70 million recordings of telephone conversations between French citizens. This was not true and demonstrates the very political motivations of the information anarchists and the lengths to which they are prepared to go; putting lives at risk.
In fact the NSA regularly builds a meta-data picture of communication patterns to help thwart terrorist networks many of which are embedded in Europe…just like 911. Here’s the irony; much of the information provided to the Americans came by way of intelligence services in the very countries now clamouring for sanctions to be imposed on the US.
The crisis says much about German sensibilities and Germany’s growing power in Europe, which is why Chancellor Merkel is worth bugging. Indeed, Germany has shown itself both responsible and calculating in this crisis. The despatch to Washington of the eminently-competent Christoph Heusgen, Merkel’s National Security Adviser to meet with his American counterparts was sensible. However, implicit in comments emerging from Berlin is a German tendency to instrumentalise the EU for narrow German political and strategic ends.
Here's the Euro-twist; Britain's intelligence services are the real target of both Berlin and Brussels, something my contact made clear to me. He advised me to expect calls from factions in the European Parliament close to Berlin (and the European Commission) demanding EU oversight of all Europe’s intelligence services within the framework of European data protection legislation. For once Prime Minister Cameron must stand firm (not something he finds easy) and make it abundantly clear that any attempt to extend the EU’s writ into the intelligence domain would damage the US-UK special intelligence relationship and constitute a clear and present danger to Britain’s vital security interests.
‘Outraged’ Europeans must also be careful what they wish for. Push too hard and many on Capitol Hill will invite Europe to defend itself. That would mark the effective end of NATO which given the meltdown in Europe’s security and defence would be a disaster. Those are the stakes and yet some of Europe's politicians seem willing to countenance that risk.
US intelligence like all intelligence services in democracies must be properly overseen and monitored. There is no question that the explosion of borderless information strewn across the internet and mobile phone networks is both a Spooks dream…and nightmare. Naturally, intelligence agencies will seek to exploit this enormous domain (and prevent enemies from exploiting it). However, transatlantic intelligence co-operation is now at risk and given the very real dangers out there that makes sense only to the dangerous and the self-interested.
Too many Europeans and their politicians refuse to face reality preferring instead to retreat into a dream-like state of security ignorance. For Snowden and his fellow information anarchists the damage they have caused is beyond their wildest dreams. Today terrorists and the less democratic the world over are smiling contentedly.
Sleep well Europe.