This week, U.S. diplomatic allies, including France and Germany, on learning via Edward Snowden’s leaks that the NSA had been monitoring millions of their citizens’ calls and emails and phone-tapping dozens of world leaders, strongly criticized the U.S.’s secret spycraft and called for greater transparency and stricter rules.
As Kevin Gozstola pointed out, responses in defense of the NSA’s foreign surveillance have been unacceptable, to say the least. Administration officials and defenders in the media have peddled a childish line indeed, pointing fingers back out and claiming “but they do it too.”
As Gozstola noted:
As The Washington Post’s David Ignatius declared on CNN, “Everybody does do this kind of thing. The U.S., through the NSA, does it more aggressively because it’s just better at it. It’s got more capabilities.”
The above has been the typical reaction in the U.S. It aims to suppress debate or conversation about the operations, which U.S. intelligence is engaged in around the world. It seeks to paint outraged officials as simply jealous. If they could spy on all the world’s people at all levels of society, wouldn’t they be doing it, too?
The nature of this response from officials and commentators, from within a country that has built a massive surveillance state for spying on the entire world of which no other country has matched, is truly imperial.
The logic is profoundly flawed but, it’s worth noting, tacitly pervades the ideology undergirding U.S. imperialism. The U.S. has kidnapped, tortured, indefinitely detained and extrajudicially killed individuals around the world under the auspices that there are groups out there who would do the same to Americans if given the chance. And in this time of borderless wars, ill-defined enemy threats and highly politicized business interests, strict Straussian goodie/baddie lines are hard to apply. “The enemy” could be anywhere, and the “we” that needs protecting is an equally vague referent in current political rhetoric: NSA dragnets evidence that we’re all treated as potential threats by virtue of communicating.
International diplomacy is, of course, rife with hypocrisy and finger pointing. That supporters of NSA surveillance activities are relying on this as a public defense is illustration of the scant regard given to very legitimate public concerns (in the U.S. and abroad) about the operations of the surveillance state.