Three conclusions stem from the exposé by Der Spiegel of documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden on the extent of American spying on foreign governments. Like the revelations themselves, they should not come as a surprise to our readers. First, the dichotomy of ‘civil liberties versus national security,’ which the United States — and other governments — have seized upon, is not only false but also a front for expansive surveillance. The U.S. National Security Agency, whose star rose in the aftermath of 9/11, has simply used techniques endorsed by the ‘War on Terror’ to camouflage its traditional espionage operations. Second, there exists no such concept as a “friend” or “ally” of the U.S. — partnerships be damned, especially when it comes to spying on the internal deliberations of other governments. Leaked NSA documents show the European Union, Japan, Mexico, Turkey and South Korea, all partners of the U.S., had their embassies and offices bugged, telephones tapped and computers hacked into. Third, Washington continues to consider international law as applicable to others, but not unto itself. Spying on embassies is a blatant violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961. While the Obama administration decries cyber crimes and “economic espionage” by China, Iran and North Korea, it has perpetuated the very same acts, only more brazen in that they exploit the trust of friendly countries.
While courting India as a key Asia ally, the U.S. has deployed its covert machinery to watch over New Delhi’s shoulder. The latest tranche of NSA documents reveal the Indian embassy in Washington D.C. too was targeted. The Guardian had previously reported, based on Mr. Snowden’s leaks, how British and American agencies had spied on leaders at the 2009 G20 Summit — with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in attendance — in London. India is also among the biggest targets for illegal American intelligence gathering under the NSA’s datamining programme, “Boundless Informant.” It is unclear, but not unreasonable to speculate, whether such information includes official correspondence. Yet, while many countries at the receiving end of U.S. espionage, including France and Germany, have threatened to retaliate with stern measures, India’s response has been woolly at best. External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid has parroted the U.S. line on the NSA’s surveillance programme, saying “it is not actually snooping.” He has also peremptorily dismissed Mr. Snowden’s asylum request, reflecting the establishment’s callous attitude to the leaks themselves. That the U.S. spies on other countries is no revelation; but the fact that our government is choosing to react in such a supine manner and refusing to stand up for the privacy of its citizens and the confidentiality of its official communication is truly shocking.