Dr. Bruno Tertrais, Senior Research Fellow, Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris has served as Special Assistant to the Director of Strategic Affairs at the French Defence Ministry. He spoke to Vaiju Naravane on the impact of the U.S.’ alleged surveillance of European establishments. Excerpts:
How serious would you say is the current crisis due to allegations of espionage by U.S. intelligence services on their European allies?
It is serious, in the sense that the magnitude of the surveillance and the diversity of the targets are probably unprecedented. There may have been other “discoveries” in the past, but if that is the case they were not made public. But it was public knowledge that, for instance, on trade and commerce issues, there has always been U.S. spying on European competitors.
Can this crisis seriously damage the trans-Atlantic relationship?
No, the trans-Atlantic relationship will survive and eventually recover. It has survived many more important crises.
President Hollande, Chancellor Merkel, the Italian Foreign Minister, Emma Bonino, and France’s Laurent Fabius have all made scathing statements. Are they playing to public sentiment or is there genuine concern about how the U.S. is treating its partners?
Probably a mixture of both. The case of Germany is most interesting. It was apparently one of the most important targets — though this might be because it is the biggest European economy. And this may be particularly infuriating for Ms Merkel, who comes from the East and for whom wiretaps evoke perhaps a dark, unpleasant past, that of the Stasi (the former East German service, which was notorious for widespread surveillance of the population). And to say that Mr. Obama was in Berlin just a couple of weeks ago to celebrate the virtues of the trans-Atlantic community...
What is the exact nature of U.S.-EU cooperation in surveillance and counter-terrorism and how is the current crisis any different?
There is deep and wide counter-terrorism cooperation, including U.S./European exchanges of intelligence. I am not aware of any U.S./EU cooperation in surveillance, apart from the U.K.’s participation in the network of Anglo-Saxon intelligence.
We all know that Europe and the U.S. have very close cooperation in the counter terrorism effort. Many European nations including Italy actively cooperated in the U.S. “extraordinary renditions” programme — which in plain words meant kidnapping people and taking them to places where they could be tortured to extract information. Given this background and Europe’s continuing fight against terrorism, how real is Europe’s anger?
I am not in a position to confirm or deny your characterization of the extraordinary renditions programme. And I am not sure that I see any connection between whatever participation there may have been between intelligence and police services in the so-called “war on terror” and these revelations. This is very different: this is about secretly spying on your allies on a wide scale. Note, however, that there are also examples of European spying on the United States!
Can the EU-U.S. free trade and investment partnership be affected by these developments?
In the short run, certainly. In the longer run, I’m not so sure.
But the sensitive question of data protection will certainly be seen in a new light when — or if — the negotiations really begin as planned.