Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1170, (31 October - 6 November 2013)
Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Issue 1170, (31 October - 6 November 2013)

Ahram Weekly

‘The spy who loves me’

Tsk, tsk, tsk! Spying on friends? How appalling! And being caught at it? How shocking!

Why does Obama need to eavesdrop on the German chancellor’s personal mobile calls? Come on! No wonder Merkel is “mad as hell” and wants everyone to know it. In an angry call to the US president she expressed her “unequivocal disapproval” and demanded answers for such totally unacceptable surveillance.

She is not alone. Obama has hacked the phones of 70.3 million French nationals, their credit cards, bank transfers and other relevant information. High profile leaders of 35 countries have also had their phones tapped, reports The Guardian. Some call this a hobby, others an obsession, but is that how friends treat friends?

“It is hard even to imagine how Obama deals with hostile states when one sees how they behave with their closest allies,” wrote the German paper Suddentsche Zelle on its front page. Well, here in Egypt we can tell you: “very, very badly indeed!”

What does it mean to be an American ally, let alone a staunch one like Germany? Not very much, when they are served the same treatment as adversaries, terrorists and criminals. Such pervasive surveillance is uncalled for, especially when it is pursued without previous agreement.

The German press is raving and raging and for good reason. Even members of other parties are expressing outrage. Claudia Roth of the German Green Party called it: “a terrible, terrible scandal and will lead to a meltdown in German-US relations”.  She cannot contain her fury: “This is an extreme invasion of privacy, worse than imagined by George Orwell in ‘1984’”

The French are no less livid. Le Monde first reported on the NSA (National Security Agency) on telephone records of French citizens, calling it “a great breach of trust”, and Le Figaro angrily demanded a resolute response from the EU. That is mostly what occupied the EU Summit in Brussels last week, especially Hollande and Merkel.

The Europeans are not alone in their displeasure. Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil has cancelled a previously scheduled state visit to the US in protest at NSA’s eavesdropping on her cell-phone. Even neighbouring Mexico has strongly objected to the hacking of former president Calderon’s communications.

Merkel’s case seemed to have opened a can of worms, overwhelming the Obama administration. It is particularly significant because Merkel was not only a loyal ally but an ardent admirer of Obama. She first discovered the surveillance after finding her mobile phone number on a US document.

Originally from East Germany, Merkel is particularly sensitive to this “spying business” and intends to put a stop to it. Together with France, and now Spain, she will be urging the US to agree to a “no spying deal with its European allies”, similar to its agreement with Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Of course it was not actually Obama himself who did the snooping! It was the NSA, his (National Security Agency), which  pooh-poohed the whole brouhaha as just a routine activity and all intelligence services employ the same methods. The difference is none has the same monstrous technological equipment that the US does.

If you must blame someone they say, blame Edward Snowdon, former NSA contractor who blew the whistle on the agency, has been accused of treason, and now resides in Russia.

Poor Obama! He was once adored by Europeans, South Americans, Middle-Easterners, and yes, Egyptians. In a few short years he squandered the good will by breaking all his promises. He has problems at home too, what with the Libyan debacle, the stagnant economy, the high unemployment and the shameful launch of Obamacare. Can he ever restore the lost trust once held for him?

Now let us not be too shocked by this espionage revelation. Espionage is as old as history. The ancient Egyptians had an elaborate secret service, and it is even mentioned in the Bible and the Iliad. The Chinese practised it as far back as 500 BC. During the Middle Ages Joan of Arc was the victim of a French spy, Pierre Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, who worked for the English. During WWI the most notorious Dutch spy known as Mata-Hari obtained information for Germany from French officials, ,or so they thought. She faced a firing squad at age 41. There is a price to pay for spying, if you are ever caught. Following WWII, the Cold War made spying popular and glamorous.

That is of little comfort to Chancellor Merkel who, having discovered Obama’s dark side and fumbling foreign policy, may never regain the confidence and affection she once held for him. 

There was one EU member who was unruffled and unimpressed by the spying storm, and that was David Cameron, prime minister of Britain. He defended British Intelligence as disciplined and constrained. We are already familiar with the well-schooled British art of spying, from one James Bond, a lively creation of author and spy Ian Fleming.

Technology is faceless, soundless and heartless. Would we not rather have a British dapper, debonair and devilishly handsome spy of the 007 variety?

Human spies are much more appealing. They chase the sunset, romance the beauties and appreciate the good life. Even Merkel would not have protested too much had it been Sean Connery and not some tin gadget spying on her.


“May God defend me from my friends; I can defend myself from my enemies.”

Claude L H Duc de Villars


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