Gwynne Dyer: American spies are completely out of control

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      The question to bear in mind, when reading this whole sorry tale, is this: If Americans are, on average, no stupider than Germans, then why are their intelligence services so stupid?

      After the most recent revelations about American spying in Germany, there was considerable speculation among members of the Bundestag (parliament) that Germany might “get even” by inviting U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden to leave his Moscow exile and come to Berlin instead. But last weekend Chancellor Angela Merkel, at her traditional pre-summer vacation press conference, rained all over that idea.

      “We learned things (from Snowden) that we didn’t know before, and that’s always interesting,” she saidbut “granting asylum isn’t an act of gratitude.” Given that one of the things she learned from Snowden was that the U.S. National Security Agency was bugging her mobile phone, this showed admirable restraint on her part, but even Merkel’s restraint only goes so far.

      Only a week before, her patience with persistent American spying, even after Snowden’s revelations, snapped quite dramatically: she ordered the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s “chief of station” at the American embassy in Berlin to leave the country. German media reports stressed that such drastic action had only been taken previously when dealing with “pariah states like North Korea or Iran.”

      Clemens Binninger, the chair of the parliamentary committee that oversees the German intelligence service, explained that the action came in response to the U.S. “failure to cooperate on resolving various allegations, starting with the NSA and up to the latest incidents.” The “latest incidents” were the arrest of two German citizens, accused of spying for the U.S.—whose key contact was the CIA station chief in Berlin.

      The United States has never formally apologized for tapping Merkel’s phone. It refused to give her access to the NSA file on her before she visited Washington in April. And it went on paying a spy who worked for the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND—Federal Intelligence Service) right down to this month.

      “One can only cry at the sight of so much stupidity,” said Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, insisting that the information given to the U.S. by the spies was of no real value. That’s probably true—yet the American controllers paid their spy in the BND almost $40,000 in cash for 218 secret German documents downloaded to computer memory sticks and handed over at secret locations in Austria.

      Some of those secret documents were even about the discussions of the German parliamentary committee that was investigating the earlier American spying efforts, including the bugging of Chancellor Merkel’s phone. The American spy agencies simply don’t know how to stop spying, even when they have been caught red-handed.

      They only got away with such brazen behaviour for so long because the Germans naively trusted them. The spy from the BND, for example, simply sent the U.S. embassy an email asking if they were interested in “cooperation”. The German authorities didn’t pick up on it because they didn’t monitor even the uncoded communications of a “friendly” embassy.

      The spy was caught only when he got greedy and sent a similar email to the Russian embassy. Russian communications are monitored as a matter of course in all Western countries, so the German authorities put the spy under surveillance, and almost immediately they discovered that he was already selling his information to the Americans.

      “We must focus more strongly on our so-called allies,” said Stephan Mayer, a security spokesman of Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party, and one of the first consequences will be the cancellation of Germany’s “no-spy” agreement with the United States. In future, U.S. activities in Germany will be closely monitored by the German intelligence service.

      What is clear from all this is that the American intelligence agencies are completely out of control. They are so powerful that even after the revelations of massive abuse in the past year very few politicians in Washington dare to support radical cuts in their budgets or the scope of their operations. They collect preposterous amounts of irrelevant information, alienating friends and allies and abusing the civil rights of their own citizens in the process.

      The German intelligence agency (there’s only one) doesn’t behave like that. It chooses its targets carefully, it operates within the law, and it doesn’t spy on allies. Why the big difference?

      It’s because the annual budget of the Bundesnachrichtendienst is just under $1 billion, and it employs only 6,000 people. The United States has only five times as many people as Germany, but its “intelligence community” includes seventeen agencies with a total budget of $80 billion dollars. There are 854,000 Americans with top-secret security clearances.

      The American intelligence community grew fat and prospered through four decades of Cold War and two more decades of the “War on Terror”. It is now so big, so rich, so powerful that it can do practically anything it wants. And often it does stuff just because it can, even if it’s totally counter-productive.

      Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles on world affairs are published in 45 countries.


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      Boris Moris

      Jul 22, 2014 at 11:43am

      " If Americans are, on average, no stupider than Germans, then why are their intelligence services so stupid?"

      It's a major fallacy to say Americans are no stupider, on average, than Germans. A German easily grasps the truth in the phrase they coined....'you are what you eat'. Truer words have never been spoken but the average American thinks it's patriotic to eat junk food. Brain and body rotting junk food.


      Jul 22, 2014 at 12:13pm

      Gwynne takes a pot shot at American intelligence agencies;good on/for him! He claims "American spies are completely out of control". Were they ever under control? Perhaps it's just in the nature of spying to be out of control. Perhaps the spy master has no master and is a power unto itself going even so far as to spy on his paymasters. Yes, it seems American spying is done on an industrial scale, even spying just for the sake of spying but more likely it's just another symptom of a paranoid state that aspires to be totalitarian, that is, wanting to be totally in control.


      Jul 22, 2014 at 2:25pm

      America treats it's so called allies like puppets, because that's what they are. Puppets act in the best interest of America. Jump when they say jump. Britain is the ultimate puppet, a poodle.

      28 8Rating: +20

      I Chandler

      Jul 22, 2014 at 7:07pm

      "one of the consequences will be the cancellation of Germany’s “no-spy” agreement with the US"

      Hmm...Eric Margolis writes: "Germany asked the US to be included on its list of allies not to be spied upon. The US refused.At times, it looks as if not so much has changed in Europe since 1945.It often seems that Washington is almost trying to alienate its natural European allies by treating them like banana republics with old world charm:

      German and Western Europe neutrality is a major concern for the CIA today as it was in 1950:

      "If Americans are, no stupider than Germans, then why are their intelligence services so stupid?"

      Military Intelligence is a contradiction in terms - How else could they have let Snowden walk away with terabites of secrets. Americans are not stupid they just suffer from historical amnesia. CIA Deputy Director Victor Marchetti once said: "The CIA is a master at distorting history - even creating its own version of history to suit its purposes. The reason secrecy is to keep the American public, from knowing so it can't interfere."

      America's memory is affected when MLK’s speeches are censored in MLK Archives (thanks JP Morgan) and theCarlyle Group funds the JFK archives:

      If Americans are, not stupid - they are about to loose some IQ points when they embark on a new cold war. Cold warriors don't need to be sharp - just obedient. Look at Hoovers 48-year reign:

      Dr. Jack

      Jul 22, 2014 at 7:59pm

      Of course. America's spies are out of control!!

      As for the Russians spies, the Chinese spies, like the one just arrested in Vancouver, to name but a few, they are in full control of their masters!!

      Go figure!!

      14 8Rating: +6

      I Chandler

      Jul 22, 2014 at 9:58pm

      "Gwynne Dyer: American spies are completely out of control...

      Sock puppets blame 911 - but the NSA uses a 1981 Reagan Executive Order to
      Track Billions of Cell Phone calls daily:

      "their intelligence services are so stupid."

      Last week Snowden asked why is the NSA intercepting more American communications than intercepting Russian communications? and describes how your private images, records of your private lives, records of your intimate moments have been taken from your private communication stream, from the intended recipient, and given to the government:

      "Many of the people searching through the haystacks were young, enlisted guys and … 18 to 22 years old. They’ve suddenly been thrust into a position of extraordinary responsibility where they now have access to all your private records....they stumble across an intimate nude photo of someone in a sexually compromising situation but they’re extremely attractive. So what do they do? They turn around in their chair and they show a co-worker. And their co-worker says: “Oh, hey, that’s great. Send that to Bill down the way.”

      20 9Rating: +11


      Jul 23, 2014 at 7:02am

      And of course one can now assume that Gwynne Dyer just moved to the top of some list somewhere, especially now that Farley Mowatt has been (presumably) dropped.

      11 9Rating: +2

      S H

      Jul 23, 2014 at 8:57am

      I remember a spy anecdote I heard as a child - that during the Olympic Games in Russia: Five minutes after all the spectators got up to leave an event, the other HALF of the stadium got up to leave (implying they were spying on the spectators).

      Just doing a quick division on the number 854,000 'employees' of the USA's intelligence community - that works out to about 1 employee per 275 citizens.

      At 1 citizen per day that leaves 90 days free. Two per day - and you can take all weekends off.

      Total Information Awareness

      It hasn't hurt me yet, but I recognize that I am only a citizen with no real value to lawyers.

      7 7Rating: 0


      Jul 23, 2014 at 11:31am

      Americans have been always involved in spy and political ops in Canada. Kennedy sent the young and soon to be fabled pollster Lou Harris to Canada to support Pearson vs. Diefenbaker.

      So, what makes anyone doubt that they are not inclined to engage in, for instance, our energy situations, given their stalling of Keystone while Obama greenlights sonar for oil and gas reserves off their own East Coast. What?! say it ain't so---they'd exploit their waters?? Next thing you know they'll OK tankers!

      Their energy needs are supreme---and they like getting our oil for less than market rate. Additionally, they don't want China leap=frogging ahead of them, financially, any more than they already do.

      If only they could be honest about this, I might be able to support the second premise.

      Can we all spell 'hypocricy'?

      9 9Rating: 0


      Jul 23, 2014 at 9:21pm

      Actually I think hypocrisy is spelled with an 's'. Or were you making a joke?

      7 7Rating: 0