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Spying on world leaders isn't new

ObamaFrance.jpg
President Barack Obama listens to President Francois Hollande of France during a meeting during the G20 Summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Sept. 6. Obama later apologized to Hollande and other world leaders when it was revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) had spied on some three dozen foreign leaders.

Leaders and people around the world reacted with surprise and anger to former federal contractor Edward Snowden's revelations that the United States has conducted surveillance of countries around the globe, including allies. Craig Greathouse, associate professor of political science at the University of North Georgia, talks about U.S. spying tactics and whether changes will be made as a result of Snowden's leaks.

 

Has the United States "spied" on world leaders in the past? And do other countries spy on American leaders?

The history of intelligence activities in general and American intelligence in particular show that “spying” has been done on world leaders. The recent evidence that the National Security Agency (NSA) intercepted calls from the German chancellor’s official cell phone is not a shocking revelation. One of the duties of intelligence agencies such as the NSA and CIA is to collect information which assists in making government decisions. Military, security (domestic), criminal, and external intelligence are forms that have routinely been collected by different countries across the globe. Just as the U.S. has, and continues to target, countries like China, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Russia for intelligence, these countries target the U.S. government. The search for intelligence is an important government function; information is power, and states pursue it to ensure their own survival and gain an advantage over rivals in the system.  

 

What possible ramifications could result in the discovery of NSA's tactics?

As with any revelation concerning embarrassing actions by a government agency, there will always be ramifications. The first and most visible is already occurring – more attention is being directed towards the NSA and its actions. Unlike other federal agencies, the NSA was not well-known to the general public. The increased attention by the public, Congress, and foreign countries puts more attention on signal intelligence and how effective the NSA has been in capturing information. Overseas, this will make foreign governments and other organizations more cognizant about using certain types of communications. This may deny the U.S. government access to some types of information that they had previously been collecting. In time new methods of communication and encryption will be developed to limit the NSA’s capacity to gather information. Domestically, the NSA’s information reach may be limited either through policy change or legal rulings. This combination may force changes in the standard operating procedures of the NSA.         

 

Will this discovery result in any changes to American policies or tactics regarding espionage activities?

There will be changes made to intelligence gathering within the U.S.  Following 9/11, the intelligence community was forced to change the way it operated given the flaws in the process that were uncovered by the 9/11 commission. More oversight and greater control and integration were mandated. The NSA had traditionally been given more of a free hand to collect information deemed necessary for policymakers, but the lack of oversight, and the post 9/11 era, allowed the organization to expand its reach significantly. I would expect to see tighter "targeting" of information gathering with significantly stepped-up oversight. While much of the oversight will remain out of view of the general public, given the sensitive nature of some of the information collected, one would expect elements of the government including Congress, the Government Accounting Office, and the executive branch to be more vigilant about intelligence gathering in general. In addition, the ability of analysts to use national resources to “spy” on those that have not been sanctioned should be significantly curtailed. Changes will occur in terms of policies with more accountability, but much of that will still not be visible given necessary levels of secrecy regarding means and methods.  

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