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NSA’s European spying scandal shouldn’t come as a surprise | COMMENTARY

U.S. Ambassador to France Charles H. Rivkin leaves the Foreign Ministry in Paris after he was summoned Monday to explain why the Americans spied on one of their closest allies.
U.S. Ambassador to France Charles H. Rivkin leaves the Foreign Ministry in Paris after he was summoned Monday to explain why the Americans spied on one of their closest allies. (Thibault Camus / Associated Press)

Greetings from France, where politicians are putting on their best expressions of surprise in response to a report that the National Security Administration, America’s electronic spying agency, stalked German Chancellor Angela Merkel as if she had dumped them after a first date. Worse, the NSA reportedly roped in one of Europe’s own member-states, Denmark, to play wingman in their shenanigans.

Now, European politicians are shocked — shocked, I say! — that the U.S. would stoop so low as to lure innocent, benign Denmark into playing peeping Tom on Ms. Merkel, the queen of the European Union. (Technically, the EU doesn’t have a queen, but since Germany and France set the EU agenda, and France doesn’t sneeze without Germany’s approval, that might as well be the case.)

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Digging by the European media confirmed what previous reporting had already concluded as far back as 2013, when it came to light that the NSA was spying on Ms. Merkel through her mobile phone. The new report ropes in Denmark and clarifies that the spying efforts also targeted top politicians in Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands and France.

So what, in particular, could have interested the secret squirrels? What could these countries — all purported allies of the U.S. — have been up to that would warrant such close attention from the NSA?

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Anyone who still believes that spying is reserved for targets that represent a national security threat is in for a rude awakening. What this news confirms, yet again, is that spying and hacking (which — let’s face it — is what electronic surveillance really is) are ways to gain an advantage on the global economic playing field.

These days, James Bond looks more like your banker or the guy who sells you insurance.

While EU member-states are considered U.S. allies in matters of national security, they’re competitors with the U.S. in matters of global business and trade. And it’s long past due that every statement made by any so-called “ally” related to national security be scrutinized through that prism.

Every time a nation steps forward to announce a new measure in the purported interest of defense — whether it’s sanctioning another country or declaring the need for military action — the question should be: “What kind of economic interests are behind this move?” Because there’s always a financial impetus for shaking loose a piece of the global geopolitical puzzle, and you would have to be naive to believe the prima-facie motives peddled by politicians.

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French authorities have reacted to the spying revelations by demanding answers, transparency and further investigation. But they’ve already quietly mounted a response to address the underlying issue.

The French government is now beefing up its economic security, introducing a new law to improve its intelligence-gathering in order to protect its strategic enterprises from predation by the U.S. and European allies. It’s become routine for innovative French companies to be acquired and gutted or relocated to where labor is cheaper strictly to obtain their intellectual property.

Appearing before a Senate committee, the head of the French government’s strategic information and economic security service, Joffrey Célestin-Urbain, said: “We are in a phase where our level of vigilance (and) monitoring is very, very high with buyout operations of French companies which are now under close surveillance in several areas.”

In other words, the French government funds companies, promotes them and helps turn them into assets of great value that become nearly synonymous with the French state, and then a foreign “ally” comes along and threatens legal action against executives for alleged corruption while suggesting that a sale might be in everyone’s best interests. The sale of the French company Alstom to General Electric under threat of corruption charges against Alstom executives, resulting in France’s nuclear know-how being compromised, is one such example.

Does the NSA play a role in obtaining the dirt used for economic leverage against so-called allies?

Danish intelligence reportedly assisted the NSA in spying on each other’s governments — since both agencies are prohibited from spying on their own governments. It’s a bit like, “Hey, I have an itch in the middle of my back that I can’t quite reach. You do mine and I’ll do yours!” It also raises the question of who ordered dirt collection on their own government.

Dirty games played by countries to further their own interests are a fact of life. But recognizing that it happens should at least dispel the childish notion of the world being black and white and divided into good guys and bad guys, when really it’s all just a matter of perspective.

Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and host of an independently produced French-language program that airs on sputnik France.

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