Streetwise Professor

October 27, 2013

Memo to Merkel: History Matters

Filed under: History,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 5:12 pm

The most recent Snowden revelation published by Der Spiegel (no doubt Putin’s favorite western publication) claims that (a) Merkel’s cellphone has been monitored by the NSA since 2002, and (b) the US has an electronic monitoring facility in Berlin, and numerous other cities around the world.

With regards to (b).  Good!

And especially in Berlin.  Especially.  Come on.  The place has been a viper’s nest of espionage since, oh I dunno, 7 May, 1945.  Please.  The German government has been thoroughly penetrated by first Soviet, and subsequently Russian, intelligence.  And the divided nature of Berlin made it a vortex of espionage.  And if you think that all fell down when the wall fell down, all I can say is: how was the ride on the cabbage truck? I mean other than the part where it hit the big pothole and threw you out like that.  Pity you landed smack on your head.

I only hope that NSA is vacuuming up every comm from Berlin residents Poitras and @ioerror (i.e., Jake Appelbaum).

With regards to (a).  So many things:

  • This is typical Poitras/Holger Stark bait-and-switch.  A lot of breathless suggesting that NSA was hanging on Merkel’s every word, but buried in the piece is this:

Thus, the NSA would have targeted Merkel’s cell phone for more than a decade, first when she was just party chair, as well as later when she’d become chancellor. The record does not indicate what form of surveillance has taken place. Were all of her conversations recorded or just connection data? Were her movements also being recorded?

In other words, Der Spiegel is just guessing.  It doesn’t know the specifics of what information NSA collected: it suggests it was listening to everything, but in fact has no fricking clue. The rhetorical questioning is just so much bullshit.

  • Given the equivocal nature of the Der Spiegel reporting, Merkel has not taken the honorable course, which would be to defer comment until she and the BND had the opportunity to confer with the US.  Presumably this reflects the fact that she is currently engaged in negotiations over the formation of a government, and hence needs to appease the left in Germany, and to indulge German anti-American neuroses.  Given the tight relationship between the German left (notably, the SDP) and Russia (can you say Gerhard Schroeder? I knew you could), all the more reason to keep close tabs on what is going on in Germany, and to suspect everyone. Everyone.
  • Poitras et al control what is released. It is very easy to lie by selective disclosure. That’s why in the US, in court one is required to swear to “tell the whole truth.”  We know what the agenda of Poitras, Holger Stark, Appelbaum, Snowden, etc., is.  Given this knowledge, it is highly likely that they are cherry picking (or pit picking, more accurately) what to disclose so as to advance that agenda.  What in the vast trove of documents that Snowden stole might provide evidence that would validate American suspicions about some German politicians? And if there is evidence of perfidy by some German politicians, why should the US have believed ex ante that Merkel would be beyond suspicion? Especially given her East German upbringing?  The idea that any politician should somehow beyond suspicion is far beyond naive-and stupid.

Face it.  For deep historical reasons the US is rightly more suspicious about Germany than, say, the UK or Australia or Canada.  Which is why the US puts Germany in a different category, and treats it differently.  And for other deep historical reasons, Germany resents this deeply.

Objectively, based on history and basic logic, US intelligence collection in Germany-including on Merkel-is eminently reasonable.

And another point cannot be emphasized enough.  Snowden attempts to justify his theft and disclosure of classified documents as a way of protecting the civil liberties of Americans.  But the information he revealed about the collection of information on Americans was (a) widely known before anyone had heard of the grandiose Millennial Edward Snowden, and (b) in no way identifies any individual whose rights were violated.  Moreover, and more importantly, none of the Snowden revelations since June have been about “spying” on Americans (except for the stupid “loveint” inanity).  Instead, every revelation has been calculated to damage US interests and poison its relationships with historical allies.

I ask again: cui bono? I answer again: Putin bono. Meaning that every (selective) revelation that damages the US and boosts Russia/Putin raises the odds that this was a Russian operation from the beginning. Because I live by Bayes’ Law.

Addendum: This post from Volokh Conspiracy offers some complementary  arguments as to why surveillance of foreign leaders, especially German leaders, is a very prudent thing to do.  In brief: we don’t know what we don’t know; what you don’t know can hurt you; and you won’t know unless you try to find out.

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  1. Have you ever seen the Russian Embassy in Berlin? It’s HUGE. I’m sure it’s just all for immigration services for the thousands wanting to come to Russia.

    Comment by Howard Roark — October 27, 2013 @ 10:18 pm

  2. In the NSA’s shoes, I’d spy as hard on the Brits as on the Germans. Britain has enormous influence in the world disproportionate to the size of its economy – partly thanks to being a safe haven for dubious money, and a provider of much-sought education for third-world elites. I suspect every other UK politician has links to Russian moneyed interests so Putin has lots of buttons to press.

    Germany is not like that. It’s dependent on Russian gas (less and less though) and on Russians buying their cars and equipment, but on the human level, I doubt German politicians are as vulnerable to potential blackmail from Moscow.

    As for anti-Americanism of the elites and the educated classes, I don’t think the UK is lagging behind Germany either.

    Comment by Alex K. — October 28, 2013 @ 8:12 am

  3. Well, to be fair, the UK does provide asylum to a lot of people Putin would love to “deal with”

    Having quite a bit to do with German diplomats recently, they are appalled at Russian influence among the German political class.
    There has been a lot of money flowing into Germany from very dodgy sources

    Comment by Andrew — October 28, 2013 @ 12:06 pm

  4. Alex K: I’m not sure whether to describe that comment as silly or as clumsy and unconvincing. The US and UK are, to put it mildly, close allies. Not close as in “Germany is a close ally” but close as in they do weapon development together, they share their nuclear deterrent, they plan and execute military operations together and they have extremely close intelligence sharing agreements. In fact, spying on the UK is almost a contradiction in terms, since the US and UK spy on behalf of one another. Where security, defence and intelligence are concerned, you could argue that the UK and US are only nominally distinct countries. For the US, getting information about the UK is a constant process, and since the two countries have very similar interests, it’s not a process that is resisted. You only have to spy when someone is concealing something. The British decided a very long time ago that going along with American hegemony was far more in their own best interests than resisting or evading it. They made that decision roughly in the middle of the C19th.

    You other claim is equally wrong-headed. Germany and Russia have close links going back to the time of Peter the Great. Germany has traditionally provided many of the professionals and administrators that Russia needed, and in return Russia has often supplied what Germany lacked: mainly space and resources. Following the Great War, Germany was the first major power to recognize the Soviet Government, they established the Treaty of Rapallo as a counter to Versailles, there were German troops training in the USSR from roughly 1921 to 1933, when Hitler came to power, and Germany and Russia did military research and study together, then they invaded Poland together and until 1941 the USSR supplied Hitler with the oil and other raw materials that the British naval blockade prevented him from buying on the open market.

    Comment by jon livesey — October 28, 2013 @ 4:34 pm

  5. Jon Livesey – I don’t see how the general statements you are making run counter to what I’m saying, i.e. the wisdom of the US spying on Britain’s political elite no less than on Germany’s. I suspect that Russian money has corrupted quite a few UK politicians, and the Profumo affair would at once seem a minor Cold War episode if those ties were exposed. “You only have to spy when someone is concealing something,” sure enough; does the UK spy on its own politicians, businessmen and socialites? Probably not; hence the US should do it.

    Andrew – “Well, to be fair, the UK does provide asylum to a lot of people Putin would love to “deal with”.” Thankfully, yes. But even Berezovsky was unable to achieve much from London.

    Comment by Alex K. — October 29, 2013 @ 8:58 am

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