Opinion: On NSA surveillance of European and Latin American allies (Pt. 2)


One of the most talked about topics the last few months has been the National Security Administration and its questionable methods in keeping Americans safe. For months after the initial leaks outing the NSA’s surveillance program was revealed, it was assumed that Americans and foreigners of questionable suspicion were monitored via phone and Internet by the government. However, a recent revelation by the German publication Der Spiegel claims NSA surveillance goes further than we thought. The German newspaper broke yet another leak from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, claiming that the U.S. government is keeping tabs on their German counterparts.

If Der Spiegel is to be believed, the NSA is also targeting the actual governments of our allies for surveillance. The report details the manner in which the NSA ranks a nation’s threat to American security, and Germany is a three on the 1-5 rating system. Germany is not alone, as the majority of the EU is reportedly being targeted by NSA surveillance.

The newest Snowden revelation is disturbing in a manner different from previous leaks. The fact that we are spying on governments we consider to be among our closest international friends represents a new low in American foreign policy and paranoia.

Director of NSA, General Keith B. Alexander
(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

In a way this news is a prime example of the direction our foreign policy and international mindset has changed since Sept. 11, 2001. After the 9/11 attacks, America had the sympathy of the entire world. We were a nation beaten and battered, attacked without having immediately provoked anybody. We were down, but not out, and nations from all over placed themselves at our disposal to aid in whatever way they could.

It did not take long to squander the international sympathy felt towards America following Sept. 11. While our invasion of Afghanistan was justified in the eyes of many in the international community, the subsequent invasion of Iraq and the imperialist nature that both wars began to take on started to drain our international popularity. Atrocities like Abu Ghraib caused America to rapidly plummet back to the status it had once held: that of an overblown superpower constantly overextending its reach and exerting power where it did not belong.

On the domestic stage, a massive wave of political paranoia has led to the increase in size of the intelligence network. The PATRIOT Act, a creation of the Department of Homeland Security, and increased military and intelligence funding are all examples of how the already vast intelligence community has been turned into an overblown bureaucratic system that now seems to be so big it trips over itself and is apparently incapable of keeping its own secrets.

The American national security psyche has been incredibly complex and nuanced over the last decade. The carnage of 9/11 is still fresh in our minds, and half of America wishes for the government to protect them at all costs, even if it requires entering uncharted constitutional waters. The other half of America has been reluctant to give up the classic American virtues of freedom and privacy in order to protect themselves from what seems like a waning threat. But whenever we begin to feel safe, an event like the Boston Marathon bombings snap us out of what seems to be the illusion of peace seemingly on the horizon.

The revelation that we are spying on our allies is the result of all of these complicated sentiments. Since 9/11, we have gone from having the heart of the world in our hands to increasingly alienating ourselves from our friends and acquaintances through policies of paranoid egotism. This latest development shows that we are still of the mindset that our own national security needs outweigh the needs and dignity of allies that would never in a million years plot against us. It is just another manifestation of the “American exceptionalism” that our policy makers feel places us above the rest of the international community and has been a constant deterrent in taking steps towards a more peaceful world.