Few are shocked by revelations that U.S. intelligence spied on French presidents. But if Washington wants to be a good ally, it should start with a loud and clear apology to all its snooped-on friends.
PARIS — We can't really say we're surprised. Ever since Edward Snowden started to reveal the worldwide scope of the American intelligence services' electronic surveillance and private data collection two years ago, ever since we were told that this mass spying went as far as snooping on German Chancellor's Angela Merkel's personal phone, ever since we learned that the ultimate refinement consisted in having the German secret services spy on Airbus on behalf of the Americans, hardly anything can truly surprise us.
Sooner or later, it was going to be confirmed that the Elysée Presidential Palace and French officials were also being spied on by the United States. And with the Wikileaks revelations just published in the Libération newspaper and Mediapart website, this has now become reality.
Should we then just accept it? We can't, of course. Sure, we need to avoid the trap of naivety. Intelligence plays a crucial part in the fight against terrorism. The French government itself has just pushed forward with far-reaching legislation to reinforce its surveillance powers, even though some aspects of that bill were strongly opposed by privacy advocates. In this fight, French and European services need to cooperate with the Americans, and they need to be able to continue doing so, in accordance with the law.
Where is Washington's mea culpa?
But that's not what this post-9/11 NSA folly is about. Snooping on Angela Merkel or François Hollande, or indeed on Airbus or environment advisers, has nothing whatsoever to do with fighting terrorism. It does however say a lot about the surge of a monstrous machine with almost unlimited technological might that considers itself to be above all control, be it from the justice, political and democratic systems.
It's a very worrying fact that such a machine is allowed to operate inside such a formidable power as the United States. Of course, we would like to know whether these excesses are due to the services' being drunk on their infinite capabilities and left on autopilot mode, or whether they stem from specific orders at the highest level.
In both cases, such practices are intolerable. Washington's very limited denials, by what they omit, give away one clue, namely that President Barack Obama seems to have put an end to it in 2013, after Snowden fled the country. The White House claims it is "not targeting and will not target the communications of Mr Hollande." But it didn't say they were not being targeted in 2012, nor that the phone calls of Hollande's predecessors hadn't been targeted as well.
This sort of grinning posturing is simply pathetic. The U.S. must now acknowledge the size of the problem, admit it is a threat to democracy and freedoms and repair the huge damage these revelations have caused to their relationships with their allies.
They need to overhaul the hierarchies that guide cooperation with their different Western intelligence agencies, be it those in other English-speaking countries, in Germany or in France. A good way to start this evaluation would be to apologize to the targeted countries, something which in the two years since the Snowden revelations began has yet to happen.