When America's prestige abroad is in the gutter over National Security Agency's eavesdropping on world leaders, President Obama incongruously is urging foreign companies to do business here in the United States. Could his timing be worse?
Polls show his prestige at home is at an all-time low, so can you imagine the depths to which it has plummeted as foreign heads of state are howling over NSA's criminal spying on them? Some must know this is nothing new, that America has been spying on them for years through NSA's ECHELON system, in part to steal lucrative business contracts, and now Mr. Obama is asking for their business?
Two days ago, McClatchy News Service reported, "the storm battering Obama over the revelations of U.S. data-gathering and communications monitoring in France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Mexico and Brazil showed no sign of abating." NSA is charged with tapping the telephone conversations of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and 34 other world leaders, as well as millions of Europeans.
President Obama is contending he was in the dark about NSA's activities (pu-leeze!). The feisty McClatchy reporters say U.S. intelligence officials "pushed back..against assertions that Obama and his aides were unaware of the high-level eavesdropping" and are angry "believing the president has cast them adrift as he tries to distance himself from the disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that have strained ties with allies."
Spain became the latest U.S. ally to demand an explanation for the spying after a Spanish newspaper broke the story that NSA monitored more than 60 million phone calls in that country in a single month! German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said she believed "the Americans were using the information to gather economic intelligence" quite apart from "terrorism," McClatchy said.
Germany has been spied on by NSA since 2002, published reports say, but U.S. spying pre-dates that---in part to gain illegal business advantages.
President Obama may deny knowledge of current NSA spying but he can't claim he doesn't know the U.S. is the lead partner in ECHELON, which, according to Washington journalist Bill Blum, is a "network of massive, highly automated interception stations" that is eavesdropping on the entire world, and has been doing so since the 1970s.
"Like a mammoth vacuum cleaner in the sky, the National Security Agency (NSA) sucks it all up: home phone, office phone, cellular phone, email, fax, telex"satellite transmissions, fiber-optic communications traffic, microwave links, voice, text images (that are) captured by satellites continuously orbiting the earth and then processed by high-powered computers," Blum writes in his book "Rogue State" (Common Courage Press) published in 2005, eight years before the Snowden revalations.
Calling it the greatest invasion of privacy ever, Blum says the ceaseless, illegal spy system sucks up perhaps billions of messages daily, including those of prime ministers, the Secretary-General of the UN, the pope, embassies, Amnesty International, Christian Aid, and transnational corporations and that "if God has a phone, it's being monitored."
Blum also said that during the countdown to its invasion of Iraq in 2003, the U.S. listened in on the conversations of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq, "and all the members of the UN Security Council"when they were deliberating about what action to take in Iraq."
ECHELON has also been used to give U.S. firms inside information on their competitors, so that, for example, they could underbid their rivals for contracts. America's partners in this snooping scheme include UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. As it dates back two decades before the War on Terror, it likely had little or nothing to do with American security and everything to do with making money illegally.
Now, will all the people who think the U.S. is the indispensable and exceptional nation out to spread democracy around the world please raise their hands?
(Sherwood Ross is a Miami-based public relations consult who publicizes books and worthy causes. He also runs the Anti-War News Service.)