Imagine the headline: “Breaking news: The sun came up this morning! Some European leaders suspect U.S. involvement and demand an explanation; others decry the lack of U.S. leadership in letting the sun set every evening. In other news, it has been alleged that government intelligence agencies actually collect information. The weather today: cloudy.”
It is not my intent to make light of the recent outcry among our European friends over alleged U.S. intelligence information gathering. The accusation in all this outrage is not only a privacy violation, but also government overreach reminiscent of authoritarian regimes, both past and current. Frankly, the privacy argument falls a bit flat in the share-all facebook and twitter age. And when did U.S. information gathering last injure one of our friends and allies? And who can throw the first stone when it comes to collection of intelligence?
Even if only meant for public consumption, all this outrage is unnecessary. The sun comes up every day. Intelligence agencies collect information. We want to know about our enemies’ communication patterns. At times those communication paths cross your territory. So give us a break and help us out. The same groups that mean to harm us have the same in mind for you, after all. What little we may have come to know about you incidental to our anti-terror efforts (and no doubt discarded) is still far less than what many of you share readily with a wide audience on facebook or twitter.
As a U.S. diplomat in Europe, I routinely experienced the sense of ownership of our leaders among many of our European friends. An American presidential election was also a European political event. Somehow, even if unstated, you expected your views of our presidents to be given the weight of those of our own citizens. Following the irrational European dislike of our last president followed first adulation and then European disappointment in our current one. To a degree such attitudes were understandable and had in the past even been precipitated by us. We Americans, for a long time, lived the role of leader and protector of the free world, its territory and its values. But enough is really enough.
There was a time in the aftermath of a devastating hot and then a cold war when your focus on our leaders was logical, since to a great degree we influenced your fate even more fundamentally than did your own leaders. But in the 21st century your dream and ours has been realized. Nearly all of Europe is whole, free, and at peace….. and you own it! Our friendship and alliance have never been stronger, more important, or more equal. Because and not despite of this, we both try to figure out what the other side thinks. We both gather information on each other and our common enemies. Other than the rough and tumble of free market competition and occasional policy differences, America and Europe have a critical stake in each others success and well-being. As the co-architects of today’s Europe, we are proud of the powerful union you have become. You in turn have every reason to trust in our paramount commitment to our relationship. The U.S. does not act to the detriment of its European or other allies.
So, my dear European friends, let it rest. A man I used to work for and respect most highly, General Colin Powell, once made the definitive statement about American military engagement that applies equally to our ventures into cyberspace: “We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years … and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in, and otherwise we have returned home to live our own lives in peace.”