Dishonest Accusations: Dr. Jackson Janes on the NSA Scandal
Featured today on Stern Magazine’s website, AICGS President Dr. Jackson Janes’ article, titled “Eure Anfeindungen sind verlogen” (Translated: “Your Accusations are Dishonest”), challenges German reactions to the revelations of NSA surveillance. Dr. Janes comments on Germans’ preoccupation with the American role in this controversy and points out that the intelligence services on both sides of the Atlantic are part of the debate over balancing privacy and security. While criticism of American intelligence services as exceeding their mandate may be justified – they are now being severely scrutinized in Washington – Dr. Janes suggests that both the problem and its solution are a shared challenge, needing shared solutions, not a mudslinging contest.
Let’s imagine Edward Snowden was British and had leaked information about surveillance-obsessed Britain’s equivalent to the National Security Agency (NSA), the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Would there have been this much excitement? Certainly not. Although it is now widely known that the British have been hoarding data more eagerly than the Americans, Germans don’t accuse your neighbors; rather, you accuse us—your partners across the Atlantic. Why don’t you first work on your relationships within the European Union before going after the United States?
Of course, you are disappointed, because we share a special bond―America’s historical relationship with Germany is unique. You are also disappointed because of our imperialistic behavior. Over the last fifty to sixty years, we have grown accustomed to making decisions for everyone else. We are facing increasing opposition, but that is our problem―not yours. We are trying to adapt to the new world order.
The NSA Crossed the Line
You also take offense because the scandal became public under President Barack Obama. Germans still project many associations onto our president that contradict reality. You feel let down by the fact that Obama is a relatively normal politician. Even though he is young, charismatic, and highly intelligent, he took office with little experience and is still learning to this day. To you, Obama has remained a symbol, rather than the ordinary politician that he is—one with strengths and weaknesses.
There is no doubt that our intelligence service has crossed the line. I understand your disappointment; we are also appalled by the magnitude of the surveillance programs. That is why we are witnessing significant opposition in our own country across the entire political spectrum. However, I find it inappropriate to depict America as the new enemy on German talk shows.
But Who Else is Going to Police the World?
The scandal has to be seen within its historical context. Germany was the frontier of the Cold War―spies from both sides traveled back and forth through the Berlin Wall. Germany was like a piece of Swiss cheese full of holes. This is why many still consider Germany to be Europe’s espionage crossroads. They have lost sight of the fact that the Cold War ended a long time ago.
America has since taken on the role of the world police officer; mainly because it has had the capacity to do so. Whoever opposes that idea has to answer the question: “Who else is going to fulfill this role in the future? And what is your contribution?” In a recent press conference on the NSA scandal, Obama rightfully pointed out that European lives were protected from the likes of the Sauerland Group thanks to NSA intelligence. In this respect, I also see your accusations as somewhat dishonest; should you not first ask your government why it always refers so thankfully to the insights of our intelligence service? Does the real scandal not lie in the fact that your government is not being honest with you?
Part of the World is Evil
We all have to learn from the scandal―even us Americans. The times when the United States pointed in a direction and everyone blindly followed have long passed. And, of course, there has to be a more extensive public debate about sensitive topics such as surveillance and data collection. We have certainly understood that, due to your past, Germans are especially critical in this department. But, please also understand: there are people in the world out there that are evil.
This does not serve as an excuse for the fact that the NSA activities have crossed a line. It also does not take away our responsibility for our actions. However, we also expect that you Germans do your homework. It is not sufficient to rant and voice disagreement while secretly trusting in and relying on America’s competence.
Stop with the Mudslinging
It is now solely up to you to sit down with your European partners, work out a plan, and tell us, “this is our strategy!” That worked when the Americans demanded specific data on flight passengers. Back then, the United States commanded, “we are doing it like this, period.” And, the EU responded with a resounding, “No.” Yet, we ultimately found a common ground. The European voice could be a lot stronger than it is at the moment.
It is good to see everyone engaging in debates within their respective countries. Yet it has to be our goal to link these debates together. Ultimately, the question of balancing security needs with protecting privacy is neither a German question nor an American one—it is a global one. Let us please stop the accusations and discuss this topic together.
The relationship between the United States and Germany reminds me of a long-lasting marriage with many ups and downs. We have had our fair share of bitter moments: the Vietnam War, the NATO double-track decision, the Gulf wars, the CIA secret prisons affair, and now the NSA programs. At the moment, it feels like we had a big fight, and one of us moved to a hotel. I am convinced that, soon, we will sit down together and talk everything out. Our relationship is too unique not to. If one takes all dimensions into account―the intellectual, the political, the economic, the historical, and the cultural―the relationship with Germany remains the most significant one for the United States. That will not change any time soon.