Intelligence Agencies have become a law unto themselves – by public consent

No politician wants to oppose anything said to be in the interests of National Security. Even politicians on oversight committees and the like would prefer not to know too much about the substance of what the Intelligence and Security Agencies get up to as long as proper form is observed. Very few politicians would have the courage to apply a moral or ethical judgement to what their charges get up to. They are quite ready to apply budget limitations or disapprove funding for a project but rarely to object to the substance of any program.

Invoking the spectre of “terrorism” or the “war on terrorism” appears to silence politicians with remarkable rapidity and to bypass any attempt to apply ethical standards. The end justifies any means whether it involves simple snooping or secret renditions, secret prisons or torture. If we judge by the level to which “fear of terrorism” governs our actions one could conclude that the terrorist attacks have mainly achieved their objective of getting their targets to operate in an atmosphere of fear.

The Snowden revelations are fascinating. It would seem that the Intelligence Community works across national boundaries – and it seems – behind the backs of their respective political masters. Almost as if these agencies in different countries apply their own code of ethics or morality. it seems they decide among themselves as to what level of transgressions of the integrity of private individuals  is acceptable and proper. US Agencies worked together with British, German, French, Spanish and Swedish intelligence agencies – probably on their own initiative and without feeling any need to inform their oversight politicians – about the details of their collaboration. After all, these politicians “do not need to know” and to help matters along, “they do not wish to know”.

But politicians only reflect the views of the general public.  Most of the security checking and scans at airports is of little use. The bans on electronic equipment during flights is totally pointless. But we, the general public, accept it since it panders to our fears. We accept the excesses of intelligence and security agencies for the same reason. So far the 21st century is characterised by actions being subservient to the “fear of terror”. And that I would define as cowardice. Courage consists of fears being subservient to actions.

Intelligence and Security Agencies have become a law unto themselves and our politicians have acquiesced on our behalf.

The Guardian: 

The German, French, Spanish and Swedish intelligence services have all developed methods of mass surveillance of internet and phone traffic over the past five years in close partnership with Britain’s GCHQ eavesdropping agency.

The bulk monitoring is carried out through direct taps into fibre optic cables and the development of covert relationships with telecommunications companies. A loose but growing eavesdropping alliance has allowed intelligence agencies from one country to cultivate ties with corporations from another to facilitate the trawling of the web, according to GCHQ documents leaked by the former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

The files also make clear that GCHQ played a leading role in advising its European counterparts how to work around national laws intended to restrict the surveillance power of intelligence agencies.

The German, French and Spanish governments have reacted angrily to reports based on National Security Agency (NSA) files leaked by Snowden since June, revealing the interception of communications by tens of millions of their citizens each month. US intelligence officials have insisted the mass monitoring was carried out by the security agencies in the countries involved and shared with the US.

The US director of national intelligence, James Clapper, suggested to Congress on Tuesday that European governments’ professed outrage at the reports was at least partly hypocritical. “Some of this reminds me of the classic movie Casablanca: ‘My God, there’s gambling going on here,’ ” he said.

Swedenwhich passed a law in 2008 allowing its intelligence agency to monitor cross-border email and phone communications without a court order, has been relatively muted in its response.

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