Friends and foes in the intelligence world

04 Eylül 2014

Bu yazı 04.09.2014 tarihinde Hurriyet Daily News Gazetesi'nde yayımlanmıştır.

Intelligence is an essential component of survival in international politics; all states attempt to spy on others. In modern times, information has included not only survival and security, but also trade tactics, economic policy and technological advancements, as well as anything remotely concerning the interests of the states that have become part of the so-called espionage games.

Although it is often treated like a sport among gentlemen, portrayed in movies and novels as romantic and chivalrous, the reality of espionage is much more ruthless, less moral and certainly not chivalrous. No doubt, for centuries, states have spied on their allies and friends, as well as on their enemies. It happens all the time and everybody knows it. Occasional embarrassment occurs when it becomes public.

Only recently have states started to negotiate no-spying agreements with some of their closest allies. Who constitutes as a “friend,” those trustworthy enough to agree with, is, of course, a nagging question.

Edward Snowden and Julian Assange’s recent disclosure of the U.S.’s widespread intelligence activities, including tapping the phones of 35 world leaders, has sparked controversy over the identification of friends and foes in international politics. While the intrinsic characteristics of politics require flexibility – today’s ally could be tomorrow’s enemy – long-time allies feel hurt that their “special partners” are spying on them. As such, there is a current rift among NATO allies due to the intense intelligence activities of member states against one another.

The most recent allegations made public by Der Spiegel on Aug. 6 revealed that the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) has spied on Turkey since 2009. The information that the BND had eavesdropped on both John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, the last two U.S. Secretaries of State, does not mollify the indignation felt in Ankara.

Der Spiegel also revealed both the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and its British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), have also been spying on Turkey.

This might not surprise many ordinary Turks, who in recent years have come to accept being watched and listened to as part of daily life, or some political analysts, who would accept such behavior between states as “normal.” Yet there is something fundamentally wrong when the leaders of the exposed country even refrain from a public apology. Surely this is the least they can do publicly, allowing the targeted country and its leaders to save face.

The revelations should be even more embarrassing for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who recently found herself as the target of U.S. spying. She harshly criticized the Obama administration for it, expelling the CIA section chief in Berlin. Although Turkish leaders have so far downplayed the significance of the issue, relations between Turkey and Germany might be strained for some time, not because of the revelation of spying, which might have been expected after all, but instead due to the total refusal of the German leaders to accept their wrongdoing and appear embarrassed. This is the smallest courtesy that states, let alone allies, expect from each other. How should we interpret the refusal of a simple apology about the crass behavior of Germany’s intelligence operatives?

One explanation that nobody has yet dared to put into words is Germany, along with the U.S. and the U.K., does not consider Turkey a friendly state anymore and has classified it as a state of concern, or even a danger to national security. That could explain the indifferent statements and uncaring behavior of these states. Where that would leave Turkey in the world is a serious matter that we should sincerely ponder for some time.