The US-EU relationship is far too important to be damaged by bugging claims


News that the US has been spying on the European Union, and even planting bugs in its offices, has caused an outcry among European officials. The European Parliament’s president Martin Schulz said he was ‘deeply worried and shocked about the allegations’ and others said the news could endanger the emerging trade treaty with the US.

But the reaction from the rest of us might be more like ‘so spies spy, and what’s new?’ As a revelation, it’s up there with ‘Is the Pope a Catholic?’ and ‘does a bear do its business in the woods?’

Let’s be honest. After 9/11, the rule-book went out the window for the US and it has been  prepared to use all means to protest itself and boost its position, be it surveillance, extra-judicial powers, rendition or Guantanamo Bay. And, with such growing powers and such attitude, it is only a slippery slope into economic espionage including – and especially – on your biggest trading partner but also competitor, the EU. Particularly in an age of mass electronic communication, when it must be so easy.

After all, the revelations come fast on the news that the National Security Agency (NSA) in the US has been sifting through billions of European emails, and phone texts with its secretive Prism monitoring system. Shocking, but hardly surprising. After all, the UK has been doing the same with its Tempora system. The UK even bugged the actual delegations to the G8 summit in London in 2009, and the UK is (still) an EU member! All of these revelations have come from whistle blower Edward Snowden, currently holed up in a Moscow airport.

The EU officials have expressed shock that the US would spy on its ‘friends’ but it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and often the very people you spy on are your nominal partners – and competitors. Thus, the British surveillance of Irish Government officials for decades.. Such was the penetration of the Irish Embassy in London in the 1980s, where even the noise patterns of the golf ball typewriters were picked up, that our officials ended up hand writing notes for manual delivery to Dublin.

Now, in an age of advanced technology, we must assume that nothing is totally safe or secret. And it’s not just listening. ‘Mysterious’ cyber-attacks known as Stuxnet and Flame have done such viral damage to the Iranian nuclear programme, that air strikes may no longer be needed by the US or Israelis.

‘Partners do not spy on each other,” said EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding. But actually, she’s wrong. And Ms Reding’s further claim that the spying revelations could scuttle negotiations on the new trade treaty between the US and Europe, is also far-fetched. The two sides sorely need this new treaty which seeks to create jobs and boost commerce by billions annually in what would become the world’s largest free trade area. Neither side is going to let such a ‘game-changer’ treaty be endangered by revelations about spies and bugs.

So despite the protests, the US-EU relationship will continue smoothly. There will be loud protests but a recognition that it’s all part of the espionage ‘game’. The US will admit that the NSA over extended itself and the White House will probably claim ignorance of the full extent of its surveillance arm. Already, the US national intelligence director’s office has said that “as a matter of policy, we have made clear that the US gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations.” So get used to it, folks.

And Ireland is the least likely country to protest. We have a close but most unusual relationship with the US. We are not in NATO and yet US war plans refuel at Shannon. We know on what side our bread is buttered. In recent years we have seen our passports being ‘used’ by the secret services of Russia and Israel, and we didn’t create too much fuss. So the idea that the US is secretly info gathering on the EU’s trade positions, is not something that going to lose us sleep. Not when we have another US-related Gathering to think about!