By Pam Martens: July 1, 2013
Yesterday, beginning in the morning, every major online news outlet had a front page article on the breaking story that the NSA had electronically bugged the diplomatic offices of the European Union in Washington, D.C., at the United Nations and in Brussels – every outlet except the paper of record, the New York Times.
The news first broke on Saturday at the online site of the German magazine, Der Spiegel, and went viral thereafter. The details of the story came from new documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the former intelligence contractor now sought by the U.S. for extradition and prosecution. Snowden is believed to be in an airport in Moscow while he seeks permanent asylum from Ecuador or another country.
On Sunday, as hour after hour went by, as more outrage and invective flowed out of Europe, the story was nonexistent on the Times web site. Under the regular headline updates from the Associated Press and Reuters that appear on the Times front page, we learned at 8:46 a.m. that “Thai PM Sacks Commerce Minister After Rice Fiasco.” Around 10ish there was this attention grabber: “UK Parliament Toilets to Get Pricey Refurbishment”; but absolutely nothing on the exploding scandal that the U.S. is bugging its closest allies.
As European officials threatened to cancel trade talks, launch a criminal investigation, and compared the U.S. to the East German Secret Police, the Times remained silent. Finally, at 3:10 p.m. in the afternoon, the Times posted its own brief article headlined:“Report of U.S. Spying Angers European Allies.” There was the nagging suspicion that the Times has some spoken or unspoken agreement with the White House or State Department to get a confirmation or denial before it weighs in on national security or delicate matters of state.
The puzzling behavior at the Times came just three days after its editorial board showed courageous judgment in publishing an OpEd under the headline, “The Criminal N.S.A.” Jennifer Stisa Granick, director of civil liberties at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, and Christopher Jon Sprigman, a Law Professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, wrote that the “Fourth Amendment obliges the government to demonstrate probable cause before conducting invasive surveillance.” The writers said it is unprecedented under the U.S. Constitution for the government to seize “such vast amounts of revealing data on innocent Americans’ communications.” The piece ended with the bold, but accurate statement: “It’s time to call the N.S.A.’s mass surveillance programs what they are: criminal.” After this latest revelation, they’re not just criminal but have set back U.S. foreign relations by half a century.
By Sunday afternoon, the U.K. newspaper, the Guardian, was reporting that NSA targets included the EU missions as well as the French, Italian and Greek embassies and other allies including Japan, Mexico, South Korea, India and Turkey.
A member of the European Parliament, Markus Ferber, was quoted in the German daily Die Welt, accusing the U.S. of using methods on a par with the Stasi, the dreaded East German secret police. Ferber, a member of the Christian Social Union, said: “A democratic constitutional state that uses Stasi methods sacrifices all credibility as a moral authority.”
European Parliament President Martin Schulz told Der Spiegel: “We need more precise information, but if it is true, it is a huge scandal. That would mean a huge burden for relations between the EU and the U.S. We now demand comprehensive information.” According to the Washington Post, Schulz also stated: “It is shocking that the United States takes measures against their most important, their nearest allies, comparable to measures taken in the past by the KGB, by the secret service of the Soviet Union.”
One of the harshest rebukes came from Jan Philipp Albrecht, a representative of the Green Party in the European Parliament. Albrecht called it a “meltdown of the constitutional state.” He demanded that the EU open proceedings at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. German federal prosecutors were reported to be investigating whether the alleged bugging broke German laws.
By early afternoon, multiple media sources were reporting that neither the NSA nor the office for the national intelligence director were responding to requests for comment. That may have been because of an inability to confer with President Obama. The President, the First Lady, and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, were touring Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. The Island houses the now dormant prison where political prisoners were incarcerated during the era of apartheid. The President and his family visited the cell where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars for fighting to overturn apartheid. The President met with the family of the 94-year old Mandela, who has been hospitalized for a lung infection.
After Robben Island, the President addressed students at the University of Cape Town, hoping to focus them on the sacrifices required to ensure a free society. The President couldn’t have picked a worse day for his message given the news coming out of Europe.
President Obama quoted Bobby Kennedy to the Cape Town students. He said: “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
Unfortunately for the President, Bobby Kennedy’s words brought to mind not just Nelson Mandela but Edward Snowden as well.