Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

November 1, 2013

Hard for U.S. to quit spying

(Continued)

Merkel’s suggestion that Germany be part of a no-spying pact with the U.S. is also complicated. The multiple pacts that make up the so-called Five Eyes agreement among the U.S., Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand are rooted in the World War II collaboration between U.S. and British code breakers. Back then, the two countries essentially swapped assets: Britain got the technology that enabled it to listen in on the Japanese, while the U.S. got Britain’s key to the German Enigma code. In 1946, they agreed to continue their collaboration against the Russians.

So why not create “Six Eyes,” adding Germany to the group? Doing so would protect Merkel from further NSA snooping. It would also make more of Germany’s intelligence resources available to the U.S., and vice versa. And it would catch up with history: Germany was the enemy when the pact was created, but is now a U.S. ally.

The complication is that Germany’s foreign policy priorities don’t align as closely with those of the U.S. as do Britain’s. Germany engages more with Russia and China, for one thing, because those countries are mainstays of the export machine that powers half the German economy. Until recently, Germany also took a notably softer line than the U.S. on Iran. Germany’s foreign ministry might ultimately balk at the pressures to align with the U.S. that an intelligence deal would create.

And though intelligence allies don’t always have to agree on policy — the U.S. and Britain split over the Suez Crisis and the Vietnam War — when they do fall out, intelligence cooperation can be threatened without a very strong foundation to support it. Over the past half-century, the U.S. and Britain have built up significant shared interests, for instance, a U.S.-designed missile system that the British use as a nuclear deterrent and U.S. listening posts on U.K. property in Cyprus. The U.S. and German intelligence agencies lack such deep connections.

If an immediate expansion of the Five Eyes club is too ambitious, the U.S. might still work to integrate Germany more closely into its intelligence network. It would garner trust, a feeling that is now in short supply. And as the threats facing the U.S. become more complex, the U.S. will need more close friends.

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