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Obama s Snoop-gate

Tuesday, 29 October 2013 - 10:16 AM SL Time

The trans-Atlantic eavesdropping scandal has taken a dramatic turn with a German newspaper claiming that US President Barack Obama approved the tapping of German Chancellor Angela Merkel s mobile phone. The notorious snooping op which began in 2002, when she was in the Opposition, allegedly lasted until President Obama s visit to Germany last June. Worse, according to leaked intelligence documents, the National Security Agency (NSA) used the US Embassy in Berlin to spy on the German government it is said to have set up more than 80 such listening posts the world over.

This revelation which has left the White House with egg on its face is sure to lead to a diplomatic row of unprecedented proportions. Merkel has already taken Obama to task and other world leaders are likely to follow suit. The legal implications of wiretapping in Germany are far worse than the diplomatic fallout thereof. German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich minced no words when he declared the other day that phone tapping was a crime in his country and if the Americans intercepted cellphones in Germany they broke German law on German soil and those responsible must be held accountable.`

According to German media reports quoting classified files released by former NSA operative Edward Snowden in exile, NSA Director Keith Alexander duly informed President Obama of the tapping of Merkel s mobile phone and was given presidential blessings for the illegal operation. The NSA has denied the charge. German intelligence chiefs are expected to visit Washington to meet their American counterparts in a bid to get to the bottom of it. Whether anything will come of their powwow remains to be seen.

The Watergate scandal and its repercussions were confined to the US. A disgraced President Richard Nixon resigned not wanting to be impeached. But, Obama s Snoop-gate has ruined America s international image irreparably he has incurred the wrath of US allies and their opprobrious rebuke amounts to an impeachment of sorts against him. US Secretary of State John Kerry was given an earful in France and Italy recently for phone tapping when he visited those countries to discuss the Middle East situation.

Hereafter, US foreign missions in all parts of the world will be viewed with suspicion, whether or not they are involved in spying guilty by suspicion! The phone-tapping scandal is also fraught with the danger of being used by terrorist groups in a bid to demonise US diplomats and justify targeting them as was done last year in Libya, where US envoy Christopher Stevens was put to a violent death.

Interestingly, on June 30, it was reported in the local press that Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had complained to his mobile service provider that his phone was being tapped by a foreign spy agency. Names were not named but such unethical and illegal practices, unfortunately, make envoys representing all powerful nations, in Colombo, suspects in the eyes of the general public.

There have been attempts to justify US snooping on its friends . Among those who have taken up the cudgels for the American intelligence community up the creek is Chairman of House of Representatives Intelligence Committee Mike Rogers (Republican). Defending the NSA action, he has claimed Europeans should stop complaining about phone tapping and, instead, applaud and pop champagne corks . According to him American allies should thank the NSA for surveillance operations targeting terrorists.

Rogers seems to have got his wires crossed. The issue here is not eavesdropping operations against terrorists who must be hunted down, but the alleged use of listening posts in US embassies to tap the phones of heads of states in Europe and elsewhere. Spying on the very leaders President Obama never misses a chance to hug cannot be considered surveillance operations against terrorists by any stretch of the imagination, can they?

The question that needs to be posed to the head of Congress intelligence committee and others of his ilk is whether Washington will tolerate any foreign intelligence agency tapping President Obama s mobile phone as part of a campaign against terrorists.

• Island

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