Politics & Policy

Why America Should Spy on Europe

Nations must act in their own interests.

In 2008, then-senator Barack Obama spoke to an adoring crowd in Berlin’s Tiergarten Park. Obama called for a “true partnership” between America and Europe. “Most of all, [we must] trust each other,” he said. Across Europe, the reaction was one of near ecstasy. The president-to-be seemed to embody the anti-Bush: deferential, fashionable, and liberal. A European-style American.

Edward Snowden’s revelations changed all that.

Facing reports that the NSA has been monitoring the communications of chancellors and citizens alike, the EU is calling for an intelligence conference with the United States. According to the BBC, France and Germany will demand an EU “no-spying” pact, one similar to the longstanding agreement between the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada, and New Zealand (a.k.a. “Five Eyes”).

On paper it seems sensible enough. The U.S. is supposed to be a friend of the EU — surely it makes sense to codify a relationship of trust?

#ad#In fact, it makes no sense. There are three key reasons why.

First, such an agreement would ignore the reality of U.S.-EU counter-terrorism efforts.

At a basic level, the EU and the U.S. embrace counter-terrorism strategies that are unified in purpose (preventing attacks) but divergent in approach. On the EU side, the majority of counter-terrorism operations take place under a law-enforcement orbit. In Europe and abroad, EU intelligence operations are generally limited to “cycling” information on a terrorist network’s capabilities and intentions. Conversely, the U.S. government orients its counter-terrorism strategy under a far more aggressive methodology. One day we see arrests by the FBI (law enforcement), but the next day we read about drone strikes by the CIA in Yemen, Pakistan, or elsewhere (intelligence/covert action). The next day we hear about a Special Forces operation in Somalia or Libya (military/direct action). Every day we suspect that things happen of which we hear nothing. Where America subscribes to a “war” mentality, the Europeans take pride in their criminal-justice mentality.

It’s crucial that we recognize this reality; after all, it has caused serious tensions even between the U.K. and the U.S. At the defining level, EU states are far more willing to tolerate terrorist elements in their midst. Instead of “taking down” terrorist networks — a choice that would inevitably require revealing sources and methods in a civilian court — EU authorities often attempt to recruit extremists as “double agent” assets (sometimes failing disastrously), conduct surveillance operations, and hope for the best. Nevertheless, with limited resources and facing a large number of suspects, the EU paradigm cannot satisfy U.S. national-security imperatives. The simple fact is that the U.S. intelligence community has the resources to see through the cracks — to find the plots that have not yet been found. Travel to the United States is not complex for anyone possessing a European passport. The U.S. must do everything possible to protect the American people.

To be sure, this isn’t solely about confronting terrorists per se. At present, EU ransom money provides a major source of funding for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. This is the same organization that nearly succeeded in bringing down a passenger plane packed with innocent civilians. Even if reluctantly, EU states are directly funding terrorism. They require attention.

Second, healthy American democracy requires informed leadership.

Consider the continuing economic difficulties in Europe — a crisis of profound importance to the global economy and thus to the United States. By understanding what’s happening in EU budget negotiations, U.S. policymakers have the opportunity to make better decisions.

Intelligence collection on EU business transactions also informs policymaker awareness. Take an example from 2003. In the prelude to the Iraq War, many French companies maintained lucrative relationships with Saddam Hussein’s regime. Of course, the French government had little interest in broadcasting these interests — it was easier to claim moral purity. Still, intelligence on French duplicity afforded U.S. policymakers the knowledge that the sanctions regime was crumbling.

This is an ongoing problem. Even today, German banks grease Iran’s nuclear development.

Third, the U.S. government must protect against EU intelligence operations targeting American interests. Let’s be serious; whatever French president François Hollande might claim, an appraisal of longstanding history strongly suggests that France wouldn’t live up to the deal. Indeed, French intelligence is masterful at manipulating French law.

Ultimately, effective intelligence collection must balance prospective knowledge against the risk of blowback. German chancellor Angela Merkel encapsulates this truth. In the end, however, intelligence collection is only a metaphor for a larger truth: States act in their own interests, and in this vein, spying makes sense. The United States has a compelling array of reasons to spy in Europe. Yes, building trust with EU states makes sense for all parties involved. Yet until those relationships can claim a history of implicit trust vindicated by explicit action — the kind of trust that underpins the Five Eyes alliance — America must continue to spy on Europe.

Tom Rogan is a blogger based in Washington, D.C., and a contributor to TheWeek.com and the Guardian.

Tom Rogan is a columnist for National Review Online, a contributor to the Washington Examiner, and a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group. Email him at TRogan@McLaughlin.com

Most Popular

Elections

Put Up or Shut Up on These Accusations, Hillary

Look, one 2016 candidate being prone to wild and baseless accusations is enough. Appearing on Obama campaign manager David Plouffe’s podcast, Hillary Clinton suggested that 2016 Green Party candidate Jill Stein was a “Russian asset,” that Republicans and Russians were promoting the Green Party, and ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Elizabeth Warren Is Not Honest

If you want to run for office, political consultants will hammer away at one point: Tell stories. People respond to stories. We’ve been a story-telling species since our fur-clad ancestors gathered around campfires. Don’t cite statistics. No one can remember statistics. Make it human. Make it relatable. ... Read More
National Review

Farewell

Today is my last day at National Review. It's an incredibly bittersweet moment. While I've only worked full-time since May, 2015, I've contributed posts and pieces for over fifteen years. NR was the first national platform to publish my work, and now -- thousands of posts and more than a million words later -- I ... Read More
Economy & Business

Andrew Yang, Snake Oil Salesman

Andrew Yang, the tech entrepreneur and gadfly, has definitely cleared the bar for a successful cause candidate. Not only has he exceeded expectations for his polling and fundraising, not only has he developed a cult following, not only has he got people talking about his signature idea, the universal basic ... Read More
Culture

Feminists Have Turned on Pornography

Since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the feminist movement has sought to condemn traditional sexual ethics as repressive, misogynistic, and intolerant. As the 2010s come to a close, it might be fair to say that mainstream culture has reached the logical endpoint of this philosophy. Whereas older Americans ... Read More
White House

The Impeachment Defense That Doesn’t Work

If we’ve learned anything from the last couple of weeks, it’s that the “perfect phone call” defense of Trump and Ukraine doesn’t work. As Andy and I discussed on his podcast this week, the “perfect” defense allows the Democrats to score easy points by establishing that people in the administration ... Read More
Elections

Democrats Think They Can Win without You

A  few days ago, Ericka Anderson, an old friend of National Review, popped up in the pages of the New York Times lamenting that “the Democratic presidential field neglects abundant pools of potential Democrat converts, leaving persuadable audiences — like independents and Trump-averse, anti-abortion ... Read More
PC Culture

Defiant Dave Chappelle

When Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special Sticks & Stones came out in August, the overwhelming response from critics was that it was offensive, unacceptable garbage. Inkoo Kang of Slate declared that Chappelle’s “jokes make you wince.” Garrett Martin, in the online magazine Paste, maintained that the ... Read More