Monday, November 4, 2013

Spying and lying

As a kid one of my super powers was that of invisibility, I wanted to be able to secretly move in and out of rooms without anyone knowing I was there.  Robbing banks would have been a snap and getting into a movie for free would have been great and there were other things that crossed my adolescent mind as well that I don’t need to elaborate but being invisible just seemed like the perfect super power to have.

One of my favorite comics growing up was the Atom.  He could shrink himself to atom size and travel through the phone lines jumping out at the other end of any phone, almost instantly appearing and with super strength he would vanquish his foes with ease.  His minuscule size made him almost invisible and that was close enough for me.   The only problem was it took him longer to dial the phone then it did to travel across the country, just a minor problem I know but it’s those minor and often insignificant issues that give us the most problems.

Like spying for example, it’s great to be a spy and the information gleaned from spying is often very valuable giving the spyer an advantage over the spyee or is it the spyee over the spyer?  In any rate the act of spying has its advantages; that is until the spy gets caught, like the US did when listening in on the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.  Those minor little glitches or problems that arise from well intentioned motivations are often the cause of great concern.  I’m not sure what kind of information we got from listening in on her cell phone but the consequences of getting caught may mitigate any good information and may completely negate any further relations we thought we had with Germany, currently an ally.

The information about this spying fiasco actually came by way of another spy who decided to spy on the US and disseminate thousands of pages of then classified information.  So in essence we were caught spying by another spy who was spying on us, seems ironic, we (meaning the United States government) is so incensed about the loss of thousands of pages of classified documents by Edward Snowden that we fail to see the double standard of downplaying the theft of private conversations from Germany.

Being invisible is a primary skill of being a spy. You really can’t be a very good spy if everyone knows that you’re trying to spy.  Creating that level of invisibility takes time and lots of practice, thousands of hours of preparation, timing and the manpower to monitor, record and sift through millions upon millions of bits of information, deciding what is relevant and what is not, what is simple chatter and what is worthwhile.  The NSA as far as I know is the premier spying apparatuses in the world, they listen in to our phone calls, look at our emails and basically decipher the communications of the world, maybe their reading what I’m writing right now and combing over this paper with a fine tooth comb looking for code words and hidden messages.  Just between you and me if you read this paper backwards there is a hidden message with creepy music that jumps off the pages as you read….

Many countries justify the means to an end philosophy when dealing with spying and rationalize their actions based on the security needs of their country but how far is too far and when is spying simply prying and meddling?  The more we spy the more others have to spy on us.  It’s like trying to hold a conversation in a noisy room, as the noise level rises the conversationalist raise their voices forcing everyone else having a conversation to do the same.  Soon the din is overwhelming and simple conversation is impossible, so it is with spying.

The other problem with spying is that those who know their being spied upon seem to understand the game and continue to spy on the spies while those not being spied upon take some kind of offence at not being important enough to justify spies wanting to spy.  Who wants to spy on Bolivia or Tonga but they may feel downright offended that we don’t take them serious enough to want to know what their up too. 

Even if I was invisible or could shrink myself like the Atom I would have to be careful not to run into anyone or prevent anyone from running into me.  Can you imagine driving an invisible car?  I would also have to watch overhead so I wouldn't get stepped on, in other words the best intentions may seem justified but what we don’t see or don’t expect is often the most problematic, like listening to another’s phone conversation perhaps?  My mother used to tell me it’s not polite to eavesdrop; you never know what you might hear.

I can see the need to gather Intel on those that are notoriously untrustworthy like Iran, North Korea or China but at the same time we have to expect the same from them, expecting them to feel towards us like we feel towards them, kind of like a reverse Golden Rule.  Are we more justified to spy, is our way of life more important than theirs and are we superior to them giving us the license to spy but not them?  Many would say we are justified and we do have the right and our adversaries do not should not be able to spy on us but they do and in this world of mistrust and intrigue it might make us wonder about the true motivations of those who spy and the level of uncertainty demonstrated by those who hold the power.

Let me make this as clear as I can.  I’ll spy on my kids when I have too.  I think the police and certain agencies should spy on criminals that are suspected of wrong doing and I think our government should spy on hostile nations that want to do us harm, but I do not think we should be listening in to phone calls of private citizens, friendly world leaders and others just in case.

We are a free people and that includes a freedom from incursions, a freedom to speak without reprisal and in secret if wanted, without the all pervasive listening ear of big brother.  Spying is important but it should not be a general tool that overshadows everything and everybody.  I would have thought the Gestapo would have taught us that great lesson at least.