The most shocking aspect of the news that the United States has been spying on its friends is that anyone is shocked by the news.
To begin with, there is nothing “new” in the news; the reports of U.S. spying on European leaders first hit the front pages on June 30, when the German weekly magazine Der Spiegel reported that the United States National Security Agency collects approximately 20 million telephone conversations and 13 million emails a day – a day! – in Germany alone.
In the wake of that report, on July 1 President Barack Obama publicly wondered why anyone was so worked up by what was business as usual in the intelligence-gathering game. Said the president:
“Every intelligence service, not just ours, but every European intelligence service, every Asian intelligence service, wherever there’s an intelligence service, here’s one thing they’re going to be doing: they’re going to be trying to understand the world better, and what’s going on in world capitals around the world, from sources that aren’t available through the New York Times or NBC News.
“If that weren’t the case, then there would be no use for an intelligence service. And I guarantee you that in European capitals, there are people who are interested in, if not what I had for breakfast, at least what my talking points might be should I end up meeting with their leaders. That’s how intelligence services operate.”
Obama also acknowledged that he was “the end user of this kind of intelligence,” and allowed how it might be an overused tool. “If I want to know what Chancellor [Angela] Merkel is thinking, I will call Chancellor Merkel. If I want to know what President [FranÃ§ois] Hollande is thinking on a particular issue, I’ll call President Hollande. If I want to know what [Prime Minister] David Cameron is thinking, I call David Cameron. Ultimately, we work so closely together, that there’s almost no information that’s not shared between our various countries.”
The key phrase is the last one, “that there’s almost no information that’s not shared,” meaning that some information indeed is not shared, which is why friends spy on friends.
What troubles us most is what this news says about the double standard that the United States employs as it relates to Jonathan Jay Pollard. This month, on November 21, the former civilian U.S. Navy intelligence analyst will begin his 29th year in solitary confinement because he was caught spying for Israel in the United States.
Even as the United States justifies spying on the leaders of our European allies, it maintains a stubbornly opposite view regarding Pollard, who did not spy on the United States, but in it. As the summary of the recently partially declassified 30-year-old CIA damage assessment stated, Pollard’s “Israeli handlers asked primarily for nuclear, military and technical information on the Arab states, Pakistan, and the Soviet Union – not on the United States.”
This is a critical distinction. One of the most frequently given reasons to keep Pollard in jail is that he spied on the United States. The CIA’s damage assessment states that was not the case.
More to the point, the only reason Israel agreed to use Pollard is because he came to them with documents about Iraq’s Scud technology and its chemical warfare ability. These were documents that Israel did not even know existed, but should have known, because the United States was obligated to turn over such documents under two separate treaties with Israel.
In other words, Pollard is in jail for turning over to Israel documents Israel was entitled to receive from the United States but did not receive because the United States did not honor its treaty commitment.
Continuing to keep Pollard in jail is now exposed for what it is: hypocritically motivated cruel and unusual punishment. It is time for him to be freed.