Leave it to a once and likely future candidate for leader of the free world to admit what was previously inadmissible in polite company. Yes, Virginia, the world is full of creeps, spooks and spies, and we here in the West employ a goodly number of them.
This, from former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an interview with the German newsweekly Der Spiegel last week: “I don’t want to give a general answer (about the morality of international spying). There’s so much that goes on in intelligence circles. If we were to say no, under no circumstances, that you shouldn’t do that to us, we shouldn’t do that to you, what if a circumstance arises where it is conceivable that it would be in your interest and ours?”
Furthermore, she said: “The United States could never enter into a No-Spy agreement with any country – not you, not Britain, not Canada.”
Mrs. Clinton made her remarks just as German officials ousted the CIA’s super-secretive station chief from his (or her) digs in Berlin. According to a BBC report last week, “The German government has ordered the expulsion of (the) official. . .in response to two cases of alleged spying by the US. The official is said to have acted as a CIA contact at the US embassy, reports say, in a scandal that has infuriated German politicians. A German intelligence official was arrested last week on suspicion of spying.
An inquiry has also begun into a German defence ministry worker, reports said.”
In fact, nowadays, it is inconceivable that even friendly nations will resist the temptation to snoop in each other’s sock drawers and medicine cabinets. According to some research – and thanks to the timely revelations of former National Security Administration (NSA) operative Edward Snowden – since the end of the Cold War, spying hasn’t been declining, as one might reasonably expect. It’s been on the rise.
“Hacking for espionage purposes is sharply increasing, with groups or national governments from Eastern Europe playing a growing role, according to one of the most comprehensive annual studies of computer intrusions,” Reuters reported from San Francisco last month. “Spying intrusions traced back to any country in 2013 were blamed on residents of China and other East Asian nations 49 per cent of the time, but Eastern European countries, especially Russian-speaking nations, were the suspected launching site for 21 per cent of breaches, Verizon Communications Inc. said in its annual Data Breach Investigations Report.”
How worried should we be about our own, personal information? Surveillance experts routinely dismiss public concerns about the electronic sieves through which choice tidbits of individual identities pour. There’s now so much information floating around in cyberspace, they argue, that the odds of any one hapless schlub falling prey to Internet evil-doers are far greater than ever before.
That’s cold comfort, however, when we are also confronted with headlines like this one in Friday’s Globe and Mail: “Ethical concerns raised by workers at spy agency.”
Apparently, workers at Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) – this country’s version of the NSA – are more than a little disturbed by the conduct of some of their colleagues and supervisors. Indeed, reports the Globe, “some have also tried to blow the whistle about ‘improper contractor security screening’, questionable contractor invoicing’, ‘unauthorized disclosure of sensitive information’, and ‘con-compliance with CSEC’s values’.”
Meanwhile, the institutional hunt for better and greater sources of personal information continues unabated. Now, Statistics Canada wants people to fork over their Social Insurance Numbers as it tries to improve the accuracy and relevance of the data it collects. “The agency is trying to find out if people will reveal a key identifier they’ve been so often warned to protect,” a Canadian Press story observes.
Of course, back in 2011, the federal government’s privacy hawks abolished the mandatory long-form census, claiming it poked its nose in where it didn’t belong. Evidently immune to irony, Ian Macredie, a former StatsCan paper-pusher, told the CP, “We may have a population that, because of the (U.S.) National Security Administration, has a heightened awareness of Big Brother collecting data about us.”
Sure we do. These days, all of our creeps, spooks and spies hide in plain sight.