Does the US Have a Double Standard When it Comes to Spying on Latin America?

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Written by Dan Beeton   
Friday, 11 July 2014 10:29

Brazilians may have little love for Germany following Brazil’s historic World Cup loss to the German team Tuesday, but the two countries do have something in common: both have notably been targeted for espionage by the U.S. Yesterday, U.S.-German relations suffered a new blow after Germany announced it was kicking out the CIA station chief over revelations that an employee of the German defense ministry may have passed secrets to the U.S. government. Just last week a member of Germany’s intelligence service was arrested, accused of selling information to the CIA. These scandals follow disclosures made available by Edward Snowden last year of NSA spying on Germans, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Snowden has also revealed extensive political and economic spying by the NSA on Brazil.

The Washington Post reported yesterday:

“The representative of the U.S. intelligence services at the Embassy of the United States of America has been requested to leave Germany,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement Thursday.

Seibert said the request for the CIA official’s departure was made “against the backdrop of the ongoing investigations of the Federal Prosecutor General as well as the questions pending for months about the activities of the US intelligence services in Germany, for which the Lower House of Parliament has also established a parliamentary inquiry committee.”

German officials have also been angered by the revelations of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden of widespread U.S. surveillance in Germany. Among the targets was Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone, an operation that has since been halted.

Germany is a key partner for U.S. intelligence, and Germany’s allegations and response are no doubt being taken very seriously by both the Obama administration and the media. While the administration clearly hopes it can downplay the scandal -- and while the CIA chooses to Tweet about its robotic fish rather than publicly address the incident (h/t Jonathan Schwarz) -- officials have underscored the gravity of Germany’s response in anonymous comments to press.  The AP reported:

U.S. officials described Germany's move as extraordinary. A former U.S. official said he couldn't remember a time in recent history when an intelligence official was asked to leave a country. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss intelligence issues publicly.

But in fact U.S. intelligence officials have recently been asked to leave countries, in Latin America: employees of the DEA. The Intercept recently revealed that, through cooperation with the NSA, the DEA has enabled large-scale surveillance of governments partnering with the DEA in counternarcotics operations. As we’ve previously noted, when Venezuela stopped cooperating with the DEA in 2005, accusing it of spying, the State Department rejected Venezuela’s accusations outright. When Bolivia expelled the DEA, saying its agents had “worked to conduct political espionage,” the State Department called the claims “patently absurd.”

In November, well before the new spying scandals involving Germany broke, David Rothkopf described the double-standard the U.S. government has regarding snooping on Latin American countries versus “friends” like Germany:

More recently, the White House's reaction has revealed the double standard we have when it comes to surveilling our friends. If Brazil or Mexico is offended, that's one thing, more easily shrugged off apparently. But when it was revealed that Germany, one of our closest allies, was also targeted (triggering a firestorm of anger in that country ... compounded by anger in also targeted France and Spain), we treated it differently. These particular complaints now warranted a different kind of response. In this instance, both public and private assurances were given to senior German officials by both National Security Adviser Susan Rice and later President Barack Obama. The newly adopted argument was that the president had no idea this was going on and that it was stopped.

But the spying on the German government clearly wasn’t stopped, and now the Obama administration is facing the consequences.

The Doppelmoral also applies to the media. There were no hand-wringing editorials when the U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia was revealed to have asked Peace Corps volunteers and Fulbright scholars to engage in spying, let alone any that took Venezuela’s complaints of DEA espionage seriously or lamented the damage done to U.S.-Latin American relations.

As a target of U.S. espionage, Germany is now in a class with Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela and others. The German government may now want to consider offering asylum to Edward Snowden, as have some of those countries.

Tags: Bolivia | Brazil | CIA | DEA | NSA | Snowden | venezuela