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Europeans spied on by the NSA: “In the digital world, the notion of ally does not exist”

La Croix: In a case unveiled Sunday, May 30 by Danish public television, the American intelligence services would have used Danish Internet networks to spy on European leaders. How to react to this type of revelation?

Nicolas Arpagian: On the diplomatic front, the Norwegians had the strongest possible reaction in this kind of case. This does not go very far, however, since Oslo, which was one of the countries spied on with Sweden, Germany and France, was content to summon the head of the American embassy. The other targeted countries have also requested explanations from the United States and Denmark, but in reality, the reaction to this revelation, which comes in the wake of the Snowden affair, at the same time (2013), cannot go much further between allies.

→ READ. NSA reportedly spied on Europe via Danish cables

Angela Merkel is probably not very comfortable reacting. Germany had indeed agreed to spy on France on behalf of the United States in exchange for relative peace on German territory, as the Suddeustche Zeitung revealed in 2015.

The Snowden affair and the recent Danish revelations show that the counterpart was not respected since, in both cases, Angela Merkel’s personal phone was tapped. This taught Paris to be on guard, but neither could France alienate its closest partner in the EU. All this points to a reality: in the digital world, the notion of an ally does not exist.

As for Denmark, nothing for the moment says whether it took an active part in the NSA wiretaps. It seems, however, that the Danes simply opened the doors of their infrastructure to the Americans. The fact that the wiretaps were flushed out by an internal Danish intelligence investigation itself shows that at least part of the services had no control over what was going on. I still find it hard to believe that all of this could have been done without any political validation whatsoever.

Are Europeans better equipped to flush out massive tapping and free themselves from their digital dependence?

N / A : There is no united European front in the face of massive eavesdropping by the NSA. Every man for himself prevails and it will be the case as long as the countries do not agree to fully share their tools, as they did to replace the American satellite guidance system GPS by Galileo. There is nothing to indicate, moreover, that espionage has lost in intensity, quite the contrary, even though our societies have become considerably digital over the past five years.

→ ANALYSIS. France wants to progress in cybersecurity

There is a lot of wiretap detection equipment. States have equipped themselves; you still have to find the right settings. Technology also finds its limits when basic precautions are not in place. The hacking of Emmanuel Macron’s party, La République en Marche, on the eve of the first round of the 2017 presidential election is a very good example.

Hackers don’t have to look far to find a breach in systems if targeted personalities continue to use highly vulnerable apps, like Telegram.

How can this new affair influence, a few days before Joe Biden’s great European tour from June 11 to 15 (G7, NATO summit, EU-US summit)?

N / A : I don’t think the subject will be tackled head-on. No one wants to keep the quarrel going. Europeans do not wish to display a divided front when several of them are more or less involved. For his part, Joe Biden strives to restore the transatlantic alliance and multilateral bodies.

European leaders are nevertheless entitled to ask for explanations. On this question, the American president will not have the good role. Joe Biden was vice president at the material time. His duties led him to be active in intelligence. He will not be able to denigrate Barack Obama, nor to refer the responsibility to the Trump era, as he has often done since the beginning of his mandate.

Joe Biden, like all his predecessors, defends first and foremost the strategic interests of the United States, with some nuances all the same. Unlike Barack Obama who was not at all interested in Europe, or Donald Trump who had clearly turned his back on the transatlantic link, Joe Biden has an emotional connection to Europe. He wants to strengthen this link with his allies to be stronger against Russia, but especially against China.


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