The Brussels ultimatum: espionage and
trading secrets

 “This is a serious issue that no one over 40 years of age really gets. It is about our lives.” They (the European Union) will be more effective in changing these practices than the UK acting alone.”

– David Davis MP, July 2013

Over the past few weeks, western democracies have been rattled by the news that their supposed ally, the United States, has systematically spied on EU offices and institutions.

One would be nauseatingly naive to believe this news is an exceptional development in the modern day global political arena. Since the end of the Second World War and largely thanks to the ensuing Cold War, the United States along with other sovereign states like the United Kingdom, Russia, China, France and Israel have deliberately and covertly gathered intelligence on one another in order to maintain the realist balance of power.

From exploding cigars and intercepting signals to umbrella-tipped assassinations and political penetrations, states have vied to outdo each other in the chaotic game of survival.

During the Cold War, it was clear that smaller states like the UK, stripped of her empire and financially bankrupt, would have to rely on bigger states, the new supermen of the age. The United States became our ‘special’ friend and we were no doubt complicit in many intelligence gathering exercises and missions. The past 70 years have been dominated by the activities of organisations like the CIA, the KGB, MI6, Mossad and the Stasi.

From deposing democratically elected leaders in third world countries to bugging the very offices of their democratic paymasters, intelligence services have consumed the initial trust and power allotted to them and morphed into omnipresent and omniscient titans, unable to be reined in by any noble-minded elected representative. One only has to whisper the name ‘J. Edgar Hoover’ to truly grasp the climbs intelligence services achieve in our world.

The actions of intelligence services have been challenged from time to time with the art of whistle-blowing. Edward Snowden, currently confined to Moscow airport, has tomes of documents on laptops detailing how America’s National Security Agency (NSA) works.

Whilst they remain encrypted, the mouths of leakers, journalists, democrats and liberty-lovers continue to salivate. No doubt the US Administration has attempted to lean on allies to limit the options available to Snowden. One must of course be careful when putting faith in whistle-blowers, for many can be out to achieve solely sycophantic ends.

But we would also be foolish to overlook the work done in our name by our intelligence services. Western democracies need to address an internal balance of power. For too long, states have been concerned with other states and neglecting the opinions of their citizens. If public faith in democracy continues to wither, what will the West have left? 

We now live in an era of widespread apathy towards elected politicians – the public has little or no trust at all in the people it projects into the national political arena. The very process of casting your vote has mutated into some kind of perverse sideshow which only serves to maintain the façade that some form of democracy exists.

We must therefore be bold – we must be brave. Many activities undertaken by intelligence services do guarantee our security; no one is debating whether they should exist or not in this uncertain, often cruel world we find ourselves living in. What we do need however is a consolidated effort to bring those who have exceeded their orders or operated outside the law to justice.

Politicians, governments and intelligence directors will attempt to conceal the many covert and questionable activities that occur on a daily basis, but independent judicial machines specially tasked with examining the nature of intelligence services may be our only way to redeem Western democracy.

Of course the outcome is not guaranteed. Sovereign states will supply an abundance of obstacles to any inquiry, but we must show citizens across Europe and the West that we are serious about tackling a subterfuge which threatens the very bedrock of democracy.

For too long we have appeased security services in order to calm our feelings of uncertainty and fear towards the world. It is time to meet them head on in the name of liberty. It may only transpire to be a gambit, but we must still try to remedy our ills.

As David Davis MP, the arch-Eurosceptic, rightly put – the EU is the only organisation big enough to stand up to the United States. Some member states will seek leniency on behalf of the United States (like the United Kingdom), others will want to go for Uncle Sam’s jugular (like the French Republic), but we must join together to make a concerted effort to get to the bottom of espionage activities in Europe.

Europe should not become the 51st state of America. It should be a continent dedicated to the justice and freedom of its citizens. We must also be careful not to use recent revelations to point the finger solely at the United States. European states are just as guilty.

Elected officials must know more about the true extent of intelligence operations. We must open up our democracies; we must aspire to greater understanding in the name of liberty. Practicality will dictate that the above proposed action is not so straightforward, but I do believe at the very least we must employ our judicial institutions and charge them with scrutinising and reining in our intelligence services.