You can’t blame the NSA. They’re merely operating under a maxim that has served so well for centuries: Never Trust A German – even, or especially, if he or she is the country’s elected leader. I have no idea what it’s like inside NSA headquarters, and all my poor imagination can conjure is a vast, grey, windowless hive of agents so joyless, jaded, sexually frustrated and sealed inside a carapace of cynicism that they barely notice who they are spying on and simply grind the data of everyone they legally can – which is everyone in the world who is not American and some people who are – into a digital paste and feed it to a faceless subterranean monster of suspicion that has long ago grown too bloated to remove from its lair.
But Angela Merkel’s anger at the news that her own phone was spied on is actually obscene. Our normally placid leader has raised diplomatic hell: she’s summoned ambassadors, declared that Germany’s “trust” with the US will have to be “built anew” and had her defence minister make it be known that relations cannot now return to “business as usual”. What the fuck? Well, by God, this is rich! Here is righteous outrage from the woman whose chief of staff declared the NSA scandal over, whose interior minister had said that there was no basic right above security, and who herself dismissed questions about the NSA with an airy aside about how no one really understands the internet anyway. What is this but actual contempt for the people she’s supposed to represent?
After months – months – of unscrupulously covering Barack Obama’s back on the NSA, relentlessly playing down the now established facts that the list of people and institutions being spied on included, apart from her voters, EU offices both in Brussels and abroad, the former UN general secretary, and the Brazilian president, Merkel has long ago forfeited the right to be “livid”. Fuck that. The ONLY thing she has the right to feel is mildly relieved that Obama considers her personal communications worth gathering too.