Because Obama, Merkel and Hollande are all facing domestic problems, they feed their citizens half-truths. They ride the wave of indignation about “those people on the other side of the Atlantic” rather than tell the whole truth about their own intelligence services.
It's frightening how they tamper with mutual trust on a daily basis. The only thing more risky is how little the governments on both sides of the Atlantic are doing to stop this loss of trust. Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and — mainly — Francois Hollande have the power to do it. The only thing they need is the courage to be open and honest with their own citizens about that shadowy region inhabited by their intelligence services and to talk about how they can achieve the cooperation they require.
Obama was obliged to sound the alarm in a national speech: Because of the shock following 9/11, congressional and legal controls over the intelligence services were too drastically loosened. While one may think it a good thing that no further attacks have taken place for 12 years, the loosening has taken on a life of its own and has resulted in things that are now doing national interests more harm than good. America has to restore its system of checks and balances and this change can only come from within.
The Intelligence Agencies Have Reason To Cooperate
Merkel should open a two-front offensive: intolerance for America's breach of trust and a public declaration that the German and American intelligence services cooperate for a good reason. Thanks to that cooperation, attacks inside Germany have been avoided. The best example of that was the terrorist Sauerland Group that German officials learned about because of an NSA tip. Needless to say, that doesn't justify widespread snooping among German citizens, but protesting that would be more credible if Merkel explained the basis of the partnership. She should explain why democracies need spy agencies and that their work isn't by definition immoral. One would hope that Germany's BND, for example, keeps tabs on extremist groups in Pakistan in order to protect German soldiers in Afghanistan from terrorist acts and should be done regardless of Pakistani privacy laws.
Being Open and Candid Appears To Be Inopportune
Most sorely needed would be an honest statement from Hollande. Ten days ago, he cast himself as a courageous critic of the United States after the newspaper Le Monde reported that documents leaked by Edward Snowden claimed 70 million French telephone conversations had been tapped by the NSA. Now, the story seems to have taken a different turn. Apparently it wasn't the NSA that tapped the phones but the French intelligence services who then passed everything along to the NSA. If that is true, Hollande would be revealed as a real hypocrite.
But such openness doesn't appear to be opportune for Obama, Merkel or Hollande. They all face serious domestic problems: Obama grapples with the failures of implementing the next stage of Obamacare, Merkel has yet to form a governing coalition and Hollande is threatened by public rejection of his reform projects. It seems people on that side of the Atlantic are also riding that wave of indignation.
The respective national media also behaves in the same way. They criticize and denounce actual or suspected malfeasance in other countries and try to outdo one another with new allegations. Five months of that has resulted not only in the loss of a great deal of valuable information, it has also resulted in the dissemination of a lot more misinformation.
It's high time for a course change away from propagating half-truths. America and Europe can only be secure if they are able to trust one another.