I am in agreement with Fox News. The horror! Since I never watch Fox News, I had to find out from Steven Colbert.

I agree with Fox? OMG!

But seriously people! Friendly nations spy on each other. All the time! For completely legitimate reasons. As this 9 year old Slate article lays out so clearly – Why Allies Spy on Allies.

Consider the following situation: Countries A and B are allies. Countries B and C are friends or, at least, trading partners. Countries A and C are enemies. Country A might want to spy on its ally B in order to learn things about its enemy C. The world is teeming with such relations. – Why Allies Spy on Allies.

I love releases from the National Security Archives. My fave – Henry Kissinger is in a Kremlin conference room circa 1970. He is meeting with Brezhnev and friends about SALT, and Brezhnev grabs Henry’s briefcase, then runs out of the room. Henry freaks out! Brezhnev pokes his head back in with a big grin and says, “So. Henry. What are you going to do?!” Henry has a special reason to worry, because inside that briefcase are damning documents that prove he has been feeding confidential Soviet nuclear weapons data to China. And that is the real inside story of how Nixon opened up China. Was the USSR a friend at that point? Not exactly. But was handing information specifically protected by treaty talks acceptable? No.

Ask yourself though – was opening up China worth that risk? Where would we be if Kissinger had not pried open the door this way?

After the Cold War, France’s intelligence service turned to spying on US corporations for economic advantage. So did Japan, Germany, and just about every other intel service start spying for economic advantage.

Ask yourself – when nations are allies, does that mean they don’t compete?

Uh, no. They do. The competition turns from military to economic. Every little bit of intel helps keep a country afloat. So which do you want? Do you want to gain a little advantage? Or to become poorer as others gain a bit on you? Add up a lot of little bitty advantages gained by S&T and business deal spying, and you have a considerably richer nation. Ask the Merkel.

And those reasons rest on the foundation reason to spy on friends: “Trust, but verify.

Anybody in construction knows that things go to hell unless you keep’em honest. We are all human. Governments and world leaders are no exception. But hey! Maybe you think politicians can be trusted. No? You don’t trust our politicians?

Seriously – think about that. You don’t trust most politicians – for very good reason. Now, put yourself in their shoes. They know what lying, cheating, conniving window-dressing they are. And now you are demanding that they trust each other? When you don’t trust them?

Spying flow chart

Spy on allies flow chart

So why spy on friends and allies? 

  • Trust but verify. e.g. To audit the alliance relationship
  • To find out about friends of friends, who may be enemies
  • Because friends can still be serious competitors