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NSA Spying - America's Breach of Trust

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For those of us who thought the Cold War James Bond - 007 era with all of its spying and intrigue was over, the latest revelations that the US National Security Agency - NSA - has been spying on America's "friends" has disabused us of that idea.

Spying is clearly alive and well.

Its just no longer being done or uncovered 'Old School' style.

There are now new and intriguing ways to learn what both friends and enemies of the US are up to.

The revelations that the NSA has been monitoring the private mobile phones of world leaders including German chancellor Angela Merkel and has also been monitoring the calls of citizens in friendly nations has not only shocked and surprised the 'targets' of those activities - it has also shocked, baffled and disgusted the American people.

Depending on who you believe, the NSA may have been monitoring the private conversations of friendly world leaders since the GW Bush administration and continuing through the Obama administration with or without the knowledge and approval of either of those two presidents or the leaders in Congress.

At a minimum, it seems that under the broad authority granted by The Patriot Act, the premier spying agency of the US may be operating on autopilot with little thought about the potential consequences of its overreaching actions.

It is also clear that Edward Snowden and his stolen treasure trove of classified information is the 'gift that keeps on giving'.

The issues raised by this never ending drip of classified information are multi-faceted and so is the damage that has been done by its release.

It is true that without the release of the information from Edward Snowden it seems unlikely that US citizens and those of other nations including the UK, France, Germany and Spain would have learned about these secretive programs.

What is also clear is that this is not be the best way to address potential governmental abuses.

As the Obama administration and the leaders of others nations grapple with the best way to deal with the fallout from these leaks, some leaders including PM David Cameron are urging the press to show 'social responsibility' in their editorial decisions.

Initially one might ask what on earth is the purpose of this sort of spying and what did the NSA expect to gain?

Most Americans thought that current US spying activities were supposed to be focused on preventing terrorist attacks and connecting the dots to thwart possible terrorist plots.

Initially it seems hard to square that objective with the broad reach of monitoring that has been uncovered.

If you believe the leaks that Snowden and his cohorts have released, so far it seems that the NSA has not been very discriminating in its choices of 'targets'.

Now as embarrassment becomes the watch-word of the week here in Washington, it is apparent that no one at the top of the NSA has carefully thought through the long term domestic and international consequences related to this indiscriminate collection of all the information available from every source.

After 9-11 The Patriot Act clearly opened up the door for potential abuses of what we considered our private and personal information.

There has always been tension when it comes to freedom of the press, freedom of information and the need for some level of secrecy in government.

How much do we need to know and when do we need to know it has always been the subject of significant debate in all free societies.

With the explosion of access to information and the countless ways to communicate, this problem has become even more perplexing.

If these leaks are accurate, America's premier spy agency may need to re-focus on its mission - protecting America from its enemies.

To be truly effective at this mission America must have the cooperation and trust of its friends and allies.

These are not insignificant issues.

In the past they have meant the difference between war and peace and defeat and victory.

In World War II secrecy was key to victory. In fact there was a saying: "Loose lips sink ships".

The success of the Normandy Invasion to liberate Europe was based to a large extent on secrecy and deception.

The breach of trust, confidence and potential cooperation on security as a result of these spying activities may have done real damage to the US and its allies.

Once lost, this breach might never be repaired.

Jon-Christopher Bua's blogposts for Sky News appear here

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