The worst thing about the US cyberespionage case is not that Washington betrayed the supposed trust of its allies, but rather the potentially maniacal scale of the thing. Angela Merkel no doubt had to feign surprise when the spying became public. She knows that the leader of the West has plenty of reasons to spy on the leading country in the EU, whose alliance is of more interest to it than the moldy "special relationship" with its British cousin. And the more friendly and allied, the more need for spying, because to demand satisfactory behavior from another, you have to know what their weakness is.
The surprising thing is the huge tool - possibly a byproduct of the 9/11 attacks - being wielded by the NSA: the billions of emails and phone calls being processed lest anything significant escape surveillance. So many have been listened to that those few who have not can consider themselves excluded from the who's who of US concerns. And a subcontracted agent, who sat at one of the seven million computers in the armory of the US intelligence services, Edward Snowden, of unknown political leanings, has done what may prove to be irreparable damage to the Obama administration in showing us how, urbi et orbi, we can hardly come out of a bar at night and empty our bladder on a wall without considering that a detailed and circumstantial report of the misdemeanor might arrive in the Oval Office next morning. This is what may indeed have amazed Merkel: not that they were spying on her, but on her dog-walker too.
And as with Julian Assange, the Australian who for over a year has been "imprisoned" in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, world opinion and the US courts are treating the analyst as a criminal, who since June 23 has been spending his days and nights in the transit zone of a Moscow airport, accused of divulging state secrets. The US position is quite understandable, because if you don't act against the subcontracted underling, and the example proliferates, official (not only US) communication in cyberspace may be virtually impossible. But a large body of opinion, both in Europe and in Latin America, at which the espionage is chiefly aimed, sees things differently.
Snowden himself is preparing a defense for a world audience, and to this end has dusted off a statement made in the allied courts that tried the Nazis in Nuremberg in 1945. It reads: "Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. Therefore, individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring." There is a difference, however, between the Holocaust and spying on phone calls.
The surprising thing is the huge tool - possibly a byproduct of the 9/11 attacks - being wielded by the NSA:
The NSA specialist also refers to the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "No one may be subjected to arbitrary interference with their privacy, family, home or correspondence." But in this case we are looking only at a rhetorical utterance without force of law. And at a press conference last week in the airport, he said: "I took what I knew to the public, so that what affects all of us can be discussed by all of us in the light of day, and I asked the world for justice."
The huge advance in communications technology makes it virtually impossible for the state to guarantee the loyalty and obedience of the growing number of operators necessary in any sort of surveillance over these messages. It is as if technology had avenged itself on those who most utilize it. An isolated operator can throw a wrench of this sort in the works.
So Snowden sits in the airport, unable even to get to Venezuela, Bolivia or Nicaragua. He is at an impasse, and so are we. Only some sort of international legislation that would bind the United States as well as the rest of us (now unthinkable) can solve the problem.