Those Times the NSA Hacked America’s Allies

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The hysteria about Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee servers and the phishing scam run on Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, is short on evidence and high in self-righteousness. Much of the report issued Friday was old boilerplate about the Russia Today cable channel, which proves nothing.

My complaint is that American television news reports all this as if it is The First Time in History Anyone has Acted like This. But the head of the Republican Party in the early 1970s hired burglars to do the same thing– break into the Watergate building and get access to DNC documents in hopes of throwing an election. Dick Nixon even ordered a second break-in. And it took a long time for Republican members of Congress to come around to the idea that a crime had been committed; if it hadn’t been for the Supreme Court, Nixon might have served out his term.

In the past decade and a half, the US National Security Agency has been deployed for hacking purposes not, as the cover story would have it, for counter-terrorism (there isn’t much evidence that they’re any good at that), but to gain political advantage over allies.

So, for instance, George W. Bush had German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s personal cell phone hacked to monitor his position on the Iraq War that Bush wanted to launch illegally.

Then Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had Schoeder’s successor’s personal cell phone put under surveillance. Angela Merkel’s personal cell phone. An ally . It may just have been face-saving for President Obama, but the White House leaked that Obama was surprised and disturbed that her personal phone had been targeted. This leak tells us that Clapper and the NSA were acting without the president’s knowledge. Yet no one was fired over it. It makes you think maybe the US cyberspies are an authority unto themselves and this elected democracy thing is so eighteenth century.

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But it wasn’t just Germany. The NSA hacked into the private and government communications of French Presidents Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy, and Francois Hollande. Sarkozy even wanted to sign a bilateral US-France intelligence cooperation agreement. (Gee, that might be useful in preventing terrorist attacks in the two countries). But he was frustrated, because the US wouldn’t sign if it meant promising to give up spying on . . . France and Sarkozy!

The BBC writes,

“One of the files, dated 2012, is about Mr. Hollande discussing Greece’s possible exit from the eurozone. Another one – from 2011 – alleges that Mr Sarkozy was determined to resume peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, possibly without US involvement.”

Then there is Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and all of his cabinet members and the CEO of Mitsubishi, all of whom US cyber-spies hacked systematically and continuously.

And as for the hacking being aimed at influencing Japan’s direction and policy, IBTimes wrote:

“Today’s publication shows us that the US government targeted sensitive Japanese industry and climate change policy,” [Sarah] Harrison [of Wikileaks] said. “Would the effectiveness of Japan’s industry and climate change proposals be different today if its communications had been protected?”

These stories were above the fold front page news only 18 months ago! Yet the breathless hyperventilating about Russian hacking (from what we can tell, far, far less intrusive and far less effective) neglects to bring up the US hacking of allies at all. French and German troops were part of the NATO military force in Afghanistan. The French fought alongside US troops and took hundreds of casualties. Germans were more in the peacekeeping mode but were often in substantial danger. Japan is an ally with whom the US does joint military exercises.

If we started going into the dozens of times the US has casually switched out other people’s governments since WW II, despite the lack of any direct threat to the United States, this would be a very long blog entry.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Young Turks: “Trump On Russian Hacking”

31 Responses

      • What if?? There’s no what if!! They just didn’t!!. ……. In the end it was proved that Saddam Hussein didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction either, but you still are not sure, Right? A famous quote: “It is very easy to get the people to believe in a lie, But it is very difficult to convince them that they’ve been lied to for years!”

  1. I think the question is not the hacking but that the Russians took it one step further by releasing emails on just one candidate. This certainly swayed some votes albeit a small percentage. This could have made a difference in states like PA or Michigan.
    The biggest loser in all of this is the environment because the president elect will almost certainly reverse Obama’s green initiatives and probably withdraw from the Paris accord which will encourage other countries to do likewise

    • Here is the math.
      Wisconsin – Clinton would have won the state if she sucked in 1.6% of Trump voters
      Pennsylvania – 1.8%
      Michigan – 0.5%

      Considering that these are swing states with close votes, there were no doubt a good number of fence sitters who could have been swayed to Trump because of the hacking.

  2. As always, if you do a bad thing then the thing wasn’t really so bad after all.

    If someone does that same bad thing to you, then it’s the most evil thing ever done.

  3. The worst part of the report actually said that an anti-fracking report put out by RT proves that Russia is maliciously plotting to influence American politics. Seriously? I kid you not:

    “RT runs anti-fracking programming,
    highlighting environmental issues and the
    impacts on public health. This is likely
    reflective of the Russian Government’s
    concern about the impact of fracking and
    US natural gas production on the global
    energy market and the potential challenges
    to Gazprom’s profitability” – link to

  4. Everything in your narrative of US espionage is accurate. But what nation state isn’t guilty of some Original Sin? Historians can and should debate the past but demanding a full accounting of Kremlin meddling in an US election is appropriate. Putin and Gerasimov, the military’s chief of staff, played this one beautifully. But they don’t wish us – or the European democracies – well. And they’re doing their level best to shake distrust in our institutions.

    • The warmongers in high places in US government. John MCCain and Lindsay Graham amongst others are desperately trying any dirty trick to stop Trump from making peace with Russia. The know that their best and only chance of before inauguration day and that’s what this latest barrage of lies about Russia are being fed to us from US intelligence agencies amongst other interested parties. Complete BS!

  5. Over the past two days, Juan, you have had two excellent posts, with fine points about the Russian hack – whether it did or did not occur. Here is my issue though: had the situation been reversed, and Putin helped Hillary gain the presidency, the outcry of the GOP, aided and abetted by the MSM, would have been deafening, and at any point along the way electors from the electoral college would have proven faithless and thrown the election to the Orangutan Who Knows How to Punch Buttons (fyi: tweeting is not leading), or the GOP would be preparing for impeachment, or the political pressure from venues such as CNN or FOX and all the other major media outlets would have forced, at the very least, Hillary to resign and have Tim Kaine take office instead.

    Yes, we have interfered in the sovereignty of other nations, in ugly ways. Yes, it most likely was not Russian interference, but James Comey’s October surprise that tanked Clinton.

    But all of this is pretty much an example of the national double-standard in which Republicans can Get Away With Murder, while Dems must tiptoe – that’s why Howard Dean’s howl, Gary Hart’s “monkey business”, and, most recently, Tony Weiner’s stock has sunk – meanwhile the Orangutan Who Can Punch Buttons can boast about grabbing pussy, not release taxes, have dubious business dealings, enormous and unprecedented conflicts of interests, express doubt about the first amendment, and incite rallies to violence and still float three inches above the ground like a Virgin Epiphany ordering “Noli me tangere”. We have internalized fair play on the Left and continue to bring knives to gun-fights. You frequently write about global warming. Want to do something about it? Stop playing fair. This is not about Russian hacking, this is about disabling as much as possible a dangerous political party, and we need to use every means at our disposal, just as the Republicans would.

    The gods as my witness, one of the biggest reasons Why We Can’t Have Nice Things in this country is because of the Left internalizing a sense of fair play. Want to protect health care? The environment? Want to prevent more calving of Antartic ice? To protect the Atlantic current? Womens’ rights? The rights of minorities? Want to ensure a vibrant economy based on future technological development? Want a Supreme Court that is not certifiable? Want to keep some of those foreign college and university students on American campuses? Want to keep Wall Street regulated? Want a living wage? Want clean, modern efficient public transportation? Want to have a democracy that will enable you to criticize and effectively change some horrible foreign policies? Want to ensure universal access to good public educational institutions? Want to curb gun violence and rein in some of the abuses of police power in minority communities? Want to make sure kids don’t go hungry (my pet issue in my community)?

    Then start being a little more opportunistic, and a little more tribal – because if we are not, and do not exploit our political opportunities, the other side surely will (gerrymandering anyone?), and they consist of bad bad people. And I for one, as I get older and grumpier (with or without coffee!), am getting a little wearied of the Left, in the interest of fair play (which frankly the GOP scarcely deserves at this late date) deciding that “the mean do not justify the ends”, and expressing the creed of the “fierce urgency of . . . whenever” on some of the pressing – in some cases existentially so – policies listed above.

    Addendum: I can already hear the cries of “BUT HILLARY WOULD HAVE . . . “ Fine. I know that – “Wall Street!”, “Nuclear war with Russia over Syria!”, blah blah blah blah (and I really doubt the latter because she may have been venal but not crazy). But the potential for progress and stability within this country was much greater with her than with the OWCPB. That is the simple truth.

    Time to take the gloves off.

      • Ditto. Grumpy, I hope you send your list to the DNC so they can get some idea what they are supposed to stand for. Maybe every member of congress to.

    • The problem with focusing on Russia is that it drowns out other legitimate avenues of investigation and/or resistance, as well as undermining the credibility of the political institutions and media that are so narrowly focused.
      By all means let us play “unfairly”. Let us also be effective.

    • Thank you. I see so often the left will look for any excuse to blame the US and in their fervor equate a moderate liberal with a foaming at the mouth fascist, aided and abetted by a party with its policies firmly set in the 19th Century. As to this article, yes the US hacks. Every major country and a lot of minor ones hack and intercept communications and spy. This instance is qualitatively different. Additionally, this is hardly the Russian’s first go around at this; they have been doing this for a long time. Putin’s job in the KGB was to recruit people in other countries to be spies. He has been involved in dirty tricks for decades. And this is not the same as the Watergate break-in, which led to impeachment. It’s different when a foreign adversary does it. It’s far more dangerous because it could mean that the person helped is then indebted to a foreign power hostile to the US.

  6. Hmmm. I have been protesting US foreign policy for decades and US interference in foreign elections (which thankfully has diminished to some degree, though perhaps not entirely). I protested because I think that elections everywhere should be free of foreign influence (and other types of illegal interference). That means that I do not welcome Russian interference in the US elections. Russia has already attempted the same in its neighboring countries. I am a bit at a loss as to why you don’t see this as a problem.

  7. Thank you for some perspective on this hysteria. The news is PEOTUS very public disrespect across the board for anyone who does not 100% support his delusions.

  8. Professor, this appears to be a recurring theme of late. How to turn this crisis into a teachable moment about U.S. imperialism. The latter is an important subject for study and discussion. The former, the crisis, is also an important subject. You have analyzed chaotic moments in many countries and regions. It would be helpful to have your opinion on the crisis at hand *as well as* the history of American intervention.

    • You could read the book Overthrow by Steven Kinzer. Read some histories of the CIA, a history of Iran for Mossadegh, learn about Central America and Arbenz. Hell, just read history, you don’t need a teachable moment if you read history. For perspective you should also read about British foreign policy and Russian and Soviet foreign policy. My favorite disgusting war is the Opium War in which Britain fought the Chinese in order to force them to allow opium addiction in their country so the Brits could make a lot of money. At one point during the Cold War and the Iron Curtain, the Minister of Defense for Poland was a former general in the Soviet Army. Now there’s some intervention . And, of course, the Soviets put down revolts in East Germany, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia when the puppet governments were unwilling or unable.

  9. I don’t see much hysteria about the Russian hacking. It isn’t the fact that the Russians interfered in our election which is remarkable or upsetting but the way in which American journalism made the interference effective by hyping the Wikileaks story beyond all reason. That and the obvious affinity of Trump and Putin, something that was obvious from Trump’s speeches as from any sensational stories about espionage. Trump and Putin and many other leaders and would-be leaders are not part of a worldwide conspiracy against decent government, but a veritable Kleptocracy International does seem to be in the process of spontaneous formation, an informal club of elected authoritarians. That is upsetting or ought to be. .

  10. Daniel Nexon

    Our allies spy on us too.

    Anyway, there’s a clear distinction between

    1) “ZOMG!! The Russians did the info warfare on us. So EVIL!”


    2) “The Russians mounted an info warfare campaign to get Trump elected because they think he will undermine US interests and those of long-standing allies. Trump is obsessed with denying this. Taken together, that’s very bad news.”

  11. Angela Merkel’s personal cell phone. An ally .

    Perhaps “satrap” or “puppet” would have been a better choice of words given Merkel’s tolerance for being spied on.

  12. The US has murdered hundreds of thousands of people – illicit wars, drone strikes, extrajudicial killings. Therefore, please stop talking about the violence in my hometown of chicago. SMDH

  13. Professor,

    Of all the things that might have influenced the election, the unlikely event where Russian operatives breached firewalls and altered votes is the least significant. Of greater significance is that Putin was effectively ending the US covert war in Syria, HRC was irresponsibly talking about no-fly zones in Syria, to the alarm of the military who are aware of US planes vulnerability, and Trump talked about getting along with Russia instead of provoking a war. The DNC leak was an inside job.

    There were two candidates in this election, a dangerously unstable, narcissistic amateur, and a dangerously unstable, narcissistic party hack. The former has no wish to wage wars. Neither does the latter, but she doesn’t mind letting other people come, see and die.

  14. Russia’s interference in our elections does not bode well for future democratic elections. It would be disastrous if Russia or any other culprit can manipulate and decide who they want to win elections. I am sure we are guilty of hacking too, but manipulating elections by any nation is going against any democratic process.

    • Elections are not democracy. Democracy is full, thorough debate among citizens resulting in conclusions determined by ballot which all then accept and work together to fulfil, even those who feel deeply that the conclusion is flawed. Many find it a far from perfect system because of the way it can be swayed by emotion more readily than wisdom.

    • Except, of course, if Israel does it, which happens all the time and has the support of both Parties.

  15. Better ties with Russia is all well and good but those ties must not include a long-time foreign adversary directly interfering with our Presidential elections. The fact this happened is unfair to all U.S. citizens and those who work hard to make our national elections possible. We are not fools!

    There have been far too many flaws with this election for it to be valid and the 2016 Presidential election must not stand.

    I see a lot of frightened citizens attempting to come to grips with this American Election HORRORSHOW. Now is not the time to salve this over UNLESS YOU ARE VERY AFRAID OF TRUMPIST RETALIATION?

  16. Juan, please stop being khitri (Putin knows what that means). Watergate was not an international but a domestic affair so what is its connection here? Zero as far as I am concerned.
    Yes most if not all governments of the world try to get information on others by hook or by crook or by both but how often do they pass that information via middlemen on to ratters such as Assange in the middle of a US election campaign? I dare you to give us examples.
    Russia and the Soviet Union were repeatedly burned by “close relations with the West”. It began with Napoleon and Alexander I at Tilsit after which Napoleon invaded Russia. Prior to WW1 Russia entered a pact with France to contain Germany which ended in disaster for Nicholas II. In 1939 Stalin agreed to a pact with Hitler but was invaded two years later. Of course Putin knows all of this. He is far from jumping into Trump’s lap to cuddle with us. He will keep all options open including giving Trump his boot.

  17. A conversation about U.S. efforts to subvert other countries’ democracies is good. Making snide remarks about those on the left concerned about Trump’s Russian ties is not. In fact, it has the effect of bolstering the right’s specious argument that progressives are blowing these events out of proportion. Disenchanted Sanders supporters helped get us in this mess. It’d be nice if they refrained from trying to make it worse. (I don’t know the author’s leanings, but I’m hearing similar arguments from die-hard Sanders supporters and others on the far left.)

  18. Very strange that a lot of people are pushing Trump to essentially start another cold war with Russia. It’s odd to see ostensibly anti-war people siding with John McCain to escalate a confrontation with Moscow. Be careful what you wish for. Republicans love war. If all sides john the neocons in beating the drums of war, then why wouldn’t trump go all in with a war on Russia?

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