Anti-Surveillance Protest in Germany

By Aarushi Gupta
Staff Writer

The conflict between Israel and Palestine took over July’s headlines; each hour brought a new development, every week brought a new cease-fire and new attempts to rekindle negotiations to end the endless brutality and warfare. The conflict between these nations is not new, but both nations are as far away from a solution as they were in 1948 when the Israeli state was introduced. The current peace relies on shoddy truces and feeble agreements. However, as relations between Israel and Palestine and the United States’ influence in the region both deteriorate, new alliances and partnerships have risen to tackle the inevitable hostilities that will return to the region. New collaborations between the United States and Germany, Qatar, Turkey, England, Italy, and France have come together to better address the problem; Qatar and Turkey were recently inducted into the coalition of international superpowers that claim some influence over the workings of the world – as neighboring countries, they represent strategic allies that also constitute sympathy for Hamas, the Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.

However, as Edward Snowden, former NSA contractor, continues to chip away at the United States National Security Agency, tensions may arise among these newfound alliances. This past October, Snowden revealed that “American intelligence agencies shared immense amounts of raw electronic and telephone data on U.S.-based Arabs, and, specifically, Palestinians, with Israeli counterparts over the last few years.” By arming Israeli intelligence against Palestinians who may or may not be involved with military operations halfway around the world, the United States jeopardized its already doubtful neutral stance on peace in the region. Even so, in an unexpected turn of events, Snowden revealed in December 2013 that the NSA had also been monitoring the communications of “then-serving Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.” This severely dented the relationship between the allies, signaling a loss of trust between both nations. Current Israeli President, Benjamin Netenyahu, in a Likud party meeting in the Knesset, stated “in the close ties between Israel and the United States, there are things that must not be done and that are not acceptable to us,” amid an increasingly outraged Israeli public. Following this incident, relations between the United States and Israel have become increasingly tense, resulting in ineffective negotiations mediated by the United States. President Obama first held a phone conference with Netenyahu in an attempt to address the “serious concerns” he had with the “increasing number of casualties in Palestine.” However, the United States’ sway in the region has diminished significantly since the administration’s reluctance to act during the Syrian Civil War in 2013. This, coupled with the Snowden leaks from the NSA, has curtailed the United States’ ability to influence the current conflict. John Kerry visited Israel on July 21 to convince Netenyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) to a humanitarian cease-fire; his efforts were futile. However, the new union formed between the United States and the aforementioned countries may lead to more progressive conciliation.

Unfortunately, the NSA’s secrets do not stop at the US-Israel alliance; Snowden’s most recent reports show that the NSA had been monitoring the private communications of 35 heads of state, including German chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as hiring “a walk-in German agent” who could provide details about the inner-workings of German Intelligence; the information may or may not have been valuable, but the breach of privacy resulted in the expulsion of the Berlin CIA chief, a great loss to national security partnerships for both nations. German indignation at the invasion of privacy swiftly turned into a shrewd proposal towards a security collaboration, which led to the current coalition attempting to mediate the growing tensions that are slowly spreading to other Middle Eastern regions. The irony grows with the fact that German Federal Intelligence Agency (BND) has tapped calls regarding Israel and Palestine from both John Kerry and Hilary Clinton. Apparently, the BND has “repeatedly recorded and reported calls from other U.S. politicians and other friendly nations,” according to NDR, a German public broadcaster. The BND has also kept tabs on Turkish authorities since 2009, claiming that the “PKK, extremist right and left wing organizations within Turkey were allegedly conducting human trafficking and drug trade in Germany.”

It is fair to concede that in modern times, countries have to maintain intelligence on both friends and foe; understandably, German, Israeli and American authorities have to keep themselves posted on the goings-on of their international counterparts. However, resources that could have been used to further progressive deliberations and achieve a mutually beneficial solution with respect to the conflict between Israel and Palestine should not have been implemented to ‘accidently’ tap calls from Secretary of State John Kerry to Israeli authorities and the PLO. The Israeli government was then able to subvert peace talks using the terms of these negotiations. How is that conducive to domestic interests, not to mention international security? In an era where public image and information really determine the extent of a nation’s power, it is important for intelligence officials to realize that security and suspension of hostilities should be the first priority, and that the information they collect must be used to mediate ascension to those goals.

Image by Markus Winkler


Red Fort in New Delhi

By Param Bhatter
Staff Writer

On December 12th, the U.S. State Department arrested Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York City, strip-searched her outside of her children’s school and detained her until she was released on bail. She was charged with making false declarations on the visa application of her Indian domestic worker, as well as breaking U.S. law by paying her employee less than minimum wage. Regardless of whether these allegations are true, which Khobragade has denied, Indians all across the world are still furious at the way that the United States handled the situation. Even a few weeks after the incident, national headlines in Indian newspapers and articles continued to print on the perceived obscenity of this situation, and the dust has yet to settle. To fully understand India’s extreme reaction, it is important to analyze Indian culture and its part in the nation’s response to this situation.

Immediately after the incident, the Indian government in New Delhi quickly retaliated against American diplomats working in India. The countermoves included restrictions on tax-free shipments, the removal of traffic barriers outside the U.S. embassy in New Delhi and demands for the salaries of any Indian nationals employed at the U.S. embassy to be made public. Although these countermoves may seem like an extreme reaction to the mistreatment of one foreign diplomat, Indians are rather emotional about the incident. Additionally, the United States’ lack of a formal apology has left many Indians even more spiteful. As one of the fastest growing nations in the world, India wishes to be recognized politically by the United States as a first world country, not as an inferior country, which was the indication of the actions against Khobragade. Many Indians believe that this public strip search and detention were completely unnecessary, and that any issues with the visa application of the domestic Indian worker could have been handled privately. Making this incident public was only an attempt to ridicule Indians all over the world by treating them as children, or criminals who needed to be exposed in public and made an example of.

Another reason that India takes such offense to the mistreatment of Ms. Khobragade is that foreign diplomacy is one of the most respected careers in India. Each year, the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) only admits 1,000 students into its program for training to work in diplomacy. These positions are extremely competitive, and many members of the IFS are among the brightest and most successful members of India’s population. The United States’ public ridicule of one of India’s most prestigious citizens has left many Indians furious. Additionally, Ms. Khobragade is Dalit, from one of the lowest castes in India known as the “untouchables.” She has worked her way to the top of Indian society, and people within her caste, who make up about 15 percent of the Indian population, are extremely sensitive to humiliation.

The nature of the Indian response also stems from the fact that national elections are scheduled in a few months, and the current ruling party, known as the Congress Party, has had difficulty retaining its political power as it has lost many recent elections. Often criticized as too politically aligned with the United States, the party has seen this incident as a chance to prove to the Indian public that it remains independent and will not accept inferior treatment from the United States. Although this is unfortunate for the United States, the current political instability in India has affected the party’s reaction, which is not considered to be that extreme by the Indian public.

Even a full month after the incident, tensions still remain high between the American and Indian governments. Whether this will only get worse or eventually simmer down remains unknown. What is important to the future of these two countries is for them to better understand how to work together and deal with issues in a fair, considerate manner while being respectful of each nation’s culture and needs.

Image by Param Bhatter


Obama Talks with Calderon

By Ana Camus
Staff Writer

The United States has once again been embroiled in a diplomatic nightmare sparked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. After gaining temporary asylum in Russia, Snowden has been leaking a gradual stream of sensitive information to different journalists and governments around the world.

In one of the most controversial leaks, Snowden, viewed as a whistleblower by many and a traitor by others, revealed that the United States has been spying on allied world leaders by gaining access to their personal email accounts and smartphone devices. Some of the targets included Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mexico’s current president Enrique Peña Nieto (at the time of the alleged espionage, he was the leading presidential candidate) as well as former president Felipe Calderon Hinojosa, and Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, who accused the U.S. government of engaging in “a breach of international law.”

Calls and visits from President Barack Obama aimed at repairing the damage have not eased tensions. Angela Merkel, whose Blackberry was allegedly tapped, stated to the press that “trust now has to be built anew”. These comments came in the midst of an ongoing political debate in Germany in which a majority of Parliament wants to request further information about the spying allegations directly from Edward Snowden. Merkel and Brazil’s Rousseff have partnered to draft a letter to the United Nations in which they call for a resolution safeguarding Internet privacy in an effort to restrain NSA intrusions into foreign digital communications.

Mexico’s Foreign Ministry responded to the spying allegations, calling the NSA’s actions unacceptable, illegitimate and against the law. Former President Felipe Calderon described the revelations in the leaks as an “affront to the institutions of the country, given that it took place when I was president” via his Twitter account. In spite of public anger, no further diplomatic action or retaliation has been taken in Mexico.

France and Spain were also included in the turmoil. According to reports released by Edward Snowden and published in the French newspaper Le Monde, the NSA secretly monitored 70.3 million phone communications in France over 30 days spanning from Dec. 10 to Jan. 8. In addition, two Spanish newspapers reported that the NSA had gathered data on Iberian phone numbers and locations. The New York Times reported that the Spanish government summoned the American ambassador, who addressed the allegations by stating that “ultimately, the United States needs to balance the important role that these programs play in protecting our national security and protecting the security of our allies with legitimate privacy concerns.”

Recognizing that diplomatic ties have been strained, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told MSNBC the surveillance “reached too far.” Although this statement constituted the first glimpse of an admission from the American government, Kerry concluded there was “an enormous amount of exaggeration” in the allegations during an open-government conference in London.

The debate in the United States on Snowden’s leaks has simmered down due to pervasive media coverage of the government shutdown and Obamacare. However, these actions have deeply hampered America’s foreign and public diplomacy efforts. Despite all this, Edward Snowden declared in a recent statement from Moscow that he is “no enemy of America” and wishes to testify before the U.S. Congress.

Image by U.S. Embassy, Jakarta