The UK and USA, it is sometimes said, are two countries divided by a common language. And no better example of that division was shown in the past week in the different responses to the revelations from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. While Barack Obama has actually done something – however small his first steps – to rein in the spooks’ overreach, Young Dave has done diddly squat.
Moreover, while the media Stateside has reported yesterday’s Obama speech, unless you tune in to the BBC or read the Guardian, you might have missed the UK coverage. This also tells you all you need to know about not only the behaviour of the Security Services, but also the supine reverence displayed towards them by the larger part of the Fourth Estate.
The Prez told that there would be less snooping on US citizens, but perhaps the most significant item was this: “The NSA will not spy on the heads of state and governments of allies, and said some further protections would be given to foreign citizens whose communications were caught up in the agency's dragnet”. That may go some way to reassure Angela Merkel.
Some were unimpressed, notably Glenn Greenwald, who observed that: “US political leaders pretend to validate and even channel public anger by acknowledging that there are ‘serious questions that have been raised’. They vow changes to fix the system and ensure these problems never happen again. And they then set out, with their actions, to do exactly the opposite”.
More relevant to the UK was Nick Hopkins’ observation that Obama’s speech “may not have gone far enough to satisfy US privacy campaigners, but it was sufficiently robust to highlight the gulf between the way the disclosures of widespread government surveillance have played out on different sides of the Atlantic”. He could also have mentioned contrasting attitudes to the paper he writes for.
While Obama at least addressed the issue of overreach, Cameron, at the Westminster Correspondents’ Dinner, was cracking jokes about Alan Rusbridger: “Very sorry he can’t be here tonight. He wrote to tell me. ‘Dear Prime Minister, I’ve decided to spend more time at my real home’. I would give you the address but I haven’t yet mastered the Russian alphabet”. What a jolly spiffing jest, chaps!
What Dave doesn’t appear to get is that those claiming the Snowden revelations have damaged “National Security” are on the wrong side of this one, not least GCHQ stooge Alex Carlile, who just sprayed his credibility up the wall defending Chris Rennard. Barack Obama may not be doing very much just yet, but at least he is addressing his people’s concerns. Our Prime Minister is not.
Instead, he’s trying to laugh it all off. And that’s not good enough.