In Summary
In the last few days there has been
renewed fury when it emerged that the
NSA was snooping on the cellphones of
even close allies like Brazil’s President
Dilma Rousseff, French leaders, and now
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel.
This great moral dilemma of human
civilisation is why the greatest myths,
histories, tragedies, films, love stories,
and political dramas are about betrayal.
We don’t expect any better of our
enemies. But when our friends turn
against us, it breaks us.
If I were president, I
also would spy more on my
friends than on my foes.
One of the big international stories of recent
months has been the scandal of the USA’s
National Security Agency’s widespread phone
tapping and email monitoring that covered
most of the world.
In the last few days there has been renewed
fury when it emerged that the NSA was
snooping on the cellphones of even close allies
like Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, French
leaders, and now Germany’s Chancellor Angela
Merkel.
IT’S AMERICA’S PHILOSOPHY TO SPY
We can take it that the Americans have
listened in on all the conversations of all
African leaders.
Yet for all the reams of newsprint and TV
airtime spent on the NSA spying, I think it is
actually a non-story.
If I were president of a powerful country with
the money and technology to do so, I too
would spy on all the leaders of the world,
including my close allies.
I would also expect that they too would do the
same. That is why the greater surprise for me
is not that the Americans tapped Merkel’s
cellphone, but that the Germans with all their
tech savvy did not invest in sufficient
encryption to foil it.
And surely, the Brazilians are smart enough to
protect President Rousseff’s phone.
I can understand a president from a banana or
cashew-nut republic without the sophisticated
technology failing to protect his phone. But
even they can do something about it.
Some African presidents don’t give any
incriminating instructions through writing or
phone. You go to State House, sit with them
under a shade in the gardens, and they
whisper the instructions in your ears.
In that sense, they are cleverer than the
Brazilians and Germans. As far as we know,
the Americans don’t yet have the means to tap
that.
MUSEVENI’S PHILOSOPHY
In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni, a
former guerrilla who is wise to the ways of the
cloak-and-dagger world, once shocked a
journalist who was in his office.
He wanted to make a confidential call to
someone, so he reached into his shirt pocket,
pulled out a small envelope and took out a SIM
card that he slotted into a phone and called.
The journalist inquired why he, a “whole”
president, had a SIM card kept away in his
pocket like a market vendor. Museveni
responded with a chuckle and explained that
his intelligence chiefs and the world knew his
official cellphone numbers, but they didn’t
know that of the random SIM cards he
acquired in sly ways. And he was right.
But the NSA snooping scandal also revealed a
bigger problem — how to deal with our friends,
allies, and those we love.
Dealing with our enemies is easy. We know
they don’t like us, and are plotting every
minute to destroy the things we value. Over
the years, we have built structures and
approaches to deal with them.
We avoid them; we build stronger armies than
theirs; we spy on them to avoid them
surprising us with an attack; we mobilise our
friends and citizens against them; we
demonise them; and we try and attack and
destroy them first before they do the same to
us, and so forth.
Dealing with friends is more difficult. You have
to trust them and that allows them to get
closer to you than your enemies. If you shared
a house with a friend, you wouldn’t bother to
lock your bedroom door. But if you did so with
an enemy, you would bolt your door and place
a chair against it.
Therefore, if you shared a house with a friend
who then turns against you after midnight and
decides to sneak into your room and murder
you, you are more likely to be dead in the
morning than if you slept next door to an
enemy.
This is because you can never be sure when
your friend or ally will go rogue and stick a
knife in your back. Because they are close and
you have no defences against them, you’re
more vulnerable to them.
This great moral dilemma of human
civilisation is why the greatest myths,
histories, tragedies, films, love stories, and
political dramas are about betrayal. We don’t
expect any better of our enemies. But when
our friends turn against us, it breaks us.
That is why, if I were president, I would
probably spy more on my friends than on my
enemies.

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