Eavesdrop on their ?partners? could upset Washington’s own global security architecture
US President Joe Biden’s administration is in dire straits after officials were made aware last week that a cache of classified documents leaked in March showing that the US is spying on allies.
One of the most damning leaks revealed extensive details of US military support in Ukraine and the exact location of troops, delivery specifications and other information related to Kiev’s upcoming spring offensive against Russia. But another important leak also emerged.
Korean media reported that the CIA files revealed that the US appears to have been spying on South Korea’s National Security Agency (NSO) in Seoul. The NSO is described as “the control tower of South Korea’s security decision-making”. In addition, the leaked reports show that the US has also been spying on the UK, Canada and Israel.
The Korean details are the most serious allegations because they involve direct wiretapping. The documents show that South Korean government officials were put in a “difficult position” over sending lethal aid to Ukraine because it could be seen by the public as the “opposite of a state visit”. The state visit of South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol is scheduled for April 26.
The South Korean leader now has to deal with the possibility of visiting his close allies in Washington while knowing that they most likely conducted illegal wiretapping against his country, upsetting Seoul’s national interests and threatening the country’s sovereignty. The documents have been mostly recognized as legitimate, despite some manipulation of casualty figures, and the reaction from Washington clearly suggests that they are real.
The United States thus finds itself in a difficult situation. It is clearly no coincidence that all the countries joining Washington’s proxy war in Ukraine, sending weapons and joining sanctions against Russia are under the US nuclear umbrella and have US troops stationed within their borders. That alone suggests that the national governments of these countries are under significant strategic pressure to join Washington’s crusade.
However, illegal espionage is another matter. It is such a brazen violation of national sovereignty that no leader can afford to accept this without suffering domestic political consequences. To repair the public opinion damage and survive future elections, the victims of “allied” espionage may have to scale back their level of support for the United States in response to the surveillance campaign.
This is why some have called the apparitions most harmful since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden exposed America’s global espionage campaign through mass data collection and then faced a witch hunt from Washington, only to find sanctuary in Russia. It is likely that whoever leaked these documents will face severe prosecution, as the Pentagon announced its own investigation into the source of the leaks, after receiving instructions from the White House.
The damage is probably already done. On April 26, the first domino could fall if President Yoon is pressured to walk back his support for Washington’s strategic posture toward Ukraine due to domestic backlash. But it probably wouldn’t be the last as friend and foe alike point to America’s lack of good faith in dealing with partners, resorting to espionage instead of negotiations.
This is of course not the first time the US has been accused of spying on its allies. A 2015 investigation revealed that the US was spying on key European allies through Danish channels, which was widely reported in May 2021. It was confirmed that, at least from 2012 to 2014, the US spied on senior officials in France, Norway, Sweden and Germany, including former Chancellor Angela Merkel, former Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and others.
It is likely no coincidence that key US partners now say they want to avoid being mere lackeys for Washington’s global empire. For example, French President Emmanuel Macron told Politico, after his recent visit to China, that Europe must resist the pressure to become “America’s follower”. Shortly after the head of the European Council, Charles Michel said European leaders are warming to the French president’s idea.
For the US to maintain a global security framework and station troops in its allied countries is one thing. It may be seen by some as military occupation of the given country – but there are certainly some advantages to this. By allowing countries like Japan, South Korea and others to outsource their security needs and associated costs to the US, they can focus more on their economic development. Indeed, this was a major reason why the demilitarization of Japan was acceptable to Tokyo. This is also why the pro-Trump sector in the US is against the current security arrangement with key allies.
That said, illegal espionage at the highest level is completely unacceptable and raises serious red flags about whether the current security arrangements of the US and its “allies” are fair or legitimate. These latest leaks could lead to a drastic change in the current status quo, or voters in these countries may well demand it. The upcoming meeting between Yoon and Biden could be the first in a long chain of painful strategic losses for Washington.