Rule number one in the espionage handbook is never get caught.
That fate, however, appears to have befallen the US National Security Agency (NSA), courtesy of CIA intelligence analyst turned whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
Germany, France, Italy and Spain now join Latin American giant Brazil in being outraged over mounting evidence - supplied by Mr Snowden - that US intelligence operatives eavesdropped on their political leaders and national institutions. There is no doubt the whole affair has been embarrassing to the Obama administration and damaging to its image abroad. Spying on "friends" and "allies" never looks good while trying to keep them onside in the fight against global terrorism.
At the heart of the latest row there is also genuine concern for all of us living in the age of mass digital data banks and the internet. It is all too easy for state surveillance to overstep the mark and intrude into individual privacy and erode civil liberties. When such things occur between states, however, it is only to be expected that wronged leaders express their outrage, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel did last week. This, after all, is what their electorate would expect of them.
The truth of the matter, however, is that much of this is political shadow boxing. Be it in Washington, Paris or Berlin, the rancour over the surveillance fallout will dissipate in time.
In today's counter-terrorism arena, faced with the international threat posed by jihadist and other groups, there is more to be gained from collaboration among these transatlantic players than there is from throwing diplomatic rattles out of the cot. Almost all governments conduct espionage operations against other countries whose activities matter to them. At the end of the day the concept of friends and enemies is a fluid one in the intelligence world.
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