Spy vs spy, apples vs oranges
By A. Asohan November 11, 2013
- Many are shrugging off the US spying issue … but mostly for all the wrong reasons
- Unless we do something, the US will continue to trample on the rights of non-Americans
THERE have been a number of developments in the 10 or so days since I first commented on the new reports alleging that the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur was one amongst a network of spy stations that allowed its government to intercept and eavesdrop on communications.
This came around the same time when the Sydney Morning Herald had reported that Australia’s electronic intelligence agency was using its diplomatic missions to spy on its Asian neighbours, including Malaysia.
Both the allegations against Australia and the United States came from more revelations from whistle-blower Edward Snowden, the former contract worker for the US National Security Agency (NSA).
After an initial lame-duck response that Malaysia would investigate the allegations to verify if they were true, Putrajaya finally issued official protests, though it did not say what form those investigations took and what was discovered from said ‘investigations.’
Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman said he had met with his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop in Perth to convey Malaysia’s position that spying on ‘close friends’ is not done as it could ‘severely damage’ relations.
The ministry’s Deputy Secretary-General Datuk Ramlan Ibrahim also handed protest notes to Australian High Commissioner Miles Kupa and US Deputy Chief of Mission, Lee McClenny, representing the US Ambassador to Malaysia, Joseph Y. Yun, who was out of town, according to The Malay Mail Online.
That report also quoted Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak as saying that “on principle, we are against any spying or surveillance on any government. It deals with the sovereignty of our country.”
Just that, unfortunately. None of the statements from Putrajaya elaborated on what action, if any, it was going to take regarding the serious allegation that the governments of two countries with whom Malaysia admittedly has had very good diplomatic and trade relationships were infringing on the sovereignty of our nation and the rights of our people.
As I noted in my previous commentary, this is probably because our own Government does not have a pristine record in this area either – at least, not when it comes to its own people.
Opposition politicians have been having a cleaner time of it, of course. They have demanded that Malaysia stop its Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement talks.
Describing Putrajaya’s response as one that treated Australia and the United States with “kid’s gloves” that made us “look weak,” Klang Member of Parliament Charles Santiago said that Malaysia should “halt negotiations on the TPP as an effective response against the US spying scandal.”
“Negotiations can only resume once the United States and Australia have come clean on what exactly they have been spying on in Malaysia, and also whom they spied on,” he said, according to The Malay Mail Online.
Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin and a handful of other leaders from the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition have also come out against our spying allies.
However, they have less of a leg to stand on given that Barisan is bulldozing laws through Parliament that would allow the Government to spy on suspected ‘hardcore criminals’ without the need for any accountability or due process, as I noted before.
Muted or misdirected outrage
The Malaysian people’s lack of outrage probably stems from this fact: Most of us don’t trust our government to accord us the same right to privacy that it accusing these two governments of betraying.
After all, this is a country where journalists sometimes take it as a point of pride when they find out that there is a file on them at the Special Branch of the Royal Malaysian Police – which is supposed to be gathering intelligence and information in matters related to national security.
No wonder some pundits and social media commentators are shrugging off this critical matter with statements that we should not be complaining about the Australian and US governments when our own has allegedly done even worse things against its own people.
I disagree completely. Two wrongs don’t make a right. We should protest, vehemently – on both issues. It’s a matter of principle – let’s support our government when it attempts to do the right thing, but let’s also hold it accountable for and answerable to its own misdeeds.
I even saw one post on Facebook, using the case of Malaysian businessman Leonard Francis, the chief executive officer of Glenn Defence Marine Asia, as an example of how Malaysians are doing the same thing to Americans, so we really doth protest too much.
Really? First, while Francis is a Malaysian, his company is Singaporean. Second, he is being accused of bribing senior US Navy officials to get information for his business. It’s a clear-cut case of corporate bribery, not state-fuelled espionage, nor did it involve the interception of private communications between allied nations.
You really cannot compare the two. One is a clandestine cold war to get information against and on allied nations; the other involves ‘favours’ – from the financial to the sexual – so that you can conduct business unethically and illegally.
Finally, there are the jaded cynics who are brushing off Snowden’s revelations because, “Oh come on, everyone knows that all embassies do intelligence-gathering. It’s an open secret, noob!”
Actually, it’s not even a secret. Embassy staff and diplomats monitor the media, and also meet with opposition politicians, activists and non-governmental organisations to gather such information – at times clandestinely, so as not to offend their hosts or so that they cannot be later accused of attempting to topple the government if they lend their support to a political prisoner, for example.
This is not, repeat after me, the same thing as installing equipment to intercept phone calls and online communications between the leaders of various nations and their administration, or the communications between such leaders themselves.
We have already let the US Government get away with Stuxnet, malware that it developed to target the key systems of other states and then inadvertently let loose in the wild.
We’re also not raising enough of fuss over consistent reports that it has been systematically working to circumvent encryption technologies, which would have dire consequences on Internet security – not just for nations and businesses, but individuals too.
All these are at best, betrayals; at worst acts of war. And unless we as a people summon up enough outrage, and our governments summon up enough cojones, the United States will continue to trample on the rights of non-Americans.
US spying, and casting the first stone
Stuxnet, Flame and the new world disorder
Govt malware: Why and how it’s used, and is it cyber-war?
Mikko’s world: Governments, factories and washing machines
Lack of clarity and info on TPP a major concern
For more technology news and the latest updates, follow @dnewsasia on Twitter or Like us on Facebook.