A lot of outrage has come in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations. Though a lot of what has been reported was long suspected, people have reacted a lot more to images of actual documents (along with non-denials from the spies involved). But it also helped build credibility for the news stories Mr Snowden helped write, that the officials at the NSA and their congressional supporters (along with President Obama) were found to be lying every time they said the Snowden reports were untrue.
But here is the thing about spies. They break the law. In fact it is their job to break the law. And it is their job to break every law of every country except one law of one country.
Spies kill, poison, strangle, beat and maim, steal, burgle, forge, counterfeit, blackmail, extort, lie, defraud … think of any spy book or movie you have ever seen, along with stories documenting what spies and spy agencies have done since 1912.
The only one law that spies are not supposed to break? They are not supposed to betray their country. They are bound to obey the commands of their head of state and any relevant oversight bodies in their nation’s legislature and courts.
Of course, many spies break these laws as well. I am reminded of a press conference given by President Obama in the summer of 2013 about the NSA; when asked about the programs Mr Snowden had reported to the country, the President answered that he didn’t know about them, he only found out about them “like you guys, when I read it in the newspapers.” I don’t know if the President was fudging the truth when he said that, but we have seen reports of military commanders and spy agencies in several countries who disobeyed their heads of state when they deemed these heads of state to be not hard enough when it came to war. And there must be an attitude among the long-serving spies and military commanders about their elected officials, that this one or that is “not one of us” and will soon be gone come a new election, while the civil servants in the military and spy agencies will still be there.