No permanent friends or enemies, only interests

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‘America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.’[1]

Henry Kissinger

Today the Western World woke up to a string of sensationalist headlines; ‘Spy Shock’, ‘Embassies Targeted’, ‘Scandal’, reverberated around European media outlets this morning and EU leaders were quick off the blocks to point out to the government of the United States that if there is any truth to the espionage allegations, then there will be serious consequences for Euro-American trade relations.[2]

But how much of this news story comes as a shock really? Western popular culture has been saturated with the written mythology and filmography where suave secret agents travel the world and meet their allies, who assist them cordially, but not totally openly either. The intelligence world does mirror aspects of Hollywood; Keith Jeffrey’s ‘MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949’, gives the historian an insight into the world of spies and ‘tradecraft’. Espionage scandals are nothing new. Governments have always wanted to know what others are doing and let’s face it, your friend is only really your friend as long as they (or you) want to be. Even if government A has the most cordial relationship possible with government B, government A’s mandate must still be concerned primarily with furthering the interests of government A. Embassies still send their communications, even from ‘friendly’ nations, in code for a reason! Realism at its best.

Espionage scandals abounded in Victorian England and the years leading up to the First World War. Fears of a communist led conspiracy and Germanic hegemonic aspirations led to the establishment of MI5 as a domestic counter-intelligence service.[3] Erskine Childers, later executed during the Irish Civil War, wrote the widely read and highly influential ‘The Riddle of the Sands’, which theorised that a German invasion of Britain was at least possible, if not in the immediate offing. On the 22nd of December 1922, two British intelligence officers, Lieutenant Brandon and Captain Trench, were convicted of conducting espionage against Germany; the pair were discovered by a sentry after they had snuck into a German military base and photographed the installation).[4] This was despite the fact that Britain and Germany were not officially enemies at this point, though speculation regarding naval assets was rife and intense.

Previous to this Captain Cyrus Hunter Regnart, Royal Marines and later the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary, had operated an intelligence network on continental Europe which spied on unfriendly nations and routinely used friendly nations to facilitate this action.[5]

So what does this mean to us today? Basically, I for one am unsurprised that the US government is conducting espionage against its allies. Sometimes co-operating intelligence agencies don’t share their full information resources with brother and sister services. Nowhere is this more evident than in the damning intelligence reports post 9/11 in the US itself. Intelligence agencies have to trust other agencies in order for them to be able to trade information. But as the saying goes, can a leopard change their spots? A spy is still a spy and just because you are at peace with a nation now, does not mean that peace will continue.

Those EU leaders decrying this latest spy scandal might want to examine their own intelligence services and see whether or not they are targeting their own allies! I for one would not like to take a wager on that one.


MAIN IMAGE:‘Don’t talk, the web is spun for you with invisible threads, keep out of it, help to destroy it–spies are listening’, Anti- German Espionage Poster, c. 1918, at http://www.ww1propaganda.com/ww1-poster/dont-talk-web-spun-you-invisible-threads-keep-out-it-help-destroy-it-spies-are-listening, accessed on  01 July 2013.
[1] Dinesh D’Souza ‘What’s so great about America’ (Rengary Publishing, Lanham, Maryland: 2002), p. 164.
[2] ‘Key US-EU trade pact under threat after more NSA spying allegations’, The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/30/nsa-spying-europe-claims-us-eu-trade, accessed on  01 July 2013.
[3] ‘The Establishment of the Secret Service Bureau’, by Professor Christopher Andrew,
[4] ‘The Leipzig Trial: British Officers Found Guilty’, The Times (London, England), 23 December, 1910, pg. 8.
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About eamonntgardiner

I am a PhD Student at the National University of Ireland, Galway. I am conducting research into links between wartime traumatic-neurosis and evidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder amongst British First World War veterans serving as Auxiliary Policemen in Ireland during the Anglo-Irish War 1919-1921. I have previously conducted research into local Irish Volunteer/Old IRA units in Munster as well as British responses to popular insurgencies in areas they administered. I have previously published a book on the British Counterinsurgency responses to the IV/IRA conflict in Ireland, 1919-1921, entitled 'Dublin Castle and the Anglo-Irish War: Counter Insurgency and Conflict.' I have also published papers on various aspects of that war and also on other insurgencies. I write a regular blog on those and other related matters, which can be read at https://eamonntgardiner.wordpress.com/ My research interests include Feminism and De-Colonialisation/Post-Colonialism, Insurgency, Police and Military Histories, Institutional Histories. Subaltern Studies, International History of the 20th Century, Modern Irish History, Historiography, History of Conflict, Peace Keeping/Enforcement/Protectorates, Spheres of Influence, Hegemonic Theories, Old and New Terrorism.
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One Response to No permanent friends or enemies, only interests

  1. Pingback: No permanent friends or enemies, only interests | eamonntgardiner

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