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The recent hoopla regarding government spying seems to increase exponentially with each passing week. Lots of people appear to be terribly angry. Ordinary people are angry because it has been revealed that the government is intercepting their ridiculously innocent emails, people in power are angry because they are apparently intercepting their emails as well, and probably with reason because they might not be quite so ridiculous or innocent. Governments are angry because the NSA and other governments are spying on them, the German Chancellor is infuriated because it has been revealed that they are monitoring her phone calls. Everyone is really, really mad.
Personally, I find all these (gasp) revelations and the reactions to them heartily amusing. If the average person on the street is shocked it can only because they are not only fatally naive, but also not paying attention. If foreign governments, including our allies are shocked and horrified it is a magnificent performance because their high moral ground is located on a pile of total hypocrisy. The reality is that everyone spies on everyone else and has been doing so, with varied degrees of success since the murky beginnings of civilization. I worked for the NSA when I was in the army and I can say, with absolute sincerity that they have been doing this forever as has every other government and organization on the planet. Some of them just have better tools and organization, and more spies than others.
It amazes me that any of the recent shocking facts that have come to light should be a surprise to anyone. Does no one pay attention to history anymore? Did they ever, because the business of spying is as old as time. It may, in fact, be the 3rd oldest of all professions.
If you read the Iliad, the most ancient of recorded stories, you can't help but notice that spies were everywhere. The Greeks had spies in the Trojan camp and the Trojans had spies in the Greek camp. In fact, the Greek kings and leaders were just as busy spying on each other as they were the Trojans, and weren't they supposed to be on the same side? Allies, in fact? The Romans were master spies. They spied on the enemy army, they spied on the people, they spied on the Senate who spied on the Emperor who spied right back at them. There were more spies than olives in old Ancient Rome. The Dark Ages were full of spies. Kings spied on the Church and the Church spied on the Kings. As the two most powerful groups around they made sure that they kept a very close eye on each other as there was a lot of power, land, and of course, money at stake. In Medieval times spies were as common as rats and about as nice. During the Renaissance the great families of Italy all employed tons of spies. They had spies, the Pope had spies, the Guilds had spies. The boatmen of Venice were probably mostly spies.
Queen Elizabeth I of England had a principal secretary named Sir Francis Walsingham who is considered by many to be one of the best spymasters in history with an organization that had operatives in every corner of Europe and beyond. It isn't just the Western World that was in the business of spying. The ancient Persians had terrific spies. India had lots of spies. Asia was riddled with them. George Washington has been called a spymaster more than once. He had quite the healthy organization of espionage agents working for him as did the British. Louis XIV of France had plenty of spies in the court of his cousin, Charles II of England, even when they were on the same side.
Some spies did it out of loyalty, some to advance their own positions or protect their flanks, but mostly, they did it for money, which has pretty much been the primary motivator of lots of human behavior for as long as their has been anything like gold with which to cross anyone else's palm. Of course, the people looking for the information and paying other people to sneak around and get it for them were and are always smug about the business claiming national security, defense of the realm, etc., etc. If you are going to be sneaking around in the shadows, habitually lying, misrepresenting yourself, and generally being as trustworthy as a snake, it is always helpful to claim that you are doing it for a higher purpose. It makes betrayal so much more palatable that way.
The bottom line is that governments, organizations, institutions, corporations, individuals, and even wretched little brothers spy. They spy on their enemies and opponents, they spy on their friends, and they spy on their families. Be honest, how many little boys can you think of who snuck into their older sisters' rooms and read their diaries or children who got up in the middle of the night to search the closets and attic for hidden Christmas presents? Spying would appear to be hard wired into our natures. We think – therefore we spy.
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