The United States government has assured us time and time again that the NSA’s surveillance actions are for our own safety, yet the latest Edward Snowden leak paints a different picture. According to documents marked “top secret,” the NSA spied on various countries leading up to — and during — a 2009 Copenhagen climate change summit so that the United States could better manipulate the outcome and walk away without having to make meaningful concessions.
Though other, smaller countries had previously agreed to caps on emissions in 2007, the world’s biggest polluters — and therefore perpetrators of the problem – declined to cosign. The goal of the 2009 summit was to get power players like the United States, India and China onboard in order to commit to real change, but it appears as though the United States took some extreme steps to ensure that it wouldn’t occur.
Throughout the conference, U.S. delegates received secret intelligence from the NSA about other countries’ private perspectives on the policies being discussed. The document said that this information should be shared with Obama and Hillary Clinton so the United States would have an upper hand during negotiations.
Although this particular document does not specify how surveillance of other nations’ officials would occur, other Snowden leaks have revealed that the United States has tapped the phone lines of foreign leaders, both friend and foe, for years.
In particular, the spying allowed the United States to scuttle Denmark’s bargaining power. Privately, well before the event, Denmark had worked out what it hoped to achieve, as well as the minimum standard it was willing to accept. Being privy to Denmark’s lowest mark, the United States was able to sit back, stall and not even attempt to compromise until talks reached that low threshold.
Even at the time, Danish officials alleged that it seemed like the United States must have been aware of their own plan in advance in order to counter it so effectively, though they lacked the proof to back up these assertions.
Instead of setting real environmental standards, Obama ultimately offered up the “Copenhagen Accord” along with other major polluters. The Accord called for each country to take it upon themselves to cut emissions, leaving no concrete regulations to hold countries accountable for making these changes. Though Obama was pleased with the outcome, declaring it “meaningful and unprecedented,” much of the rest of the world was less than impressed with an agreement that was all talk and no required action.
There’s no use in excusing the environmental eavesdropping as an isolated incident, either. A previous, less publicized Snowden leak from last year demonstrated that the United States spied on Indonesia’s 2007 climate change summit, as well.
Unsurprisingly, these new revelations are a disaster from a diplomacy perspective and will most definitely throw a wrench into future negotiations. “For negotiations as complex as these, we need maximum goodwill and trust. It is absolutely critical,” said Martin Khor, an advisor to developing nations during the Copenhagen summit. “If there is anything that prevents a level playing field, that stops negotiations being held on equal grounds. It disrupts the talks.”
It’s time to call bull on the U.S.’s claim that the NSA is specifically for our safety. Forget the concerns of al Qaeda attacks because climate change threatens the entirety of the planet. Using surveillance techniques in order to more efficiently halt international environmental negotiations makes the United States the terrorists in this scenario.