Low Priority Intelligence

Luxembourg’s Prime Minister has had to resign over a spy ‘scandal’.  Apparently, the security services in the Grand Duchy were conducting illegal phone taps and using State funds inappropriately.  With the ongoing debates on the actions of the USA in gathering meta-data on phone calls and whether or not Edward Snowden is a hero, a traitor or just a plain old whistle-blower, the intelligence services are finding little sympathy amongst their publics at the moment.  News like this doesn’t help.

Personally, having served in the UK military for 10 years, I know that the people working in the intelligence services are doing their best to serve their country; after all you cannot react to a situation that you know nothing about.  In doing so, the lives of innocent people going about their daily routines may be saved.  Talking openly about how you get the information is not a good idea because that will change the behaviour of the observed – the bad guys will find a different way to plan their actions.  The observation of any system will tend to change the system in subtle ways.

In attempting to defend the state and its people, the intelligence services face the same problem as governments trying to convince people that vaccination is a good idea.  People naively wonder why vaccination is necessary because they cannot see many people suffering from disease.  In the generations that we have been relatively measles-free most people have no first-hand knowledge of what measles can do to a young child; they have no gut reaction that causes them to seek defence.  Apart from its deadliness, measles is horrible to look at.  A search in Google Images for measles rash will make the point.

As people do not see regular bombs and terrorist attacks, they may assume that there is no real requirement for a intelligence gathering.  People are easily led to the conclusion that the reduction in their civil liberties is a government plot aimed at the creation of a police state capable of watching and controlling every aspect of peoples’ lives.  To be blunt, governments are made up of fallible, self-centred, fearful human beings like the rest of us.  To attribute to them the ability to engage in a long-term conspiracy against their fellows is to over-egg the pudding somewhat.

It is in this context that I find the reported words of Monsieur Juncker somewhat troubling.

“The intelligence service was not my top priority,” he told parliament in a two-hour speech. “Moreover, I hope Luxembourg will never have a prime minister who sees SREL as [his or her] priority.”

The protection of the state and its people was not and should not be a priority for its Prime Minister.  A disappointing epitaph for a man who has succesfully driven forward his country as a world-class financial centre.

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