Espionage? Moi?

Sure, Paris is a hypocrite when it comes to spying. But it isn't alone.

If you buy the latest reporting out of Europe, France is outraged, simply outraged, at news that the National Security Agency has been eavesdropping on the European Union through its mission in New York and embassy in Washington. French political parties are now rumbling about offering asylum to Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor at the center of the leaks. The French government is demanding answers from the United States about its snooping. Monsieur Le Président himself, François Hollande, is calling for an end to the spying.

All of which is pretty hilarious, given France's penchant for stealing American defense technology, bugging American business executives and generally annoying U.S. counterintelligence officials. If you've been paying attention, you know that France is a proficient, notorious and unrepentant economic spy. "In economics, we are competitors, not allies," Pierre Marion, the former director of France's equivalent of the CIA, once said. "America has the most technical information of relevance. It is easily accessible. So naturally your country will receive the most attention from the intelligence services."

It's thus tempting to toss aside France's protests as rank and witting hypocrisy over economic espionage, which of course they are. But the leaks about the NSA's collection of economic information and the difficulty in explaining the differences in how it's used on opposite sides of the Atlantic spell trouble for American cyberdiplomacy around the world.

Lest you doubt that France has dirty hands in corporate spying, there's a long, storied and public bill of particulars against La République Française's intelligence agencies.

France's espionage against American companies, described as "aggressive and massive," dates back to the 1960s and is largely born out of a desire to prop up its defense industry, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office, which delicately referred to France as "Country B." France lacks a domestic defense market large enough to support cutting edge development so it opts to steal American military technology in order to save R&D costs and enjoy advanced weaponry for its own military and competitive for exports abroad.

France's economic espionage hasn't been confined solely to America's defense industrial base, though. In the late 1980s, French intelligence reportedly spied on premiere firms such as Texas Instruments and IBM in a bid to help out its domestic computer industry. Reports of hidden microphones in the seats of Air France picking up the indiscreet business chatter of American executives have since become common intelligence lore.

The snooping burst into the public sphere during the 1993 Paris Air Show, the world's biggest aerospace confab. It's usually prom for the aviation industry, a chance for countries to show off their latest and greatest fighter jets and commercial airliner. But the show hit a sour note when a CIA document listing dozens of American companies targeted for espionage by France leaked to the public, prompting firms like Pratt & Whitney and Hughes Aircraft to hold back products or withdraw from the show entirely.

The spying continues even today, according a recent U.S. National Intelligence Estimate. The NIE declared France, alongside Russia and Israel, to be in a distant but respectable second place behind China in using cyberespionage for economic gain.

This was the kind of spying that, with rare exceptions, the United States swore it never did. Sure, America snoops on foreign governments for the odd advantage in trade talks. Long before Edward Snowden shared details of the European Union's leaky fax machine, the New York Times was reporting how the United States used the CIA and NSA to help it in trade negotiations with Japan. But the U.S. intelligence community would (almost) never spy on a foreign company just to benefit an American one.

In other words, stealing secrets to help a government is fine. Stealing secrets to help a business is not. "There's a big difference between that and a hacker directly connected with the Chinese government or the Chinese military breaking into Apple's software systems to see if they can obtain the designs for the latest Apple product," President Obama recently said after his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Now that the particulars of U.S. eavesdropping are on display that distinction between spying on Apple and the Defense Department is going to be even harder to make. As Bloomberg reported today, part of the U.S. strategy to curtail Chinese cyberespionage against American companies rests on pressuring China by naming and shaming its corporate snooping activities and trying to engage it to establish rules of the road.

It's hard to embarrass China over a norm of dubious existence whose violation a number of countries don't find all too embarrassing. The recent NIE on cyberespionage makes clear that of the U.N. Security Council, Russia, China, and France view it as an acceptable practice.

Whether France, China, or other countries buy America's pinky swears about the economic secrets it hoovers up or are simply demagoguing the issue is immaterial. It's easy to muddy the picture with much of the global public. We need only look back to 2001, when France belted out howls of protest at Echelon, the worrisome NSA program of its day, in the wake of a European Parliament report branding the United States as a global economic snoop.

Nor is it just in France and China that America's protests fall on deaf ears. Take a stroll through the National Counterintelligence Executive's (NCIX) annual reports on foreign economic espionage and you'll find a ballpark of about a half dozen to a dozen chronic offenders over the years. Beyond the core group of problem countries, NCIX has found entities from as many as 108 countries "involved in collection efforts against sensitive and protected U.S. technologies" in some years. Moreover, a number of American allies also just aren't as eager to follow America's lead in making trade secret theft a criminal, rather than just civil matter.

If the United States wants to get something more from China on economic espionage than the hypocrisy and Gallic shrug it gets from France, it's going to have to try something different. Lectures about unevenly shared beliefs and intelligence revelations that name more than they shame likely won't be enough. For China and others, the distance between our economic intelligence collection and theirs is a distinction without a difference.

Thanassis Stavrakis - Pool/Getty Images


Susan Rice Finally Has Her Perfect Job: Head-Knocker in Chief

Obama's new national security advisor has sharp elbows, a tart tongue, and a taste for the shadows.

At her farewell reception at the U.S. mission to the United Nations in June, Susan Rice, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was feted by her colleagues in a colorful send-off that I cannot describe here because the off-the-record terms of my invitation don't allow it. Nor, I have been advised, can I publish a group photograph of Rice with several members of the U.N. press corps, even though the same photo is posted on Rice's public Facebook page.

After a rough-and-tumble year that saw Rice forced to withdraw from contention for the secretary-of-state job after her flawed account of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Rice and her handlers are leaving little to chance. They have enforced ever stricter controls on how she is to be viewed in her new role as President Barack Obama's national security advisor. It has resulted in fewer unscripted encounters and more lawyerly negotiations over the terms of interviews. Even a question about Rice's plans for staying in touch with her nearly 300,000 Twitter followers is handled off the record.

The heightened sensitivity may reflect the battle scars of having gone through one of the most brutal Beltway takedowns in memory. But it also marks the natural transition from the freewheeling diplomatic corridors of Turtle Bay, where the U.S. ambassador is expected to maintain a public profile, to the more insular White House, where discretion is prized and where Rice's main challenges will be shaping the president's policies and refereeing disputes among members of the powerful national security team. The White House job, said Peter Yeo, the executive director of the Better World Campaign, requires "knocking heads together behind the scenes. By definition, when you knock heads together that activity is much more likely to happen behind closed doors."

After four and a half years of playing the diplomat, Rice finally has a job that fits her sharp-elbowed personality. She'll no longer need to pay so much attention to the public niceties of diplomatic life. She won't have to worry as much about awkward leaks from loose-lipped foreign colleagues. And she'll have greater freedom to unlock her inner bulldozer as the president's head-knocker in chief.

During her stint at the United Nations, Rice earned a reputation as a whip-smart, energetic, abrasive, charming, funny, combative, and frequently undiplomatic force. Her profane denunciations are so much a part of her public identity that she frequently jokes about them at public events. In December 2010, her staff produced a video skit in which she blurts out the f-word four times -- the sound is bleeped -- as she seeks to rally the U.N. Security Council in a mock campaign to eliminate bedbugs on the U.N. premises. One Security Council ambassador once quipped: "Her favorite word is bullshit."

One of her least favorite words is leak. Rice has bridled at the frequent leaking of confidential deliberations in the United Nations. One of her first acts as U.S. ambassador was to join forces with Russia and China to bar note-takers from the office of the U.N. secretary-general's spokesman from sitting in on closed-door Security Council consultations. This year, Rice's office issued official complaints to the U.N. secretariat and the French government over suspected leaks to the press.

Rice is, in the words of one of her Security Council colleagues, "a control freak" who values discretion and loyalty among her colleagues and who likes to stage-manage the finest details of her personal and diplomatic life.

In the thick of Obama's re-election campaign, when rumors swirled over her prospects for the top job at Foggy Bottom, a U.N. colleague told her she would make a better fit at the White House. "I told her, 'Everybody says you're going to be secretary of state, but I think you're more suitable for the national security advisor's job,'" said the diplomat, who asked not to be named. "So she turned around and said, 'Why do you think that?' And I said, 'Because of your propensity to bite off other people's noses.' It was said with affection, and she took it that way." 

That work begins Monday, July 1, when Rice will be thrust into the maelstrom that is U.S. foreign policy. Administration sources say she'll enter the White House with few, if any, of her aides from her U.N. tenure. She will have to manage with the existing National Security Staff as she grapples with the great-power cybersnooping squabble between China and the United States; coordinates the American quest to capture former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, who is holed up at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport; helps figure out the U.S. response to the fresh unrest in Egypt; and, of course, tries to make sense of American policy toward Syria, where the United States is gearing up to arm Syrian rebels seeking the military overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad. And that's before you get to the military drawdown in Afghanistan, calibrating U.S. policy in Iran in reaction to its recent presidential election, and the Middle East peace process.

In a final media encounter, Rice recalled her time at the United Nations as "the best job I have ever had" and detailed U.N. accomplishments under her watch: reinforced sanctions on Iran and North Korea, U.N.-backed efforts to confront Muammar al-Qaddafi's government, a Turtle Bay-led campaign to take down Ivory Coast's former leader, Laurent Gbagbo, after he refused to accept an electoral defeat. "I'm very proud of what we've accomplished together here. I'm also excited about the work that lies ahead, which will require even stronger international partnership," she said.

But Rice also voiced deep frustration about the failure of the international community to help end the conflict in Darfur and to convince the Sudanese government to provide humanitarian relief to hundreds of thousands of needy people in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. And she expressed disgust over the U.N. Security Council's failure to come together to halt a bloody civil war that has killed more than 90,000 people in Syria. "The council's inaction on Syria is a moral and strategic disgrace that history will judge harshly." It is, Rice, noted, "a stain on this body and something that I will forever regret."

It was also a failure that Rice would claim no part in, saying, "I don't believe that outcome is a product of the action of the United States or its closest partners."

"This is not part of my legacy or the U.S. legacy," she added. But blasting China's and Russia's U.N. delegations just as she left Turtle Bay? That was vintage Susan Rice.

In many ways, Rice's transition will mark a move away from the spotlight. In a White House known for disciplined messaging, there will likely be fewer leaks of the off-color declarations that have made Rice so interesting to cover. The closed-door confrontations with colleagues -- such as her verbal spats with her Russian counterpart, Vitaly Churkin; French Ambassador Gérard Araud, and China's envoy, Li Baodong -- will probably go unrecorded.

But her image will be managed much more carefully. A recent official White House photograph summed up the image that will likely define her role in American politics over the next three and a half years: It's a shot of Rice, dressed in a black pantsuit, attending a White House meeting with the president in the Oval Office, clutching a stack of folders and briefing notes, preparing perhaps for a long night of homework.

Rice will by no means disappear from public view. In contrast to her predecessor, Tom Donilon, she is expected to be more visible. She will keep her Twitter feed, allowing her to continue to communicate directly with her nearly 300,000 followers. She will likely share the job with her national security colleagues of unveiling major foreign-policy initiatives. (Whether she'll follow Donilon's model of being an honest broker of national security views -- or be more of an advocate herself -- remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: her long-standing relationship with Obama isn't about to fade away.)

Last week, Rice had already pivoted to the national stage, defending the president's legacy amid the revelations of the NSA's massive digital spying program. Speaking as European fury over the surveillance was spilling over into the public, Rice said that any suggestions that the disclosure had weakened U.S. foreign policy were "bunk."

Her final days at the United Nations were supposed to be carefully orchestrated, but the NSA exchange was one of several ways in which the effort to stage-manage Rice's exit didn't go quite as smoothly as planned. At her off-the-record farewell reception, New York Times reporter Neil MacFarquhar fired off a few unauthorized tweets that offered some candid insights into her final days at Turtle Bay, including an account of the Russian ambassador's private roasting of his former sparring partner. Churkin observed that Rice's privileged education, which included stints at Stanford and Oxford universities, taught her little about "classical diplomacy."

"Susan Rice is not one of those pinstriped diplomats," he added. "For one thing, her vocabulary is much richer."

The remarks, which were offered tongue-in-cheek, reflected the fact that despite their sharp differences, Rice and Churkin genuinely seem to like one another. In a final bit of ribbing, according to one Security Council diplomat who was in the room, Churkin also introduced a draft Security Council statement reflecting on Rice's stormy tenure.

"The Security Council expresses its relief at the departure of Susan Rice, and sends its condolences to another security council she would soon be gracing with her presence."

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