Who would have thought it about Merkel?

October 28, 2013

Independent columnist Mark Steel thinks Angela Merkel and her austerity policies are dangerous enough that we should all be listening in on her phone calls.

THE REASON there's now such a vast network of global surveillance, we're told by British and American governments, is it's essential in defending our security against terrorist plots. So that must be why the U.S. authorities tapped the phone calls of Angela Merkel.

She doesn't look the type, but that's always the way with radical Islamic jihadists who've worked their way into being chancellor of Germany so they can inflict glorious holy war upon the infidels, so we should be thankful the Feds were on to her.

They've probably already decoded her sinister messages, declaring, "This call here, where she says 'We must maintain the strength of the euro for the fiscal year 2013-14,' it means 'Kill the bastards. Kill them all without mercy. And don't forget to strap the explosive to your chest extra tight as that Velcro tends to come undone, and if those explosives spill all over the bus, you'll feel a right fool.'"

There are other possibilities, I suppose. Maybe the FBI suspects she's part of the Berlin criminal underworld. So while she's in her office late at night, Obama's in a van outside, listening to her make calls such as, "Oi Nobby. I think Plod's on to us. We've got an informer, and I suspect François Hollande. If he asks any questions, don't say nothing, he might be wearing a wire."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Or she might be dealing. All evening, when the other German ministers think she's preparing her speech for a summit somewhere, she's weighing out grass and telling customers, "This is good shit. At the G20, this was everywhere, the prime minister of Japan was ripped all through the agreement on fishing rights."

The only other explanation is there's a side to Barack Obama we haven't seen before, and he's like an old man in an East End pub. So he kept saying, "I tell you what, Michelle--that Merkel might look all innocent, but as my granddad said, never trust the Bosch. One minute, they're having a friendly chat about interest rates, then while you're not looking, the Sudetenland's gone. I'll tap her phone to see what she's up to."

The confusing part is you could understand America tapping the phones of world leaders if it was Silvio Berlusconi or Vladimir Putin. Their calls could be put on sale, to be downloaded for a dollar each or put on an 800 number to wipe out the American debt.

BUT TO be fair, this comforting sense of us all being constantly surveyed ought to be extended, if we're to feel truly safe. For example, surely no one would object if the CIA had a secret camera placed in all our toilets, in case any of us is using the privacy of our khazi to plot a hijacking.

This is why no reasonable person objects to their e-mails being checked and passed on to governments. Because how can our police force expect to protect us from suicide bombers if they don't know when a woman in a cottage by a river in Suffolk has ordered a set of china cups and saucers on special offer on Amazon?

The only complaint that can be made is that if everything we do and say is being so closely monitored, we ought to be allowed to get our phone calls sponsored. Then, whenever we phone a relative, as long as at some point we say, "While I remember, Mum, one thought I was having about Christmas is elephant.co.uk--that's elephant.co.uk--then we can come up on Boxing Day," we can make surveillance pay. With all the security officials who will hear that, there could be an arrangement that would make telephone calls almost free.

The justification for these levels of spying is that we're facing a threat to our way of life, so that's why we need more of it--to protect all those ways of life and not just a few. For example, the disabled should be allowed to tap the phone of Iain Duncan Smith, so they can be aware of whatever he's plotting next. This could be valuable information, giving them advance notice of a "one wheelchair between two" scheme, or a plan to make them rent out their artificial legs as poles in lap-dancing clubs.

So we need more surveillance, but it should be us surveying them. As one of the most powerful people in Europe, Angela Merkel should be surveyed, by everyone except the only institution even more powerful than hers.

The American government hasn't, over the years, been all that touchy about blowing things up--so it's probable that the main reason they want to listen in to the phone calls of terrorists is so they can pick up tips. So we should be listening in to them. Over the last decades, if people round the world had found out that Henry Kissinger or Donald Rumsfeld had Googled "Flowers of the Amazon" or bought tickets to see Barbara Streisand, we WOULD be entitled to think, "Hang on, what are they up to"--and detain them for a couple of months, just in case.

So it seems quite reasonable to propose a deal in which the taps on Mrs. Merkel's phones stay in place, and all the spying equipment in the world is kept going. It's just the people doing it that's changed. Maybe Edward Snowden can be put in charge. He seems to know how it works.

First published in the Independent.

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