For those readers at all interested in Angela Merkel’s dismay, or the reach of our homeland spy agencies, here are a few pertinent quotes from Paul Pillar, speaking on NPR’s Here and Now radio program on October 29.

According to his bio, Paul Pillar spent 28 years with the CIA before leaving as a senior intelligence officer. He now teaches at the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University in D.C., where he is a fellow. He was interviewed by Here and Now co-host Jeremy Hobson about the European reaction to revelations American spies have been listening in on the phone conversations of foreign (and friendly) heads of state.

“The only thing that makes all this a scandal is the revelation, the public leaks of it. If the leaks had not occurred, then this pretty much would have been business as usual, not just from our standpoint but from the point of view of the Europeans as well.”

When asked if the intelligence gathering was worth the risk of angering allies, Pillar replied:

“I think the question, Jeremy, we have to ask is, are we going to tailor our, in this case, intelligence programs according to the limits set by leakers? So whatever we may do to curtail the programs that we’re talking about now, we would in effect be giving Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden in this case a veto over U.S. activities, and I don’t think that’s the right way to run a national security program.”

And finally:

“When we have flaps like this that occur, you know, something will change, and I expect we’ll get some sort of announcement that we’ll – that the Europeans can point to as a curtailment and as a change. But as time goes by, flaps blow over, and the permanent interests of ourselves and our allies reassert themselves.”

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Katherine Dalton has worked as a magazine editor, freelance feature writer and book editor.  She started in journalism in college, working at The Yale Literary Magazine during most of its controversial few years as a national magazine of opinion based at Yale.  She then worked briefly at Harper's magazine in New York, and more extensively at Chronicles magazine in Illinois, where she was a contributing editor for many years.  She has has written for various publications ranging from the Wall Street Journal to the University Bookman, and was a contributor to Wendell Berry: Life and Work and Localism in the Mass Age: A Front Porch Republic Manifesto.  She lives in her native Kentucky.


  1. The unfortunate phrase “flaps blow over” brings to mind the time I was camping and a storm came up and blew the door flap over the top of the tent. The flap, although “blown over,” was still attached. Perhaps Mr Pillar hopes for a storm bad enough to tear the flap off altogether.

  2. To be hackneyed….:”Oh the complex webs we weave.”
    The blithe indifference to Civil Liberties afoot today as a result of “security” leads me inexorably to the conclusion that mercantilism has triumphed and we the people all lose as a consequence…tethered reliably to fear.

    Every time I hear “but everyone spies on each other” I want to wretch on the woodpile, not simply because this is true but it obfuscates the NSA’s lacking ability.

    This government sited a major computer facility in the Utah Desert, a place with scant rainfall and little aquifer resources needed for the cooling required. Subsequently, the place erupts in over-heated flames from time to time. Four times so far. Obviously, the Bolsheviks chose the place as a prime spot for dutiful employees as Utahns are significant employees of the IRS,
    FBI and CIA as well as the burgeoning private security industry….. but the furious scribblers failed to consider actual needs for their grand endeavor.

    The end is not near, just regular self-pummelings.

    What else is new?

  3. Yes. He is right. The “scandal is the revelation” — spoken from the perspective of a cockroach when the floor boards are pried up.

    This is an issue that has the potential to unite liberals and conservatives — and I hope that it does. Democracy functions only when the government’s working are transparent and known to citizens and the private activities and private speech of citizens are inaccessible to the government.

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