Under-reported Surveillance Issues

Berlin -- German press coverage of NSA surveillance issues differs from U.S. press coverage in two ways that deserve more attention.

One issue is the disgust of the German government about not only the NSA's spying on its top leaders, but the failure to keep it secret. German regard for the competence of the NSA is low. This will surely affect future bilateral relations where trust and cooperation are necessary.

The other issue is U.S. spying that is related to trade, not terrorism. The upcoming trade talks, according to the German press, are threatened by the U.S. government's deployment of its vast counter-terrorism spying network in the service of dubious American corporate trade advantages.

A prime example is the all-out U.S. push -- including surveillance of foreign trade offices -- to break the resistance of European governments to deal in genetically modified crops. This comes at a time when enthusiasm for GMOs is in retreat in many scientific quarters. Experience is showing that GMOs have been oversold; evolution is overcoming gene modifications; many farmers are now using more toxins for pest control than before; neonicotinoids produced by GMOs are threatening crop pollinators and thus the viability of the whole food chain.

These two issues -- much under-reported in the U.S. press -- are driving otherwise strong trans-Atlantic allies apart. The U.S. government will have to deal with both of them.

Time to Come Out of the Shadows

Berlin -- A few days ago I lunched in Berlin with several Americans who have long lived in this city. Forty years ago, some of them were under illegal surveillance by U.S. military intelligence. I briefly described the circumstances in a post last summer; since that time, Ann Wertheimer (assisted by several of her colleagues) has written a documented account of the surveillance, the whistleblowers who revealed it, and the successful court case that followed.

This effort has brought many fascinating facts to light and raises even more questions. Among the remaining unknowns is the identity of the whistleblower within U.S. military intelligence who contacted Senator Lowell Weicker about the illegal spying on Americans in Berlin.

Last month I talked to Bill Wickens, whom the senator dispatched to Germany in 1973, about his clandestine meeting with the whistleblower to gather evidence. He said the meeting did not take place in Berlin, but many miles outside of Bremen, in a car; the two used code names (the whistleblower's was Mr. "John Adams"). The whistleblower was an Army officer but Wickens said he destroyed all papers with his true identity, as the officer wanted absolute confidentiality.

We don't know if the Army officer ever learned what happened to the documents he provided. The papers themselves were first delivered into Senator Weicker's possession at his Virginia home. The day the senator was to take them to the Senate, according to Wickens, he accidently left them atop his car and they started to blow off as he crossed Memorial Bridge. The senator stopped and ran after them, but only after some had been run over by a truck, which left tire tracks on many of the papers.

Happily, the Army whistleblower's actions eventually led to an important settlement in 1980 in which the U.S. government agreed to limit its surveillance of Americans to instances where illegal activities are suspected. This raises the obvious question, in this day and age, of just when this agreement was overturned, or whether it should still be in effect.

Like the Americans in Berlin who stood up for their rights and were vindicated, the unknown military intelligence officer should be recognized. He is the rare -- perhaps unique -- example of a national security whistleblower who effected major change without breaking any laws. Does he even know the consequences of his actions? If he is still alive, it is long since time for him to come out of the shadows and be honored for what he did in the cause of protecting Americans' civil liberties. (I would welcome anyone with further information about this case to contact me, confidentiality assured if requested.)

As to the lunch group that met a few days ago, were we under surveillance? It seems so, as surveillance is now ubiquitous and threatens our freedoms under the Bill of Rights. People in Berlin are particularly sensitive to surveillance excesses. It's time to look back to the 1980 settlement as a guide to what is allowed and what isn't.

Troubled Colleges: Become an Experimental Site

Washington -- Many colleges are discovering that the high tuition, high (merit) aid, high student-debt model of enrollment management may have run its course. In a previous post, I suggested colleges that want to move away from this model should contact the U.S. Department of Education with an alternative, to be tested under the so-called "experimental sites" authority of the Secretary.

Since that post, the Department has published an invitation in the federal register for colleges to make applications to be designated experimental sites.

Colleges often complain about the high cost of regulatory compliance. A good application might also provide a way for colleges to explore, with the Department's cooperation, regulatory relief as a trade-off for serving more of the students the Department is supposedly assisting through its programs.

Perhaps a college or university already has an enrollment management model that complements the goals of the Department's programs (rather than contradicts them) and has reason to believe it would be scalable, as a model for more institutions. The Department should be eager to approve such a model as an experimental site.