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i Editor's Letter: The spying game


If there’s one golden rule of spycraft, it must surely be – don’t get caught.

From Berlin, to Paris and Madrid, lots of European governments are in a flap about leaders’ phones being hacked into and citizens’ email being monitored, but Ms Merkel, and Messrs Hollande and Rajoy are largely playing to their domestic audiences now that the story is in the public domain – the outrage is faux and designed to temper the damage domestically, rather than to express any genuine anger with the Americans. Frankly, these countries would have been surprised if these things weren’t happening.

Stories like this are reported from time. Only yesterday, it emerged that USB sticks and phone chargers handed out to leaders at last month’s G20 meeting at St Petersburg may in fact have been bugging devices – all very Q’s laboratory – but what wasn’t reported was whether any leaders had actually used these things. Of course they hadn’t.

And who can forget our spooks’ ham-fisted attempts to listen in on our Russian cousins using a listening device that resembled – although not clearly enough – a rock, which was placed in the garden of some official building or another in Moscow. We got caught. It was embarrassing. The game goes on.

What may be a slightly different question is whether newspapers, including this one, should publish this sort of information when it materialises, or as David Cameron might prefer, we keep schtum in the interests of national security. When governments get caught, of course it’s embarrassing, but that’s not a good enough reason to withhold a story. Newspapers, are, generally speaking, pretty responsible species and have no interest in inviting Armageddon any more than the government of the day.