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Ehud Barak: 'It's a wake-up call'

Spencer Kimball, Rob Mudge
November 13, 2013

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak tells DW that the controls on intelligence agencies should probably be tightened as a consequence of the NSA affair. But he warns that citizens shouldn't be naïve about security.

Image: Reuters

You mentioned during your presentation at the Cyber Security Summit in Bonn that offensive capabilities are greater than defensive capabilities in terms of cyber security threats. With the NSA affair, we've seen the extent to which governments are able to conduct surveillance on foreign leaders, private citizens and industry. What can these groups do to protect themselves against such surveillance?

"I don't think that we should look at it as a competition or struggle between the American government or other governments and individual citizens. I don't think that the American government, by allowing the NSA to do what it is doing, intended to spy on individual citizens. Basically, I believe them. They are trying to block terror, and probably they drifted into somewhat of a more general kind of operation.

The real answer is not to be taken by citizens, but by government. If the German government or the French government or other governments in Europe want to discuss this issue with America and they expect the Americans to be responsive, they have to sit together and clarify what happened."

You mentioned at the cyber summit that when you traveled to foreign capitals, you were always working under the assumption that intelligence agencies were conducting surveillance on you and were observing you. In Germany, the news that surveillance was conducted against Chancellor Angela Merkel has caused quite an uproar both among the people and politicians. Why wasn't Chancellor Merkel operating from the same assumption as you?

"It's probably because I spent decades in the intelligence services of Israel and was exposed to most other leading intelligence services in the world. So I took it as an assumption - I cannot tell you that I was surveilled. I think it's an embarrassing surprise to find that Chancellor Merkel was listened to. But you know, probably that's the positive aspect of this whole event, that somehow it's a wake up call. It's an opportunity to sit together."

If intelligence agencies across the world are conducting these activities, if Israel is working closely with the US and if the Europeans are working closely with the US, then why was there such surprise when these revelations were made about NSA surveillance?

"For me it was not a big surprise. I don't think that people who are dealing with intelligence or who are deep into these issues of national security ... and intelligence had been surprised. And probably there's something to correct here, and it should be corrected and we should continue. It shouldn't drive us into the opposite end of the spectrum and become naïve and ineffective as a result of these revelations."

Barak has served as Israeli's prime minister, foreign minister, defense minister and head of the Directorate of Military Intelligence, among a host of other posts.

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