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Embassy Barometer – Embassy 50

London’s diplomats divided over snooping allegations

In an Embassy poll on the acceptability of spying on allies, just over half the respondents said it was not acceptable to bug a friendly head of state or their diplomats, while 45% admitted snooping was “an old diplomatic practice using new tools”.

As one ambassador put it: “Spying, including on the high officials of friendly countries, has always been a feature of any state, it just didn’t get into the mainstream media. It is either naïve to assume that it was all sweet and nice or it is hypocritical to claim it’s [wrong].”

Diplomats stated that reasons for spying on allies would most likely be to gain commercial or diplomatic advantage.

A clear majority (88%) felt snooping on citizens of friendly nations was “sometimes justified” for national security reasons.

Most respondents said damage to bilateral relations would be short term. One envoy said diplomacy was suffering from “transparency fatigue” created by the likes of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.

Asked if tighter rules would curb spying, the diplomat continued: “No spying is like no meat for sharks. It is in the nature of intelligence institutions to spy, friend or enemy. And who said that a friend will always stay a friend, while an enemy is an enemy forever?”

The results of the survey, while providing an interesting snapshot, are not scientific because of an understandably lower than normal response on a sensitive subject.

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