By Mick Krever, CNN
Revelations over American spying methods may have a chilling effect on the West’s ability to gather intelligence from terrorists Richard Barrett, the former director of global counter terrorism for British intelligence, suggested in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday.
On the one hand he said, terrorists – like ordinary people who send emails – know that their exchanges could probably be monitored but continue nonetheless to communicate.
“Obviously they’re much more careful than the average person,” he said. “But they will use communication methods, they’ll get careless occasionally – they’ll make slip-ups, they’ll reveal telephone numbers and things like that.”
It is something that Glenn Greenwald, the columnist who broke the NSA spying story, suggested to Amanpour on Monday.
“Every terrorist who’s capable of tying their own shoes has long known that the U.S. government and the UK government are trying to monitor their communications in every way that they can,” Greenwald said.
But Barrett suggested that that idea missed the point.
Terrorists will continue to communicate freely “until they’re reminded, ‘Look, this is dangerous, this affecting us directly, we’d better be more careful.’ And then they close up again.”
Whether terrorists will change their communication methods is unclear, he told Amanpour.
That is just the kind of chilling effect, however, that American officials have suggested the revelations over American spying methods might have.
Barrett also contended that outrage over American spying might be casting the issue too much as black and white.
“I think there are various continuums at work here,” he said from Islamabad, Pakistan. “All countries have friends, they have allies, they have rivals, they have enemies.”
“There’s absolutely no doubt that one of the roles of the State Department, for example, will be to report on what they understand to be the leadership intentions in Germany,” despite Germany being a “very close friend” of America, he told Amanpour.
Where a country lies on the spectrum of friend to foe, he suggested, will determine how the intelligence service will gather information: whether it uses overt of covert methods and how much risk it is willing to take on.
“It depends,” he said, “where your target country appears on that continuum.”