Tom Enders on the Challenge of Dealing with the Cyber Threat: Don’t Overreact to the NSA Crisis


2013-11-05 by Thomas Enders, the CEO of EADS

German outrage over high-level mobile phone surveillance continues unabated, sweeping the nation in repeated waves.

Well-known anti-American agitators like Hans-Christian Ströbele have even journeyed to Moscow in order to castigate the US together with whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The debate is starting to seriously endanger relationships with Washington.

Beyond our borders, the German reactions are widely viewed as naïve, even hypocritical. Yes, spying on allied heads of government is naughty. And getting caught is embarrassing.

Washington now admits that the NSA went too far. And that should be the end of it.

This photo of Tom Enders was taken at a ceremony in North Carolina at the opening of the Spirit plant to work on the A350 program.  July 2010 photo is credited to SLD.
This photo of Tom Enders was taken at a ceremony in North Carolina at the opening of the Spirit plant to work on the A350 program. July 2010 photo is credited to SLD. 

It would be unrealistic to try and eliminate the problem with proverbial German thoroughness through a “no-spy” treaty. That would set the stage for new disappointments because all parties involved want to keep back doors open.

Where does espionage begin, and when would collecting information about allies become “out of bounds”, or even a treaty violation?

Should only modern, NSA-style electronic surveillance be prohibited or on-site human intelligence activities as well?

How would a treaty be verified?

Through counterespionage or incentives for whistle blowers like Mr Snowden?

Once could of course ratify a political declaration and return to business as usual.

But what would that achieve – aside from new illusions on the part of the do-gooders of this world?

Instead, the Germans should accept the world as it is and draw pragmatic policy conclusions.

Firstly, an old diplomatic cliché holds that nations don’t have friends, only interests. Spying on allies is nothing new, historically speaking, and not just an American misdeed. Our European partners and neighbors are also interested in knowing what’s going on in Germany.

Secondly, as an economic power, Germany is a natural target for espionage. Anyone who is really interested in this issue should look at more than just the US embassy in Berlin.

Thirdly, those wishing to defend themselves must possess the means for conducting counterintelligence and counterespionage. That fosters respect and creates options for cooperation where this is in a nation’s own interest. Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service BND must play in the same league as its British and French counterparts. However, the prerequisite for this is the corresponding political will.

Fourthly, research institutes, enterprises and their technologies and products need protection just as much as politicians’ communications. That fact is being lost sight of in this debate. IT enterprises and the aerospace industry are at particular risk. Siphoned-off know-how can rapidly destroy the competitiveness of entire industries.

Finally, it is not the NSA or Western intelligence services that pose the real threat to the economy, but rather aggressive, highly sophisticated cyber-attacks from other regions of the world.

European and American businesses have already been sharply confronted with this fact. Successful detection and countering of these attacks requires cooperation with the intelligence agencies of the West.

The new German government should resolutely undertake two actions: firstly, it should strengthen the German intelligence services – with an eye toward the new threats and to an extent commensurate with Germany’s economic, technical and political significance in the world. The corresponding capabilities of France and the UK should serve as the benchmark here.

Secondly, Germany should push the cooperation of Western intelligence agencies with each other and with private enterprise to fend off cyber-attacks that target key industries, technologies and infrastructure. Businesses, particularly high-tech enterprises, must be equipped with the resources for cooperating across borders and with government counterintelligence authorities.

Cyber-warfare is a reality.

It would be irresponsible to shy away from this challenge and instead foster the impression that the NSA represents the greatest danger to Western businesses and governments. The new dangers can only be effectively countered through close international cooperation.

This translation is taken from the original piece published in German in the German publication Handelsblatt from November 5, 2013.

Original Title: Geheimdienste aufrüsten 

Deutschland muss dem „Cyber-Warfare“ aus dem Osten die Stirn bieten können, sagt Tom Enders.

Credit Featured Image: Bigstock