We spent time as a young lawyer in the former Soviet Union, trying to help clients crack open some of the richest oil and gas deposits on earth.
It was great work and ultimately fruitful. But we admit to a lack of humility, not only back then but more recently, whenever our thoughts turned to that ‘Evil Empire.’
That, however, was before the Guardian’s revelations of our own government’s snooping, topped by this week’s stories about XKeyscore, an NSA tool that collects ‘nearly everything a user does on the internet.’
Circa ’88 to ’91, we contrasted the Free World with the USSR’s ‘surveillance state.’ That made it easy to tell everyone apart. And we thought it explained all you needed to know. In Moscow, for example, we had to deal with bored looking guys who would follow us around, leaving strange gifts in the hotel room to show they were watching.
Spooky yes. And proof, we thought, of the rightness of our Us-and-Them worldview. But that spooky stuff in Moscow was nothing compared to XKeyscore.
We’re not saying there’s a moral equivalence between the Yanks and the Soviets née Russians. The two don’t share a common history or experience and their outcomes have usually been very different. And nothing beats capitalism. So let’s leave that debate for another time and place.
Back then, though, we were willing to believe anything about the Sovs. If they had secret laws, as was rumored, it was our job to protect the clients. So we drafted clauses referring to ‘local laws, both published and unpublished.’ That last bit always seemed ridiculous — and a perfect indicator of why the USSR was so completely different from the U.S.
Since then we’ve learned a lot about the NSA and the invisible Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, so we know better.
Young men, the Book of Books says, glory in their strength. Whereas older men, if we’re lucky, might finally learn the hard lesson that Us and Them aren’t always so different after all.
Richard L. Cassin is the Publisher and Editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.