On a recent morning, I strolled from East India Club - my temporary address while working from London - and went to watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Little did I know I would come away from the event with a novel insight into the controversial cyber-spying operations being run by British and American intelligence agencies.
Navigating through the tourist throng, I took a position near the front gate of the palace with a decent view of the marching red-coated soldiers in their towering bearskin hats. Near the end of the ceremony, the troops stood at attention while the military band formed a circle to perform a couple of numbers. I expected to hear a martial tune or maybe "Rule, Britannia." Instead, as if they were part of a Monty Python parody, the bandsmen played a medley of Stevie Wonder songs. If they weren't such fine and serious musicians, it would have seemed a bit goofy.
But then, as if to prove the bandmaster had a strong sense of irony and an eye on the headlines, the band launched into an even more surprising musical choice. I listened to the opening passages. Could it be? The rise and fall of the underlying three-note progression was unmistakable, familiar to any fan of a certain British spy with a license to kill. It was the theme to "Skyfall," the latest James Bond movie.
How wonderfully timely on a day when the news was filled with stories about Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower (or traitor, depending on your point of view) who fled his high-security post in Honolulu, high-tailing it to Hong Kong and on to Moscow, leaving a broad trail of damaging leaks all along the way.
The newest bit of information spilled from Snowden's stolen files is the revelation that, as big as the American spying operation may be, the British intelligence unit, GCHQ, is casting an even wider net to trawl through millions of phone calls far beyond the borders of the queen's realm. That has London buzzing - but not necessarily in a negative way.
In a country that is targeted by terrorist groups at least as often as is the United States, plenty of Brits are perfectly happy to have their real-life 007s gather all the information they need. Last Sunday afternoon, I shared brandy with a couple of gentlemen at the club who expressed the view that, for the safety of their country, a muscular spying operation is a necessity.
There is a bit of pride at work, as well, in this island nation whose days of empire are long past. As Conservative MP Ben Wallace observed in The Times of London, "in a world where knowledge is power, we punch above our weight."
Thus, it may be no surprise that the band of the palace guard had the James Bond theme on their program. As for the Stevie Wonder medley, that just shows how completely the entertainment culture of the U.S. and the U.K. have melded. Arguably, the two countries have never had more in common, and now Britain and America are sharing one more thing: condemnation from hypocrites in the international community who spy with gusto and ferociously protect their own secrets, yet who find it convenient to see Snowden as a hero and victim as he globe trots in search of safe haven.
David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times.