U.S. Faces More Blowback Over Revelations Of Spying On Allies

The blowback from yesterday's revelations about U.S. surveillance on European allies continues.

Half american - Half european flag waving in the wind - clipping path included

Yesterday’s revelations that the National Security Agency, and possibly other agencies of the U.S. Government, had engaged in electronic surveillance against the European Union and other U.S. allies is continuing to cause blowback among European diplomats and leaders:

LONDON — The leaders of France and Germany added their voices on Monday to the growing outrage over reports that the United States has been spying on its European Union allies, raising new suggestions that talks on a new trans-Atlantic trade agreement may be at risk.

President François Hollande of France issued some of the harshest language from a European leader, telling reporters during a visit in northwestern France that “we cannot accept this kind of behavior between partners and allies.” He said the spying should “immediately stop.”

In Berlin, a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Steffen Seibert, echoed Mr. Hollande’s anger over the eavesdropping. “We’re not in the cold war anymore,” he told reporters.

Mr. Hollande hinted that talks on a new trans-Atlantic trade pact, scheduled to start next week, should be delayed until questions over the spying issue were resolved. “We can only have negotiations, transactions, in all areas once we have obtained these guarantees for France, but that goes for the whole European Union, and I would say for all partners of the United States,” he said, according to a translation of his remarks reported by The Associated Press.

The anger overshadowed efforts by Secretary of State John Kerry to play down concerns about American surveillance, telling reporters at a conference of Southeast Asian nations in Brunei on Monday that “every country in the world” involved in international affairs engages in activities to protect its national security.

The latest accusations surfaced in the online edition of the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, which reported on Saturday that American agencies had monitored the offices of the European Union in New York and Washington. Der Spiegel said information about the spying appeared in documents that were obtained by Edward J. Snowden, the former American intelligence contractor, and were seen in part by the magazine.

On Sunday, the online edition of The Guardian in Britain reported additional details about the surveillance program. The newspaper said that one document it had obtained listed 38 embassies and diplomatic missions in Washington and New York, describing them as “targets.” It detailed a broad range of spying methods used against one, including bugs implanted in electronic communications gear and the collection of transmissions using specialized antennas.

The list of targets included the European Union’s missions and the French, Italian and Greek Embassies, as well as those of several other American allies, including India, Japan, Mexico, South Korea and Turkey, The Guardian reported.

The reports came at a time when there was already considerable tension between the United States and its European allies over Mr. Snowden’s earlier revelations of apparent American spying on officials of allied governments and the gathering of data on electronic communications by millions of people around the world.

In the latest accusations, the documents seen by The Guardian suggest that the intent of the eavesdropping against the union’s office in Washington was to gather inside knowledge of policy differences on global issues and other potential disagreements among member countries, the newspaper said. Catherine Ashton, the union’s top foreign policy official, said in a written statement on Sunday that the union was seeking “urgent clarification of the veracity of and facts surrounding these allegations.”

The president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, said in a statement that he was “deeply worried and shocked.” He added, “If the allegations prove to be true, it would be an extremely serious matter, which will have a severe impact on E.U.-U.S. relations.”

The United States and the European Union are scheduled to complete talks on the trans-Atlantic trade agreement by November 2014. Those talks are threatened by the spying accusations, according to Viviane Reding, the European Union’s commissioner for justice.

“We cannot negotiate over a big trans-Atlantic market if there is the slightest doubt that our partners are carrying out spying activities on the offices of our negotiators,” Ms. Reding said at a meeting in Luxembourg on Sunday. “The American authorities should eliminate any such doubt swiftly.

No doubt the nations that were targeted in this surveillance are already taking steps to beef up their own communications security. There’s also no doubt that the NSA will attempt to find new ways to intercept those communications in the future. Not to be cynical about it, but this is the cat and mouse game that nations, including friendly nations, have been playing since time immemorial. It really only becomes a problem when, as now, it becomes public. At that point, the leaders of the nation’s that were targeted for surveillance become politically obligated to issue the appropriate condemnations while at the same time, behind the scenes, relationships are really just continuing as they have in the past. This assessment depends, of course, on the assumption that what was revealed in yesterday’s reports constitutes the major outlines of what was going on in this particular NSA program and that there wasn’t some kind of more serious surveillance program against our allies going on underneath the surface.

That isn’t to say that this isn’t a problem for the Obama Administration. At the very least, as Walter Russell Mead points out, this is likely to be a major PR headache going forward:

 Espionage is a complicated game, and allies do sometimes keep an eye on each other in ways that aren’t exactly aboveboard. Indeed, the Times piece referred to a 2003 report alleging that the Justus Lipsius Building in Brussels, where many Eurocrats have their offices, was allegedly bugged by other Europeans.

Nevertheless, apart from the national security implications, the Snowden leaks have certainly caused a major PR headache for the administration. President Obama’s first-term ambition to restore America’s image in Europe after that rotten cowboy Bush had tarnished it appears to be in serious trouble.

Indeed, there have already been several protests in Europe over the NSA surveillance reports, most prominently in Germany which understandably has a long historic memory about such things. These protests occurred both when President Obama was in Europe earlier in June for the G-8 summit and his trip to Germany and as recently this weekend even before the latest revelations had become public. One imagines that yesterday’s stories are only likely to lead to more protests and a subsequent decline in America’s reputation among Europeans, which had started to improve in the wake of the damage it had suffered during the Bush years. That may not necessarily impact diplomatic relationships with our European allies, but as the Iraq War did, it’s likely to undercut the moral authority of the President of the United States as a voice on the world stage.

FILED UNDER: General, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. Ben Wolf says:

    The true pleasure in all this is watching our arrogant elites squirm and rage as their actions finally come under scrutiny.

  2. TPF says:

    Moral authority of a President of the United states???? Thanks for the laugh Doug.

  3. stonetools says:

    Either Snowden’s disclosures caused no harm whatsoever to the USA, (lots of OTBers) or Snowden’s disclosures DID cause significant harm to the USA (Doug, as of this afternoon) Surely, it can’t be both. Which is it?

    Also, too “I am shocked, shocked, that governments spy on each other.” Oh boy, “Pass me the smelling salts, Alice”. (clutches pearls).

  4. Spartacus says:


    Surely, it can’t be both. Which is it?

    It depends on whether you accept the premise that everyone already knows the U.S. is doing this stuff. If, as you’ve claimed from the start, everyone already knows this, then no harm could possibly have come from this.

    But even if everyone did not already know this, those who claim harm has occurred will have to describe that actual harm. At the moment, the only “harm” I can possibly think of is that EU leaders will find it more difficult to make trade agreement concessions due to pressure from their political constituents. But you seem to reject even the possibility of this kind of harm because you claim that the EU protestations are merely a display of faux outrage.

    In any event, even if the kind of harm I described actually materializes, I think it is a very small price to pay in order to have these policy discussions.

  5. Just Me says:

    I think the revelations are more PR, egg on your face problems than a real security threat, and I imagine in secret all these governments to one degree or another are spying on each other, but they like to act as if they aren’t.

    My guess is the various countries will say their piece in regards to the spying then everyone will move forward as if it didn’t happen in public but will be wary in private and a little more diligent.

  6. walt moffett says:

    While it is reasonable to assume the NATO members are aware at the government level, their voters have not been. Easily rousable Anti-Americanism by opposition parties, memories of the Stasi (and other midnight door knockers), upcoming elections, all make it easy to see why officialdom is responding to the voice of the people.

  7. WJS says:

    Funny how our allies in Europe conveniently forget the Napoleonic Era, among many others, when nation/states routinely spied on one another using special agents, eavesdropping, intercepted mail, and “companions” in order to extract information from one another.

    Spying is expected and quite normal and to cite the Hitler years is laughable.

  8. walt moffett says:


    Always funny to see how some folks forget Europe’s history from 1945 to 1989 and things such as the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, link is to a wiki article about same, let alone a Bulgarian assassin with a ricin injecting umbrella, Putin’s service as a KGB officer in West Germany, etc.

  9. PJ says:

    @walt moffett:

    Always funny to see how some folks forget Europe’s history from 1945 to 1989 and things such as the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, link is to a wiki article about same, let alone a Bulgarian assassin with a ricin injecting umbrella, Putin’s service as a KGB officer in West Germany, etc.

    You do know that that’s the history of the Eastern Bloc? Were they allies of the US from 1945 to 1989? No, that was the Western Bloc…

  10. michael reynolds says:

    It introduces some minor, purely political problems that will all be gone in a few months.

    I don’t think Snowden/Greenwald have done great harm, they’ve been a pain in the ass, a distraction, a political embarrassment. So it’s not murder, just attempted murder. Snowden doesn’t deserve execution just imprisonment. Or, even more cruel, we could strand him in a Moscow airport hotel.

  11. Tran says:

    Wow, funny how we forgot the history of the communist regime spying on it’s populace to an unprecedented degree. East Germany was also totally a legitimate state and demonstrations against it were not crushed by Soviet military might. And the elections were not shams, and it was not a dictatorship. And all those Germans who lived under the East German regime are total hypocrites for being enraged about invasive surveillance. (sarcasm off)

  12. Sam Malone says:

    “we cannot accept this kind of behavior between partners and allies.”

    cool…we’ll just pick up our toys and go home.
    let me know how you guys make out after that.

  13. Tran says:

    @Sam Malone: I would guess pretty well. Come back to us when you try to get your troops into the Middle East without traveling through Europe first.

  14. Sam Malone says:

    Right…let’s see you stop us.

  15. Rob in CT says:

    Strange, I just posted and it was caught in the spam filter.

  16. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Tempest in a teapot. France is, AFAIK, the world’s worst perpetrator of industrial espionage. All countries spy on one another, and know / expect that they will be spied on in return.

    To pretend otherwise, or to pretend that this brouhaha will change anything in the slightest, is self-delusion.

  17. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Come back to us when you try to get your troops into the Middle East without traveling through Europe first.

    You mean the thousands and thousands and thousands of US troops that are already IN Europe? LOL

    Europe doesn’t have the wherewithal to dictate anything, to anybody.

  18. Tran says:

    @HarvardLaw92: There would be no troops in Europe because you will “pick your toys and go home”. I assumed this meant to withdraw all troops out of Europe? If that was not what Sam Malone meant then I am sorry to have misunderstood him.

    And really, what will the US do if the Europeans refuse permission to cross Europe? You could no doubt force the issue, but not without taking losses yourself and oh, enraging one of your most important trading partners. And Europe HAS the werewithal to dictate things, not least big US firms who try to play monopolists and discover that EU regulations can stop that quite effectively, leveling billions in fines in the process. And just so you know, Europe has a bigger military than Russia, and Russia refused the US access to it’s country as a way to supply Afghanistan, which forced costly delays on US resupply. And still the US did not or could not fight their way through Russia. Perhaps you believe the US is unstoppable, but if Europe were determined to deny the US transit through Europe it could stop it.

    This is largely academic because we are still allies, but perhaps times will change and both sides will discover how valuable the mutual friendship was.

  19. Tillman says:


    Perhaps you believe the US is unstoppable, but if Europe were determined to deny the US transit through Europe it could stop it.

    Perhaps if the EU was a political union it could, but it is only an economic one. Militarily, “Europe” cannot front an army. SAFE does not compare to the U.S. military.

    I’m not saying the Europeans couldn’t stop us, I’m saying it’s not nearly as cut and dry as you make it. Besides, we’re smart. We don’t want to fight you, not after World War II demonstrated how well you all fight each other.

  20. Tillman says:

    Again, this is over projected images coming in conflict with underlying reality. No one thinks about this stuff, and their naive view of it says allies wouldn’t spy on each other. This won’t do real damage unless politicians start losing elections [partly] over it.

    I mean, I imagine the ones making the biggest fuss who are in power probably already had reservations about the trade talks. This gives them something to unite around.

  21. the Q says:

    Wow, if Obama the liberal does this spying, yawn. If the evil Cheney was doing it, off with his head.

    Obama is getting a pass for all the schitt that he has been doing. Not closing Gitmo, prolonging the wars, spying on an unprecedented scale, not pushing greater stimulus and redistributing wealth etc.

    Christ, if I wanted a douchebag Republican President, I would have voted for that idiot MItt.

    Obama gets away with it, like Alec Baldwin’s obvious homophobic rant is ignored and Paula Dean is crucified.

    Whats up with you fellow libs? Just about all of you are gainsaying this issue with the lame, “they are all doing it too” argument.

    That dog won’t hunt, sorry.

    I’ve voted Dem since Adlai Stevenson, so don’t lecture me about being a true liberal.The boomer style of faux liberalism and the old New Dealers who shredded the bankers and enforced anti trust laws are galaxies apart. RIP Frank Church.

  22. HarvardLaw92 says:


    You keep referring to Europe as though it were a nation instead of a loosely joined economic collective (in which member states can’t seem to agree on much of anything beyond the vigorous retention of their own national identities …)

    For example, Britain isn’t going to got to war with the US if, for example, the US was to pummel France. Likewise Germany. Heck, as much as the British dislike the French, they’d be more likely to join the attack than to defend France.

    We won’t even get into European defense cuts, which have hollowed out defensive forces to the point where there are serious doubts that they continue to represent a viable presence in NATO.

    France, for example, has the largest active duty military within Europe – about 243,000 active troops. That’s across all services.

    The US Army alone has over 500,000 active duty troops. Add in another 319,000 for the Navy, 332,000 for the Air Force and 195,000 in the Marines.

    Short version: we’re not worried about Europe.

    To paraphrase King Henry:

    “The Vexen’s mine …”

    “By what authority?”

    “It’s got my troops all over it. That makes it mine …”

  23. michael reynolds says:

    @the Q:

    I’m a liberal, not quite as old as you, though, since 1972 was my first vote. (Nixon. Oy.)

    This has nothing to do with it being Obama. Liberalism has outgrown its 1960’s people vs. “The Man” thing, as well as the knee-jerk anti-military mentality that came (understandably to some extent) post-Vietnam.

    I’ve never had a problem with spying. On the contrary, I’m all for it. And of course we spy on our allies, just as they spy on us. You don’t think France is reading the cable traffic in and out of the Paris embassy? Please.

    Anyone who thought Obama intended to be soft on terrorism or somehow a peacenik just wasn’t paying attention in 2008. He said clearly and often that he intended to up the drone war and take the fight to Al Qaeda. That’s what he’s done. Obviously that aggressive posture rests on good intel. Good intel is the difference between hitting an Al Qaeda cell and blowing up some poor shepherd’s wedding. Smart weapons demand good intel. A war against diffuse terror cells demands good intel.

    So, yes, this is the Obama I voted for twice. If you’re surprised it’s because you deceived yourself or assumed Obama was deceiving all of us.

  24. fred says:

    Pundits like Rachel Maddox and Eugene Robinson foster this negative world reaction to USA protecting its citizens by national security measures that most countries would love to have to employ. They are so naive that they believe that in this age of electronic technology citizens must expect a certain level of personal privacy. Nonsense. When there is technology that can pick up a needle from outer space there is no longer personal privacy as many progressives and naive citizens think. Just be thankful that we live in the USA and there are laws that prohibit our govt from abusing us at their will. That is where checks and balances in our country play a part but national security must take priority over one’s own personal privacy and don’t worry to write about the slippy slope. That argument has been used in our history for hundreds of years and has proven to be without any merit. Freedom is NEVER free.

  25. Tillman says:


    That is where checks and balances in our country play a part but national security must take priority over one’s own personal privacy and don’t worry to write about the slippy slope. That argument has been used in our history for hundreds of years and has proven to be without any merit.

    If we’re honest with ourselves, there have been people warning us every step of the way about diminishing privacy. The problem is the convenience of new technology outpaces the hindrance to personal privacy.

    I mean, let’s not pretend we weren’t warned. Let’s at least face the choice of convenience over privacy with full attention to its pros and cons. That’s what this whole debate reduces to eventually, if you take it far enough.

  26. michael reynolds says:


    Exactly. At some point I stopped paying any attention to terms of service and privacy disclosures. So did probably 99% of people.

    With new powers (the internet) come new vulnerabilities. Thus always. There are always trade-offs. There are always imperfect solutions. Modern technology has meant a huge swing in favor of the individual against the state. The individual is empowered as never before in human history. This is just the state taking a tiny bit of that back. It is not Big Brother. It is not Stalin. It is not Hitler. It’s a tiny bit of pendulum swing.

  27. Spartacus says:


    When there is technology that can pick up a needle from outer space there is no longer personal privacy as many progressives and naive citizens think.

    This is the complete opposite of the govt’s position. The govt maintains that we do still have personal privacy and that that privacy is infringed only in very narrow circumstances, only after review by a judge and only through a process that is subject to Congressional oversight. Your claim and the govt’s claims cannot both be true.

    If you are correct and, contrary to the govt’s claims, all of our communications are subject to govt review, why does the govt continue to claim this is not the case? Either the govt intends to lie to the public or one part of the govt doesn’t know what the other part is doing or both. And why would or should the govt lie if everyone except the most naive already believes that the govt does this? And, we already know of the lack of oversight as evidenced by the fact that the head of the NSA can perjure himself before his Congressional overseers with complete impunity.

    Many of us who are glad that Snowden made these disclosures are worried that govt can and will abuse its power without proper oversight. You and others call that a slippery slope and, in some respect, that is accurate. But the overwhelming weight of evidence shows that govt agencies do abuse their power if there is not effective oversight or accountability, which clearly is not present here.

    @michael reynolds:

    I read one of your earlier comments on a different thread wherein you stated that fears of govt overreach are born out of Orwell’s 1984. I didn’t have the opportunity to comment then, but I think it would be hard for you to be more wrong about this. It’s not the fictional tale of 1984 that worries people. It’s the abuses disclosed in the factual reports of the Church Committee. [I’m not claiming the Church reports were popular reading (neither is 1984) – only that the abuses disclosed in them became part of pop culture.] Those govt abuses led to the creation of many of the checks and balances (e.g. FISA) that have been greatly weakened during the War on Terror. We have a record that shows what govt does when the protective measures we’ve put in place are not there.

    Have we weakened those protective measure so much that a repeat of the abuses disclosed by the Church reports is imminent? I sincerely doubt it, but I don’t really know and neither does anyone else because the Congressional Cmte charged with oversight doesn’t have all the facts and even once they get those facts they don’t have any authority to stop any abuses because of their confidentiality obligations.

    The reason many people (including myself) disdain “slippery slope” arguments is that the feared long-term effect is so speculative and so distant that the chain of events that is necessary to bring it about is so unlikely that is not worth worrying about. However, we know from recent U.S. history that the kinds of abuses that occur from unfettered secrecy and govt spying are not so speculative or distant.

  28. the Q says:

    Mr. Reynolds, I respectfully disagree on some of your points, but voting Nixon in 72? I bet your friends will never let you live that one down!

    I think many conservatives believe that the history of the US began when Reagan become President and that before St. Ron, we lived in a dystopian, socialist hell hole, with bread lines and sluggish growth and high inflation, in short, they believe that Jimmy Carter WAS the USA and that the US never would dare tax the “job creators” at 90% or break up monopolies or raise the minimum wage every year.

    Perhaps Obama miscast himself and is just the typical baby boomer Democrat, i.e. a Schweiker Republican. A little liberal on social issues, but really a friend to Wall Street.

    Clinton destroyed Glass Steagall at the insistence of Rubin (who literally made hundreds of millions of $$$) and Obama listened to putzes like Larry Summers about mitigating the stimulus.

    In short, modern liberalism means advocating gay marriage, admitting undocumented students at UC Berkeley who legally are not able to hold jobs when they graduate and defending terminating 8 month pregnancies. This gets all the attention and I agree with most of that agenda.

    But modern liberalism sure aint about destroying the military industrial intelligence complex, breaking up too big to fail Wall Street investment banks, radically altering wealth concentration, reigning in foreign entanglements etc.

    The boomers are a huge disappointment to those of us who remember how “economically liberal” America truly was and how mamy sell outs society has seduced to simpering wimps who go along as long as they get their bonus and vacation in Lake Como.

    In short, a thoroughly corrupted left wing political culture with the likes of Clinton, Obama, Feinstein masquerading as something they are not. Now, Barbara Boxer is the true liberal and she is 72, born in 1940. Feinstein married a billionaire and is a disgrace.

  29. michael reynolds says:

    @the Q:

    Dude, I won’t let myself live down the Nixon thing. But within weeks I was literally in front of the WH holding a “Honk for Impeachment” sign. Remember how at first a lot of us thought Nixon wasn’t dumb enough to have participated in Watergate? Well. . .

    I think you’re basically right in what you write above. Liberal has come to be liberal on social policy. But I smell a change in the air. I think the current situation, where 1% owns just about everything, is untenable. I sit here on my deck in Tiburon every day looking out at money and privilege. (And there’s some of that in the mirror, too.) I think the pendulum has swung too far and must inevitably swing back.

    But don’t despair. Obamacare may be messy but it has established the principle that basic health care is a right in this country and that it’s up to all of us to make sure that at very least the working man doesn’t have to die broke and living in a cardboard box just because he gets sick. That’s a pretty good bit of pendulum swinging back.

  30. rudderpedals says:

    @the Q: I found your comment disturbing because my heart says you’re right but my mind can’t see the way to get there.