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.
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.