Europe is aghast at recent disclosures the United States has been spying on its citizens for more than a decade. The allegations also include assertions the NSA’s program is so vast that it includes spying on friendly governments, including friendly Heads of State.
In Berlin, Germans are furious at recent revelations the NSA’s spy programs include listening in on German Chancellor’s telephones and cell phones since at least 2002. While it is not clear whether then President Bush knew of, or authorized the listening, various German news outlets have alleged President Obama was also aware of the Angela Merkel intercepts since 2010. These statement have been contradicted by other reports suggesting that while President Obama signed off on the overall strategy, he was not asked, and not made aware of the actual targeted intercepts.
The Wall Street Journal has reported that those decisions were made at the NSA. Either way, critics are painting a picture of a President not in charge of his spy agencies, or a leader fully condoning such action.
Despite the furor from abroad, at least one key republican lawmaker has defended the practice.
Speaking Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press, Representative Peter King (R-NY) appeared to support the White House by saying, “We’re not doing this for the fun of it.” King, a senior member and former Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee suggested U.S. spying had saved many lives, including those of Germans. King, a vocal critic at times to the Obama Administration seemed to support the Administration’s position and suggested President Obama would do well if he would face critics of the program head on, without apology. King further said that, “This is to gather valuable intelligence, which helps not just us, but also helps the Europeans.”
Critics and allies were however not amused. German Chancellor Angela Merkel telephoned President Obama to directly express her grave concerns and has dispatched Germany’s top intelligence officials to Washington for a full accounting. While the contents of their conversation have not been released by either government, at least one outlet has reported that Obama apologized to Merkel and suggested that had he known about the spying he would have ordered it stopped. However, other news outlets are reporting that the spying was not limited to Germany and include at least thirty-five governments.
According to preliminary reports, the Bush Administration may have begun spying on Merkel’s predecessor Gerhard Schröder after he opposed U.S. intervention in Iraq. German government spokesperson Georg Streiter did not give an exact timeframe for the intelligence delegation’s trip to Washington, but he said it was being planned on “relatively short notice.”
The NSA’s spying on friendly governments has also led Paris to question Washington’s actions. Although this story is still developing, the French Government has also summoned U.S. officials for a full accounting and at least one German member of Parliament has suggested that the activity has likely broken German law.
Government officials appear split over the extent of the program with some believing intelligence activities, although well-intentioned, are now breaking domestic and international law all for the sake of upholding it.
At issue is whether the NSA’s spy program is a necessary evil to protect the country against foreign attack, or whether the program is so out of control that is knows no bounds, and heeds no law. Regardless of the outcome, America’s standing among its allies has already been weakened leading some to ask what other potential damaging disclosures are yet to come from the NSA Snowden leaks.
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