News / Europe

The Guardian: US Spied on 35 World Leaders

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and France's President Francois Hollande attend a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Oct. 24, 2013.
Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and France's President Francois Hollande attend a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Oct. 24, 2013.
Kent Klein
The Guardian newspaper reports that White House, Pentagon and State Department officials confirm the United States spied on the phone conversations of 35 world leaders.

The latest report comes as European leaders have united behind a furious Germany to denounce the United States for allegations it spied on its allies.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she has made it clear to U.S. President Barack Obama that spying on allies is unacceptable.

Speaking Thursday as she arrived at a summit of the European Union's 28 leaders in Brussels, Merkel said she told Obama during a telephone call Wednesday that "spying on friends is not acceptable at all."

"We need to have trust in our allies and partners and this trust must now be established once again," she said.      

The two leaders spoke Wednesday after allegations emerged that the U.S. National Security Agency had monitored Merkel's cell phone calls. During Wednesday's telephone call, Obama told Merkel the United States is not monitoring, and will not monitor her communications.

US ambassador summoned

Merkel summoned U.S. Ambassador John Emerson to meet Thursday in Berlin with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who was expected to "spell out the position of the German government."

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Obama called Merkel on Wednesday to discuss the situation.

"All I can tell you is what the President told the chancellor. The United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of the chancellor," said Carney.

German officials say that explanation is not good enough, because the U.S. is not saying that it has not tapped the chancellor's phone in the past.

The U.S. also was criticized in Brussels by the leaders of Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden and Austria.  Mexico and Brazil are investigating whether the NSA spied on their top officials.

Hollande underscores issue

French President Francois Hollande wanted the U.S. spying matter put on the EU agenda. His foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, pressed Secretary of State John Kerry on the issue this week.

"We, of course, agree to have cooperation in the fight against terrorism. This is essential. But this does not justify the act of listening to the personal data of millions of our compatriots," said Fabius.

Fabius said France agrees to cooperate in the fight against terrorism, but that does not justify listening to the personal data of millions of people.

James Andrew Lewis is the director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies. He said European reaction to the alleged U.S. spying is politically motivated, but it could damage the alliances nonetheless.

"A lot of it is for public consumption, but it's for their public. Their publics are angry, and the big problem we're looking at is there's been a change in European public opinion about the United States for the worse because of these spying scandals," he said.

Full disclosure and partnering

Lewis believes Washington should do a better job of addressing allies' anger about NSA activities.

"We need a different policy than not commenting on this publicly, and I know it's going to be difficult to come up with an explanation, but the U.S. needs to address the concerns of its European allies, and if we don't do that, we'll only see further harm to the Transatlantic relationship," said Lewis.

NSA Director Keith Alexander, who has announced plans to retire, recently said U.S. allies appreciate the data gathering because it also protects their countries from terror attacks.

"Many people have asked me, how has this impacted your relationship with allies? Here is what I get: 'Keep working with us. The intelligence you get us to defend our country is what we really need,'" said Alexander.

Many of the reports of NSA spying on allies came from leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Germany's defense minister said that if the alleged surveillance is confirmed, the U.S. and Germany could not simply return to business as usual.

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by: G N maina from: nigeria
October 25, 2013 6:32 AM
I think the phone conversation spying is well and ok by me, because if your conciance is clear nothing to worry about.

by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
October 25, 2013 4:27 AM
Vicious circle. Paranoia leads to punishing others and punishing others earns anger from others and leads to paranoia. That is too bad for the US ! I guess the only way for US to free from paranoia is to abandone the sense that justice would solve everything. There are hundreds of justice for hundreds of people.

by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
October 25, 2013 4:15 AM
I hope Japanese leaders have not been left away from this espionage.

by: Dr. Frank from: USA
October 25, 2013 1:09 AM
This is maddening. The government breaks the law it has been hired to enforce and violates the Constitution its agents have sworn to uphold; it gets caught and lies about it; and no one in government is punished or changes his behavior.

Then we realize that the so-called court that authorized all of this is not a court at all. Federal judges may only exercise the judicial function when they are addressing cases or controversies; and their opinions only have the force of law when they emanate from that context. But when federal judges serve an essentially clerical function, they are not serving as judges, their opinions are self-serving and legally useless, and their apparent imprimatur upon spying gives it no moral or legal legitimacy.

All of this -- which is essentially undisputed -- leads me to the question: Where is the outrage? I think the government has succeeded in so terrifying us at the prospect of another 9/11 that we are afraid to be outraged at the government when it claims to be protecting us, no matter what it does. C.S. Lewis once remarked that the greatest trick the devil has pulled off is convincing us that he does not exist. The government's greatest trick has been persuading us to surrender our freedoms.

Will we ever get them back? The answer to that depends upon the fidelity to freedom of those in whose hands we have reposed the Constitution for safekeeping. At present, those hands are soiled with the filth of totalitarianism and preoccupied with the grasp of power. And they seem to be getting dirtier and their grip tighter every day.

by: Ahole Govt from: USA
October 25, 2013 1:07 AM
Since the revelations about Verizon, we have learned that the NSA has captured and stored in its Utah computers the emails, texts, telephone conversations, utility bills, bank statements, credit card statements and digital phone books of everyone in America for the past two and a half years. It also has captured hundreds of millions of phone records in Brazil, France, Germany and Mexico -- all U.S. allies -- and it has shared much of the seized raw American data with intelligence agencies in Great Britain and Israel. Its agents have spied on their girlfriends and boyfriends literally thousands of times, and they have combed the collected raw data and selectively revealed some of it to law enforcement. All of this directly contradicts the Constitution.

And, if all of this is not enough to induce one to realize that the Orwellian future is here thanks to the secret governments of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Snowden also revealed that the NSA can hack into anyone's mobile phone, even when it is turned off, and use each phone as a listening device and as a GPS to track whoever possesses it.

When Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA, was confronted with this litany of unlawful and unconstitutional behavior, he replied by claiming that his spies have saved the U.S. from 54 terrorist plots. He pleaded with lawmakers not to strip him of the power to spy or of the billions they have given him to spend on spying, lest another 9/11 plot befall us. Many Americans were willing to make this trade: spy on 330,000,000 Americans in order to stop 54 plots. But the government lacks the moral and constitutional power to compel this trade, because the right to privacy is a personal, individual and inalienable right, and so it cannot lawfully be taken away by majority vote (which never happened) or by secret fiat (which did happen). The government also lacks the authority to spy without legal constraint on anyone it wishes, because that violates the Constitution and fundamentally changes our open and free society. All-hearing ears and all-seeing eyes and unconstrained power exercised in secret are a toxic mix destined to destroy personal freedom.

Now we know that Alexander has lied yet again to a congressional committee. He recently acknowledged that the number of plots foiled is not the stated-under-oath 54, but is either two or three. He won't say which two or three or how spying on every American was the only lawful or constitutional way to uncover these plots. He also won't say why he originally said 54, instead of two or three; but he did say last week that he will retire next spring.

by: Dr. Corey Burnfart from: USA
October 25, 2013 1:04 AM
Every American who values the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, every American who enjoys the right to be different and the right to be left alone, and every American who believes that the government works for us and we don’t work for the government should thank Edward Snowden for his courageous and heroic revelations of the National Security Agency’s gargantuan spying operations. Without Snowden’s revelations, we would be ignorant children to a paternalistic government and completely in the dark about what the government sees of us and knows about us. And we would not know that it has stolen our freedoms.

When I saw Snowden’s initial revelation — a two-page order signed by a federal judge on the FISA court — I knew immediately that Snowden had a copy of a genuine top-secret document that even the judge who signed it did not have. The NSA reluctantly acknowledged that the document was genuine and claimed that all its snooping on the 113,000,000 Verizon customers covered by that order was lawful because it had been authorized by that federal judge. The NSA also claims that as a result of its spying, it has kept us safe.

I reject the argument that the government is empowered to take our liberties — here, the right to privacy — by majority vote or by secret fiat as part of an involuntary collective bargain that it needs to monitor us in private in order to protect us in public. The government’s job is to keep us free and safe. If it keeps us safe but not free, it is not doing its job.
In Response

by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
October 25, 2013 8:00 PM
I do not think like you it is good for government to spy phonecalls. I feel it is a pity for Obama to have to suspect US nations and even its allys. But concerning the safty and freedom, I doubt there exists safty without any regurations. As far as we live in pubric, I guess we can not help accepting some regurations in private both set by ourselves or orthorities as typically shown in gun control issue. Thank you.


by: riano baggy from: indonesia
October 24, 2013 11:50 PM
maybe US afraid their old friends leave them because now US not supreme in economic and international policy.

by: Moshe Ben-Israel from: Tucson, AZ
October 24, 2013 5:39 PM
Every government in the world would be foolish not to think the NSA is spying on them. The NSA has been working on this elaborate spy system for over 30 years, which is well documented for the world to see. What do these other governments think the NSA was going to do with all that spy technology? The NSA built it and they’re going to use it, hell or high water.

by: Rudy Haugeneder from: Victoria, BC, Canada
October 24, 2013 4:15 PM
Heard a female news anchor on CNN this morning blast Merkel and other leaders for complaining that the United States is personally spying on them and intercepting their phone calls and other messages. She said these countries probably do exactly the same to President Obama. It just happens, she said, not revealing any sources other than her imaginative non-journalistic mind. She is a fool.

by: will from: chicago
October 24, 2013 1:06 PM
You know the United States is kind off reminding me of the soviet union in quite a few ways, We have a lot of uptight paranoid pols and they seem to think they know whats good for us and they think spying on allies and citizens will indear them to the public, I've only seen this kind of disregard for freedom from the likes of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
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