WASHINGTON — Allegations that the United States has been eavesdropping on some its European and Asian allies have created an international uproar. U.S. President Barack Obama and some former top officials are defending the U.S. surveillance as important for national security. But European lawmakers and officials are demanding an explanation and say relations may be damaged.
The National Security Agency [NSA] is at the heart of allegations by the former contractor Edward Snowden that the United States has targeted some of its allies for surveillance.
The German news magazine Der Spiegel reports the NSA eavesdropped on European Union offices in Washington, New York and Brussels, and that it has intercepted some half a billion phone calls, emails and text messages in Germany alone.
James Bamford has written several book on the NSA. He explains why Germany was a target.
“The interest in Germany would be economic, since it is the economic powerhouse in Europe, and political, because whatever happens in Europe pretty much goes through Germany at one point or another, it is being discussed in Germany,” said Bamford.
Bamford also pointed out that two of the September 11 hijackers studied in Hamburg, Germany.
German officials have expressed outrage at the revelations. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
''We are countries which are friends. There cannot be any justification with security aspects. At this point, clarification is urgently needed," he said.
During his recent visit to Tanzania, Obama said that European and Asian intelligence services are also trying to pry information from sources that are not open.
"I guarantee you that in European capitals, there are people who are interested in, if not what I had for breakfast, at least what my talking points might be should I end up meeting with their leaders," said Obama.
Former CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden told the CBS program Face the Nation that Snowden's disclosures will hurt U.S. intelligence sharing with its allies.
“Look, we cooperate with a lot of governments around the world. They expect us to be discrete about that cooperation. I cannot imagine a government anywhere on the planet who now believes we can keep a secret,” he said.
NSA’s access and technical capabilities, however, dwarf those of other countries, said author Bamford.
“The United States has the equivalent of a nuclear weapon in terms of eavesdropping. I mean we are armed with nuclear eavesdropping capabilities, basically, compared with the rest of the world."
Some European experts say Obama will have to do more than deliver speeches to calm the furor over privacy rights, especially as negotiations are set to start next week on a major new free trade agreement between the United States and the European Union.