Sunday, October 27, 2013

Western Europe: France, Germany Unite Over NSA Economic Espionage, NSA on EU Summit Schedule

According to Reuters, the German government has obtained information that the United States may have monitored the mobile phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, resulting in her calling President Barack Obama on Wednesday (October 23) to demand an immediate response.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama had assured Merkel that the United States was not monitoring the communications of the Chancellor.

COMMENT: Either credible German news publications have engaged in disinformation or inaccuracies or President Obama's subordinates have concealed truthful information from him.

Yet, the strongly worded statement by Merkel's spokesman suggest that Germany is not fully satisfied with the US response. As a result, Germany demanded an "immediate and comprehensive" clarification of US surveillance practices. 

Merkel made "very clear that she views such practices, if proven to be true, as completely unacceptable and condemns them unequivocally." 

"Between close friends and partners, as Germany and the US have been for decades, there should not be such monitoring of the communications of a government leader. This would be a grave breach of trust. Such practices should be immediately stopped."

The news broke as Secretary of State John Kerry, on a visit to Rome, faced fresh questions about large-scale spying on European allies, based on revelations from Edward Snowden, the fugitive ex-US intelligence operative granted asylum in Russia.

To make matters worse, French President Francois Hollande is pressing for the US spying issue to be put on the agenda of a summit of European leaders starting on Thursday (October 24). French newspaper LE MONDE reported earlier this week that the National Security Agency (NSA) had collected tens of thousands of French phone records.

Just four months ago, Obama defended US anti-terrorism tactics on a visit to Berlin, telling Germans at a news conference with Merkel that Washington was not spying on German citizens, which has proved to be an incorrect statement.

The White House, rattled by the latest exposure based on leaks from Edward Snowden, said it is not now listening in on Merkel, but did not deny the possibility her communications may have been intercepted in the past.

Although President Obama perceives himself to be one of the smartest people on the planet, and claimed upon entering office that his Administration would be the most transparent in US history, that too, seemingly, is not an established fact.

In the wake of Snowden's ongoing revelations, several numerous friendly nations have already complained about American electronic surveillance, and the White House is struggling to stem increasing diplomatic damage.

A spokesman for Merkel, who has registered strong disapproval at US National Security Agency activities in the past, said his boss had called Obama after Germany received information that US intelligence may be spying on her mobile phone.

She had demanded "an immediate and comprehensive explanation" from Washington, the statement said.

"Among close friends and partners, as the Federal Republic of Germany and the US have been for decades, there should be no such monitoring of the communications of a head of government," the statement added, indirectly citing Merkel's comments to Obama.

The White House, embarrassed by the latest allegations of NSA spying on foreign leaders, came up with a hurried response to the telephone call. "The President assured the Chancellor that the US is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of Chancellor Merkel," said White House spokesman Jay Carney. Carney was then asked whether US spies could have inadvertently picked up Merkel's communications during a wider sweep of global telephone calls linked to a vast anti-terror program. Carney repeated the linguistic formulation of his earlier answer, in a way that did not deny the possibility that the NSA had indeed accessed Merkel's conversations in the past.

Carney stressed that Obama was reviewing the way Washington gathers intelligence "so that we properly balance the security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share."

Washington has said many of LE MONDE's claims were false, but Obama had another embarrassing call with a foreign leader when he spoke to French President Francois Hollande on Monday (October 21).

US officials have privately said that all nations, including its allies, conduct intelligence sweeps against foreign leaders -- and assume that Obama is a target of such activity.

But the Merkel revelations were the latest extreme embarrassment for Obama over the NSA affair, which has seen claims of US snooping on foreign leaders in México and Brazil and reports US spy agencies have monitoring millions of telephone calls worldwide.

Worse, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff last month cancelled a state visit to Washington over the scandal.

The latest revelations also threatened the personal trust and close cooperation between Obama and Merkel, which saw the US leader pay a long-awaited visit to Berlin earlier this year.

Obama considers the newly reelected German leader as one of his closest allies and friends on the world stage and has frequently spoken of his respect for her, although the US has acknowledged spying on Merkel's mobile phone in the past.

News of the eavesdropping suspicion and the stern German protest came first from Spiegel Online, whose parent magazine reported many of the US surveillance claims made by Snowden.

Spiegel Online said research by the news weekly had tipped the German government off to the potential surveillance, which authorities had considered "sufficiently plausible" for Berlin to confront Washington on the question.

Former Mexican leader Vincente Fox said Wednesday (October 23) that he was spied on by the US following reports that US intelligence agencies snooped on President Enrique Peña Nieto and his predecessor Felipe Calderon.

Peña Nieto, who took power in December 2012, has ordered an investigation into reports that NSA hacked into his emails while he was a candidate last year and Calderon's messages while in office.

Secretary of State John Kerry promised on Wednesday (October 23) that US authorities would look into whether their intelligence services may have illegally intercepted Italian telecoms data. Kerry met Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta during a visit to Rome, where he faced fresh questions about mass spying on European allies based on revelations by Edward Snowden, the fugitive ex-US intelligence contractor granted asylum in Russia.

The French government has called for the issue to be put on the agenda of the next European Union summit this week in Brussels. The French daily LE MONDE reported this week that NSA had conducted mass surveillance of French citizens.

Sadly, the Obama Administration has done far more than ruffled the feathers of EU leaders. In fact, numerous European governments have rightfully challenged the US government's presumptuous infringement on the privacy laws of a number of friendly nations in the EU that may simply distrust the US in the future to the detriment of multilateral relations in future US administrations. EU furor is unlikely to end.