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NSA surveillance revelations sour German perception of Obama

January 30, 2014 at 6:27 PM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: As Secretary of State John Kerry prepares for his visit to Germany tomorrow, chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner takes another look at the country’s outrage over U.S. surveillance programs.

Tonight, she talks to a rising star in German politics, who tells her that many in his country are disappointed with the American president, who at one time spurred so much hope.

MARGARET WARNER: German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday again criticized Washington for its electronic surveillance of German citizens, including herself.

CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL, Germany (through translator): A program where everything that is technically possible has been done, it harms trust. In the end, there will be less, not more security.

MARGARET WARNER: Her transatlantic coordinator is 34-year-old parliamentarian Philipp Missfelder. Though their center-right party has long stood by the U.S./German alliance, he’s been a blunt critic of NSA surveillance and is now the point man dealing with Washington on tough issues facing the two allies.

We spoke this morning in the parliamentary office building in Berlin.

Philipp Missfelder, thank you for having us. Congratulations on your new job.

PHILIPP MISSFELDER, German Coordinator for Transatlantic Cooperation: Thank you very much.

MARGARET WARNER: In her speech yesterday, Chancellor Merkel said, not only was NSA spying in Germany undermining trust between our countries, but that would actually undermine security. Does that undermine the kind of cooperation against global threats, say, terrorism? Is Germany cooperating less with the United States now as a result of this?

PHILIPP MISSFELDER: No, of course not.

We depend on the security and help we get from the United States. The United States will remain as our best friend in the world and our best ally. And this is the reason that we didn’t have so many — no terror — in fact, no terrorist attack in the Germany, was also the help by the Americans.

But this is the kind of double standard we have in this debate, that on the one hand side, we wish to have the support of the United States of America. On the other side, we have a complete other culture about data.

MARGARET WARNER: Explain to Americans why this issue has struck such a nerve here in Germany, of all the European countries.


It’s a big cultural question in Germany, because most people in our country have the history in mind of Stasi or the DDR surveillance system.


PHILIPP MISSFELDER: From Eastern Germany.

And also much older people remember how the Nazi Party controlled everything. And this is something which, yes, has a big impact in every debate when it comes to data.

MARGARET WARNER: So, how do you resolve that?

PHILIPP MISSFELDER: There is no solution for this debate, because one point is, of course, that the expectations towards President Obama himself were so big.

The people believed that the messiah is coming to Germany, and it’s restoring the trust which was damaged by the legacy of President Bush. And now a lot of people are disappointed that he’s not stopping the NSA, that he’s continuing the program.

MARGARET WARNER: So real disappointment in President Obama himself as a person here?


If Dick Cheney would be in charge of all these programs, a lot of people wouldn’t be surprised, because that would be exactly what the people have expected during the Bush era. This is the opposite of Obama. Obama was seen as the one who takes care of the Europeans or responds to the — people presented him in 2008 here in Berlin. And they’re really disappointed by him.

MARGARET WARNER: U.S. intelligence officials say that, in fact, Germany is a perfectly appropriate target for fairly widespread surveillance, that you’re a crossroads here in Europe. Some of the 9/11 hijackers plotted this attack in the so-called Hamburg cell here.

Are they right about that?

PHILIPP MISSFELDER: Germany is the most important country in Europe.

And we became important for many people and for many immigrants who came to us. Many Russians are here and many people from the Middle East. And this is something which makes Germany very interesting also for spying or business activities, for everything.

And I would agree that for anybody who is interested in information, that this is one of the hot spots.

MARGARET WARNER: And so what would be the appropriate level or the appropriate approach, in your view, for the U.S. intelligence community to take toward Germany?

PHILIPP MISSFELDER: From our point of view, there is no difference between the cell phone of our chancellor and the cell phone of the person working in retail shop, for example.

It is completely different when it comes to people who are known by our security intelligence, who are known by the American authorities coming here, hiding here in Germany, for example. This is something we should specify and where we should cooperate when it comes to the fight against international terrorism.

MARGARET WARNER: The German magazine Der Spiegel revealed, based on the Snowden papers, that, in fact, right on top of the new U.S. Embassy, which is right next to the Brandenburg Gate, is one of these super-secret intelligence collection hubs, and, in fact, is used to spy on all these government buildings.

What did you think when you learned that?

PHILIPP MISSFELDER: I was really shocked, because, if you find out these kind of details, most of — everybody is shocked, because then you know who it was, when it was, where it was. And this is something completely …

MARGARET WARNER: Has Angela Merkel’s government received any satisfaction from the Americans on any of these issues, other than not spying on her cell phone?

PHILIPP MISSFELDER: Honestly, so far not.

We haven’t had the progress yet we need. And I hope we are able to manage it until the chancellor has her visits in June in America. We should continue our cooperation, because there are much more important things than big data. One point is a free trade agreement. I hope that we can focus on the more important issues among all these partners than about only one Mr. Snowden event.

MARGARET WARNER: Speaking of Mr. Snowden, there’s something of a boomlet here to grant him asylum. Can you imagine that happening here in Germany?

PHILIPP MISSFELDER: No, I don’t think so.

If he would be invited to Germany, we would deliver him to the United States of America, because we have an agreement with America. And we still believe in this agreement. And that means that we trust each other. And the legal system — I trust also the legal system in America, that they would take care of him.

MARGARET WARNER: So, what will the chancellor say to Secretary Kerry on this NSA surveillance question when he visits tomorrow?

PHILIPP MISSFELDER: We don’t have any kind of leverage to threaten America.

The only argument we have is our word, that we say our people are unhappy. And I think the American leadership needs a German population which is on their side, on the right moral side. And this is something where America was always — yes, was always on the moral high ground. And this is not perceived right now.

MARGARET WARNER: Philipp Missfelder, thank you so much. And good luck on this job.

PHILIPP MISSFELDER: Thank you very much.