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‘Eavesdropping on Friends’? Euro Allies React to Reports That NSA Bugged Offices

July 1, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: New information about American intelligence activities is causing a rift with allies in Europe.

Ray Suarez explains.

RAY SUAREZ: The latest U.S. surveillance revelation topped the front page of Germany’s Der Spiegel weekly newspaper yesterday.

The report, based on yet another leak from former CIA contractor Edward Snowden, alleged the National Security Agency bugged European Union offices in Washington, New York, and Brussels.

And The Guardian newspaper in Britain said the U.S. spying also extended to partner nations like Japan, South Korea, and India.

The news prompted among U.S. allies in Europe and elsewhere. European Commission officials today called for details.

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PIA AHRENKILDE HANSEN, European Commission spokesperson: These are disturbing news. If proven true, they prove — sorry — they demand full clarification, and the European Union is now expecting to hear from the U.S. authorities. And let me state clearly that clarity and transparency is what we expect from our partners and allies.

RAY SUAREZ: And Germany’s government spokesman criticized the alleged conduct.

STEFFEN SEIBERT, German government spokesman (through translator): If it’s confirmed that, in fact, diplomatic representations of the European Union and single European countries were bugged, we must say very clearly that eavesdropping on friends is unacceptable. It is a no-go. We’re not in the Cold War anymore.

RAY SUAREZ: French President Francois Hollande even indicated the scandal could derail the transatlantic free trade talks jump-started at the recent G8 summit in Northern Ireland.

PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, France (through translator): We cannot accept this kind of behavior among partners and allies. We do know there is a necessity for controlling systems, notably in the fight against terrorism. But I don’t think that risk exists in our embassies or within the E.U.

RAY SUAREZ: But Secretary of State John Kerry said in a foreign ministers’ summit today that what the U.S. is doing is commonplace.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: I will say that every country in the world that is engaged in international affairs of national security undertakes lots of activities to protect its national security and all kinds of information contributes to that, and all I know is that that is not unusual for lots of nations.

RAY SUAREZ: And President Obama in Tanzania agreed, but also maintained he relies more on personal relationships with leaders.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I’m the end-user of this kind of intelligence. If I want to know what Chancellor Merkel is thinking, I will call Chancellor Merkel. If I want to know what President Hollande is thinking on a particular issue, I will call President Hollande. And if I want to know what, well, David Cameron is thinking, I call David Cameron.

RAY SUAREZ: Earlier today, Russian president Vladimir Putin said he had no intention of extraditing Snowden.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through translator): If he would want to go anywhere and someone will accept him, he’s welcome to go.

If he wishes to stay here, then we have one condition. He must stop his work aimed at harming our American partners, although it sounds very strange coming from me.

RAY SUAREZ: Later today, the Interfax news agency reported Snowden has applied for political asylum in Russia.

This evening, Reuters reported that Snowden in a letter to the government of Ecuador says he remains free to make new disclosures about U.S. spying activity and said that the U.S. was illegally persecuting him.