October 31st, 2013

World Leaders Demand No-Spying Agreement with U.S.


One of the American government’s largest spying agencies, the NSA, is in hot water over allegations that it monitored the mobile phones of at least 35 world leaders, including some of President Obama’s closest allies.

The German magazine Der Spiegel reports that the NSA started tapping German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone in 2002.

This report has sparked outrage in the European Union, with Chancellor Merkel and French President Francois Hollande demanding the U.S. sign a no-spying agreement by year’s end.

“I think the most important thing is to find a basis for the future on which we can operate,” said Chancellor Merkel. “And trust needs to be rebuilt, which implies that trust has been severely shaken.”

The U.S. has similar agreements with four other English-speaking countries: Canada, The United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Collectively known as “Five Eyes”, these countries share almost all of their intelligence and have pledged to not spy on one another.

NSA spokeswoman Vanee’ Vines said President Obama was not aware of the spying operations.

“Gen. (Keith) Alexander did not discuss with President Obama in 2010 an alleged foreign intelligence operation involving German Chancellor Merkel, nor has he ever discussed alleged operations involving Chancellor Merkel. News reports claiming otherwise are not true.”

In a separate report, The Wall Street Journal claimed that the White House ended the spying program after an internal Obama administration review found out about it this summer.

More fallout from Snowden leaks

Information on the surveillance program comes as a result of NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s leak of confidential information earlier this year.

Snowden escaped to Russia to be out of reach of the U.S. authorities who want to arrest him for espionage and theft of sensitive documents.

Germany may summon Snowden as a witness if the spying allegations turn into a legal case.

“If our suspicions prove correct and a case is opened, the German Federal Prosecutor’s Office will have to consider the possibility of interrogating Snowden as a witness,” German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger told Deutschlandfunk radio.

Earlier revelations raised civil liberties concerns

In June 2013, The Guardian newspaper in the U.K. reported that the NSA has been secretly tracking the phone records and social media data of millions of Americans in the name of public safety. After a public outcry, the administration defended the surveillance program, saying that it is lawful and is a “critical tool” to protect national security.

At the time, Snowden was a 29-year-old employee of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, who had once been assigned to work with the NSA. He says he is a whistleblower who felt compelled to speak out about wrongdoing.

“The more you talk about it, the more you are ignored, the more you’re told it’s not a problem,” he said in a video statement to The Guardian newspaper. “Until eventually you realize that these things need to be determined by the public, not by somebody who was simply hired by the government.”

President Obama responded that he had already called for a review of America’s surveillance programs. “Unfortunately, rather than an orderly and lawful process to debate these issues and come up with appropriate reforms, repeated leaks of classified information have initiated the debate in a very passionate but not always fully informed way,” he said. “But given the history of abuse by governments, it’s right to ask questions about surveillance, particularly as technology is reshaping every aspect of our lives.”

— Compiled by Allison McCartney for NewsHour Extra

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