EU Leaders: Latest NSA Revelations Could Threaten Fight Against Terrorism


Credit: G8 UK Presidency / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

The latest reporting on the documents leaked by Edward Snowden reveals that the NSA has spied on 35 world leaders, who have not been named.

From The Guardian:

The National Security Agency monitored the phone conversations of 35 world leaders after being given the numbers by an official in another US government department, according to a classified document provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The confidential memo reveals that the NSA encourages senior officials in its "customer" departments, such as the White House, State and the Pentagon, to share their "Rolodexes" so the agency can add the phone numbers of leading foreign politicians to their surveillance systems.

The document notes that one unnamed US official handed over 200 numbers, including those of the 35 world leaders, none of whom is named. These were immediately "tasked" for monitoring by the NSA.

The news comes days after the French newspaper Le Monde reported that the NSA spied on millions of French phone records, the German newspaper Der Spiegel reported that the NSA hacked into the Mexican president's public email account, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel called President Obama over concerns that her cellphone was targeted by American intelligence.

The timing of these revelations is not good for the Obama administration. European Union leaders recently began their latest summit in Brussels, and unsurprisingly both the French and the Germans are pushing for a "no-spying" agreement with the U.S.

While the NSA revelations from this week make up only some of the latest embarrassing news facing the Obama administration, it is the only news that could have long-lasting diplomatic and national security implications.

Ironically, the behavior of the NSA (which is supposedly tasked with helping keep the U.S. safe) could threaten the fight against terrorism. A statement from the heads of state and government of European Union nations reads in part:

"Alongside our foreseen work, we had a discussion tonight about recent developments concerning possible intelligence issues and the deep concerns that these events have raised among European citizens.

The Heads of State or government underlined the close relationship between Europe and the USA and the value of that partnership. They expressed their conviction that the partnership must be based on respect and trust, including as concerns the work and cooperation of secret services.

They stressed that intelligence gathering is a vital element in the fight against terrorism. This applies to relations between European countries as well as to relations with the USA. A lack of trust could prejudice the necessary cooperation in the field of intelligence gathering.

The Heads of State or government took note of the intention of France and Germany to seek bilateral talks with the USA with the aim of finding before the end of the year an understanding on mutual relations in that field. They noted that other EU countries are welcome to join this initiative.

It is worth pointing out that the NSA's defenders have said that the agency's behavior is justified because it prevents terrorist attacks. However, as Peter Bergen pointed out in CNN last June, traditional law enforcement investigations remain an effective means of preventing and uncovering terrorist plots:

Homegrown jihadist extremists have mounted 42 plots to conduct attacks within the United States since 2001. Of those plots, nine involved an actual terrorist act that was not prevented by any type of government action, such as the failed attempt by Faisal Shahzad to blow up a car bomb in Times Square on May 1, 2010.

Of the remaining 33 plots, the public record shows that at least 29 were uncovered by traditional law enforcement methods, such as the use of informants, reliance on community tips about suspicious activity and other standard policing practices.

Members of the Obama administration and the intelligence community have both denied some of the latest reports. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said the recent reports of NSA snooping on French phone calls were "false" and "misleading." But remember, this is the same guy who lied to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) when asked, "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?"