Outrage in Europe Grows Over Spying Disclosures

The New York Times

Damage from the disclosures of United States spying on its European and Asian allies spread on Monday, threatening negotiations on a free trade agreement, hurting President Obama’s standing in Europe and raising basic questions of trust among nations that have been on friendly terms for generations.


President François Hollande of France issued some of the harshest language yet from a European leader on the issue, telling reporters that “we cannot accept this kind of behavior between partners and allies” and suggesting that talks on the trade pact, scheduled to start next week, should be delayed at least until questions over the spying issue were resolved and confidence restored.

It was not so much the fact of the spying as its sheer scale that alarmed European leaders and others here. Elmar Brok, an outspoken German who is chairman of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said that “the spying has reached dimensions that I did not think were possible for a democratic country.” He said the United States had “lost all balance — George Orwell is nothing by comparison.”

While some of the comments were political and from leaders of countries that also spy with great energy against their allies, there was a new tone of disappointment with President Obama and concern that the American intelligence system had become too large for careful political oversight.

“France is a cynical country,” said François Heisbourg, a defense expert at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. “We all spy, but the difference here is the scale — up to 60 million connections in Germany in a day!”

That spies go “spearfishing” after particular targets is one thing, he said. “But no one has understood that our societies were being spied on so massively — this isn’t spearfishing but trawling with a big, big net. That’s the real shocker.”

The European Parliament, which will vote on any free trade agreement, will debate the latest spying revelations in Brussels on Wednesday, with the Parliament’s president, Martin Schulz of Germany, saying that he was “deeply worried and shocked.” If the latest reports, which include American spying on the European Union itself, are true, he said, “it would be an extremely serious matter that will have a severe impact on E.U.-U.S. relations.”

European lawmakers across the political spectrum warned of a loss of confidence in the Obama administration that would make a free trade deal difficult. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the Green Party floor leader, spoke for many when he said that the European Union “must immediately suspend negotiations with the U.S. over a free trade agreement.” First, he said, “we need a deal on data protection so that something like that never happens again.”

The reaction was particularly angry in Germany, with its history of Nazism and the East German Stasi, made more acute by the disclosure that a large part of the American interception efforts were aimed there.

Michael Grosse-Brömer, the parliamentary president for the ruling conservative bloc, warned that if the reports proved true, “it would be sufficient to shatter mutual trust and to damage the close, trusting trans-Atlantic relationship.”

Mr. Obama was in Berlin on June 19, giving a speech in which he explained that the spying programs were about counterterrorism and served the interests of all allies. But the online edition of the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel and The Guardian, based on leaks from Edward J. Snowden, the former American intelligence contractor, reported on Saturday that the spying and data collection included the European Union offices in Brussels and Washington, which struck many here as unlikely places to find terrorists.

Terrorism is real and “there are systems that have to be checked, especially to fight terrorism,” Mr. Hollande said, “but I don’t think that it is in our embassies or in the European Union that this threat exists.”

France has been a critic of the proposed free trade deal, trying to ensure that its key interests, which include domestic production of films and videos and agriculture, are protected. France is also well known as having a sophisticated, well-funded intelligence system that also spies on allies and enemies to protect its national and commercial interests.

What also troubles people is the sense that the United States, “having unlimited means, uses them because they exist, and this speaks poorly of checks and balances in the system,” Mr. Heisbourg said. He also wondered “if Obama thought he was telling the truth in the Berlin speech,” since “spying on the E.U. was particularly revealing.”

Camille Grand, the director of the Foundation for Strategic Research, said that the disclosures fed into “a growing disappointment with Obama in Europe” stemming from the American drone program and the president’s failure to close the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. For allied intelligence services to spy on one another is not new, he said, especially in trade negotiations and commercial dealings. “But it’s complicated the view of Obama, to realize he’s a rather standard U.S. president, using all the tools at his disposal.”

Mr. Obama has told Americans that an N.S.A. program, called Prism, that gathers information from major Internet companies, is not aimed at them. Mr. Grand said, “Then we find out that policy doesn’t apply to America’s allies. It creates a lot of skepticism.”

Many intelligence experts dismissed as posturing the expressions of shock and disappointment among Europe’s leaders. Richard J. Aldrich, a former intelligence officer who teaches international security at Britain’s University of Warwick, said that he was “often surprised by the disconnect between political leaders whom one presumes get intelligence reports and the level of indignation they express.”

“They are political creatures,” Mr. Aldrich said, “and they detect some political mileage to be gained.”

European allies themselves spy on the European Union and have been happy to collaborate with the United States on intelligence gathering and even rendition, Mr. Aldrich said, “so long as everything remains secret.” Some of the pressure on Mr. Obama to crack down on whistle-blowers comes from his European allies, Mr. Aldrich said.

While France, Germany and other allies all spy, there is a large imbalance in technical means, which adds to the discomfort. James Bamford, the author of a 1982 book about the National Security Agency, “The Puzzle Palace,” said that the latest technology gives the United States a huge qualitative advantage over its partners.

“The difference is, you’re comparing eavesdropping with a nuclear weapon to eavesdropping with a cannon,” he said. “These countries don’t have anywhere near the capacity that the N.S.A. does in terms of their capacity to do to us what we do to them.”

That can confer an immense edge, he said, adding, “It’s the equivalent of going to a poker game and wanting to know what everyone’s hand is before you place your bet.”

Mr. Bamford, like other experts, said that Washington’s interest in Germany was understandable, both because of its political and economic clout and the fact that the Sept. 11, 2001, terror plot was hatched in Harburg, near Hamburg.

William R. Timken Jr., who served as the United States ambassador to Germany from 2005 to 2008, said Monday that he thought the European reaction was “a little overdone.” He said the assumption among diplomats had long been that espionage among allies was a given.

Now retired, he said that when he moved into the ambassadorial residence in Berlin, “I asked our guys if they’d swept it for bugs and they said, ‘Ambassador, nothing can prevent anybody from listening.’ They just assume everybody’s going to be listening to everything.”

Jane Harman, a former congresswoman from California and member of the House Intelligence Committee, played down the impact of the revelations. “I do think there have to be some private conversations between some in Europe and some in our intelligence community, so there’s a better understanding of what’s going on. But it has ever been thus, that governments spy on governments.”

Ms. Harman, now the president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, said that European threats to stall or scrap the proposed free trade agreement were self-defeating. “It will hurt Europe not to have this trade pact,” she said.

In Tanzania on Monday, the last stop in his weeklong trip to Africa, Mr. Obama said that he had directed his staff to examine the latest reports regarding spying on United States allies. “We will take a look at this article, figure out what they may or may not be talking about, and then we’ll communicate with our allies appropriately,” Mr. Obama said.

He said of every intelligence service: “Here’s one thing that they’re going to be doing: they’re going to be trying to understand the world better and what’s going on in world capitals around the world, from sources that aren’t available through The New York Times or NBC News.”

“If that weren’t the case, then there’d be no use for an intelligence service,” he said, adding, “I guarantee you that in European capitals, there are people who are interested in, if not what I had for breakfast, at least what my talking points might be should I end up meeting with their leaders. That’s how intelligence services operate.”

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