Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel uses her mobile phone before a meeting at a European Union summit in Brussels December 9, 2011. EU leaders agreed stricter budget rules for the euro zone on Friday, but failed to secure changes to the EU treaty among all 27 member states, meaning a deal will instead have to involve just euro zone states and any others that want to join. Yves Herman/Reuters
Germany's interior minister is pressing for "complete information" from Washington on the alleged U.S. surveillance of Chancellor Angela Merkel's cellphone and any other snooping.
Merkel complained to U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday after receiving information her phone may have been monitored. German spy chiefs plan to travel to Washington for talks.
Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich was quoted Sunday as telling newspaper Bild am Sonntag he wants "complete information on all accusations" and that "if the Americans intercepted cellphones in Germany, they broke German law on German soil." He added wiretapping is a crime and "those responsible must be held accountable."
News magazine Der Spiegel, whose research prompted the government's response, reported that a document apparently from an NSA database indicates Merkel's cellphone was first listed as a target in 2002.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Rome and Paris on Saturday and was confronted by outrage over the sweep and scope of U.S. snooping abroad.
The magnitude of the eavesdropping is what shocked us," former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in a radio interview. "Let's be honest, we eavesdrop too. Everyone is listening to everyone else. But we don't have the same means as the United States, which makes us jealous."
Free trade talks
The spy flap could give the Europeans leverage in talks with the U.S. on a free trade agreement, which would join together nearly half of the global economy. "If we go to the negotiations and we have the feeling those people with whom we negotiate know everything that we want to deal with in advance, how can we trust each other?" Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, asked.
Claude Moniquet, a former French counterintelligence officer and now director of Brussels-based European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center, said the latest NSA flap came at a good time for Europe "to have a lever, a means of pressure … in these negotiations."
To Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore at George Washington University, damage from the NSA disclosures could "undermine Washington's ability to act hypocritically and get away with it."
The danger in the disclosures "lies not in the new information that they reveal but in the documented confirmation they provide of what the United States is actually doing and why," they wrote in Foreign Affairs. "When these deeds turn out to clash with the government's public rhetoric, as they so often do, it becomes harder for U.S. allies to overlook Washington's covert behaviour and easier for U.S. adversaries to justify their own."
They claim the disclosures forced Washington to abandon its "naming-and-shaming campaign against Chinese hacking."
The revelations could undercut Washington's effort to fight terrorism, says Kiron Skinner, director of the Center for International Relations and Politics at Carnegie Mellon University. The sweeping nature of NSA surveillance goes against the Obama administration's claim that much of U.S. espionage is carried out to combat terrorism, she says.
"If Washington undermines its own leadership or that of its allies, the collective ability of the West to combat terrorism will be compromised," Skinner said. "Allied leaders will have no incentive to put their own militaries at risk if they cannot trust U.S. leadership."
Push for end to eavesdropping
The Obama administration's rebuttal to outrage has been that the U.S. is gathering foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations and that it's necessary to protect the U.S. and its allies against security threats.
Kerry discussed the NSA affair in Europe with French and Italian officials. "He certainly recognizes that as we look to pursue a range of diplomatic priorities, whether that's working together on global issues like Syria or Iran or TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), it would really be a mistake to let these disclosures get in the way," she said.
Most governments have not retaliated, but some countries are pushing back.
Germany and France are demanding that the Obama administration agree by year's end to new rules that could mean an end to reported American eavesdropping on foreign leaders, companies and innocent citizens.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cancelled her official state visit to the White House. She ordered measures aimed at greater Brazilian online independence and security after learning that the NSA intercepted her communications, hacked into the state-owned Petrobras oil company's network and spied on Brazilians.
Brazil says it is working with other countries to draft a United Nations General Assembly resolution that would guarantee people's privacy in electronic communications.
A European Parliament committee in Brussels approved sweeping data protection rules that would strengthen online privacy and outlaw the kind of data transfers the U.S. is using for its spying program.
European lawmakers have called for the suspension of an agreement that grants U.S. authorities access to bank data needed for terror-related investigations.
"We need trust among allies and partners," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose cellphone was allegedly tapped by the NSA. "Such trust now has to be built anew."
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