Anger Growing Among Allies Over U.S. Surveillance

Oct 24, 2013| Courtesy by : nytimes.com

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BERLIN — Leaders and citizens in Germany, one of America’s closest allies, simmered with barely contained fury on Thursday over reports that American intelligence had tapped into Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone, the latest diplomatic fallout from the documents harvested by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden.

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In an unusual move between staunch allies, Germany summoned the United States ambassador over the claims.

Ms. Merkel herself angrily demanded assurances from President Obama that her cellphone was not the target of an American intelligence tap as soon as suspicions surfaced on Wednesday. Washington hastily pledged that her calls were not being monitored and would not be in future but conspicuously said nothing about the past.

While the chancellor kept quiet before heading to Brussels for a European summit on Thursday, one of her closest allies, Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière, gave full voice to the shock expressed by politicians and citizens.

“If that is true, what we hear, then that would be really bad,” Mr. de Maizière told ARD, Germany’s leading state television channel. America is Germany’s best friend, he noted, adding: “It really can’t work like this.”

He suggested that there would be consequences. “We can’t simply go back to business as usual,” he said.

Katrin Göring-Eckardt, the leader of the Greens, shared the indignation, noting that America is a close ally but that normal business could not be conducted “if we go about suspecting one another.”

Her consternation was mixed with an element of “we told you so.” The Greens had argued since the first disclosures last summer of mass American surveillance that Ms. Merkel needed to be more vigorous and not simply accept American assurances that no German laws had been broken.

That was also a strong strand in online comments pouring into German media Web sites.

Ms. Merkel’s angry call to Mr. Obama was the second time in 48 hours – after a similar furor in France prompted Mr. Obama to call President François Hollande — that the president found himself on the phone with a close European ally to argue that continuing revelations of invasive intelligence gathering should not undermine decades of hard-won trans-Atlantic trust.

Both episodes illustrated the diplomatic challenge to the United States posed by the cache of documents that Mr. Snowden handed to the journalist Glenn Greenwald and others. Last week, Mr. Greenwald concluded a deal with the eBay founder Pierre Omidyar to build a new media platform that aims in part to publicize other revelations from the data Mr. Greenwald now possesses.

The damage to core American relationships continues to mount. Last month, PresidentDilma Rousseff of Brazil postponed a state visit to the United States after Brazilian news media reports — fed by material from Mr. Greenwald — that the N.S.A. had intercepted messages from Ms. Rousseff, her aides and the state oil company, Petrobras. Recently, the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, which has said it has a stack of Snowden documents, suggested that United States intelligence had gained access to communications to and from President Felipe Calderón of Mexico while he was still in office.

Secretary of State John Kerry had barely landed in France on Monday when the newspaper Le Monde disclosed what it said was the mass surveillance of French citizens, as well as spying on French diplomats. Furious, the French summoned the United States ambassador, Charles H. Rivkin, and Mr. Hollande expressed “extreme reprobation” for the reported collection of 70 million digital communications from Dec. 10, 2012, to Jan. 8, 2013.

In a statement published online, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, disputed some aspects of Le Monde’s reporting, calling it misleading and inaccurate in unspecified ways.

He did not address another report by Le Monde that monitoring by the United States had extended to “French diplomatic interests” at the United Nations and in Washington. Information garnered by the N.S.A. played a significant part in a United Nations vote on June 9, 2010, in favor of sanctions against Iran, Le Monde said.

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Melissa Eddy contributed reporting from Berlin, Dan Bilefsky from Paris, and Jackie Calmes from Washington.

 

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