U.S. allies are turning on the Obama administration over the latest revelations from National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.
French politicians from the right and the left and a leader of Germany’s Green Party called for their countries to grant amnesty to Snowden on Monday amid continental outrage over reports America bugged offices of the European Union.
Luxemburg's foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, called the latest accusations “disgusting.”
The spying fight has put German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the defensive over her government’s relations with the U.S. less than three months before national elections. She said through a spokesman on Monday that “the monitoring of friends cannot be tolerated.”
“Trust has to be the basis of our cooperation,” Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert said. "When it comes to this affair, trust has to be reestablished.”
The comments represent a shift from Merkel's response last month when reports that the NSA was collecting data on German Internet users first emerged, highlighting how the bugging allegations struck a new nerve with Europe.
At the time, Merkel said the Germans “value cooperation with the United States on matters of security” during a joint appearance with Obama in Berlin.
U.S. officials brushed off the criticisms from Europe on Monday.
“At the end of the day,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters, “we cooperate with Europe on so many issues and are so closely aligned in terms of our interests in the world that those relationships are going to stay strong, and we’re going to cooperate with them on security issues, economic issues and, frankly, obviously also share a set of democratic values with them that I think can transcend any controversy.”
But some independent observers detected a shift that could make the issue more problematic for the White House going forward.
Heather Hurlburt, a former speechwriter for two secretaries of State, said the Snowden affair raises the same kinds of concerns in Europe that followed revelations that European leaders had cooperated with the United States' rendition program after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“My guess is you'll have another round of discussions like that, where Europeans look at their government and say: 'Well, what exactly are these relationships that you have with the U.S., and are we really comfortable with them?'”
An immediate effect could be felt in the trade talks.
Hurlburt, executive director of the left-leaning National Security Network, said the new light shed on the relationship between the U.S. government and private tech companies might make European trade negotiators even less likely to compromise on issues like U.S. Internet standards that privacy advocates were already worried about.
The Obama administration has described its spying operations as par for the course, with President Obama telling reporters in Tanzania that European countries do the same thing.
“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,” Obama said. “That's how intelligence services operate.”
Others denounced Europe's “faux outrage.”
Marc Thiessen, a senior staffer for former President George W. Bush, recalled a 2008 presidential visit to five European countries in a blog post for the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
“There was only one country where we were instructed before arrival to leave our blackberries aboard Air Force One, with the batteries removed, as a precaution against potential cyber espionage: France,” he recalled Monday. “Apparently we were worried that French intelligence would use them to infiltrate the White House’s computer networks.”
Still, the new revelations gave new life to criticism of the Obama administration in Europe.
Hurlburt said European voters realize the programs pre-date current leaders' time in office and will outlast them. But she said that wouldn't stop minority parties from trying to capitalize on the outrage, creating headaches for Obama and short-term “damage to the fabric of the relationship.”
“It's something the fringe parties immediately pick up on and realize they can capitalize on anger and anxiety around,” she said. “If you're already perceived as weak and ineffective, and then there's a suggestion that the opposition can taint you as either complicit or stupid about some thing the U.S. was doing … it becomes one more argument in the opposition's arsenal.”