Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Merkel, Europe and the NSA

The European Parliament just voted to suspend the sharing of bank data between the EU and the US for anti-terrorism purposes in protest over the extensive spying that has been revealed by the NSA on European citizens. The vote in itself does not end the sharing of the bank data unless it is agreed to by two-thirds of the EU member states. But its an official statement (Claus Hecking, Votum gegen Swift-Abkommen: EU-Abgeordnete sabotieren Abwiegelstrategie der Kanzlerin Spiegel Online 22.10.2013; Robin Emmott, EU lawmakers seek to block U.S. financial spying Yahoo! News/Reuters 10/23/2013; see also: Gregor Peter Schmitz, SWIFT Suspension? EU Parliament Furious about NSA Bank Spying Spiegel International 09/18/2013)

The European Parliament vote was a slap at German Chancellor Angela "Frau Fritz" Merkel, who has been restrained about criticizing NSA spying. But she got a chance to show some resistance when her government reportedly learned that the US was monitoring her mobile phone. She made a call to President Obama to protest. (Jacob Appelbaum et al, Kanzler-Handy im US-Visier? Merkel beschwert sich bei Obama Spiegel Online 23.10.2013) This was also a gesture to the SPD, with whom she is in coalition talks. They had pushed for a stronger reaction.

Noah Barkin reports for Reuters in NSA surveillance: 'Grave breach of trust,' says Merkel Christian Science Monitor 10/23/2013:

White House spokesman Jay Carney, responding to the news in Washington, said Obama had assured Merkel that the United States "is not monitoring and will not monitor" the communications of the chancellor.

When pressed on whether spying may have occurred in the past, a White House official declined to elaborate on the statement. ...

The news broke as Secretary of State John Kerry, on a visit to Rome, faced fresh questions about mass spying on European allies, based on revelations from Edward Snowden, the fugitive former U.S. intelligence operative granted asylum in Russia.

French President Francois Hollande is pressing for the U.S. spying issue to be put on the agenda of a summit of European leaders starting on Thursday.

He also called Obama earlier this week after French newspaper Le Monde reported that the National Security Agency (NSA) had collected tens of thousands of French phone records in a single month between December 2012 and January 2013.

The NSA appeared to be targeting people tied to French business and politics as well as individuals suspected of links to terrorism, the paper said. [my emphasis]
Howard LaFranchi reports (Merkel berates Obama on spying, joins parade of 'shocked' world leaders Christian Science Monitor 10/23/2013):

Carney left unclear whether or not the US had ever monitored Merkel’s phone, but his artful construction – "is not ... will not" – only fed suspicions that it probably has.

The US has assured allies and partners that its spying programs are under review and that the US, which is recognized as having the most expansive and advanced surveillance capabilities in the world, is determined to strike the right balance between privacy and national security in its intelligence-gathering activities.

But there are also signs that an embarrassed US is getting a little tired of the issue and would prefer to move on to other things.

Also on Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry got an earful on the surveillance allegations when he met with Italian Premier Letta in Rome. Letta demanded to know if reports were true that the US had placed illegal intercepts on Italian communications, Italian government sources said. Mr. Kerry assured Letta the US government is reviewing the allegations and policy fixes, the sources added.

Yet when the State Department issued its readout of the Kerry-Letta meeting, the discussion of American spying was absent. [my emphasis]
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