How NSA Surveillance Jeopardizes Obama's G-8 Trip to Europe

Obama's task in Europe this week has been made even more challenging by the recent disclosures of American surveillance in allied countries.

President Obama's task in Europe this week, already daunting as the death toll in Syria mounts and the pressure for a more assertive U.S. policy there grows, has been made even more challenging by the recent disclosures of American surveillance in allied countries.

The president arrives in Northern Ireland early Monday morning to begin an intense three days of behind-the-scenes diplomacy and very-public speechmaking to culminate in what the White House hopes is a spectacular address at the eastern side of the historic Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. The crowd for that could top 200,000. But more important for Obama may be the smaller one-on-one sessions when he is expected to face tough questions about the surveillance disclosures and the evolving U.S. policy on Syria.

Those would come at Lough Erne Resort, a golf resort nestled between two lakes near Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, site of this year's G-8 Summit. Obama is almost certain to hear complaints from several of the allied leaders upset at public disclosure that the FBI and National Security Agency collected data on private calls made by citizens, including those using major internet servers in Europe. Since the disclosure, the complaints have been loudest in Germany, France and Italy. But a nerve was struck across the continent, with Europe long more concerned about privacy than the United States and long annoyed that Europeans had to rely on Internet servers maintained by U.S. companies such as Google and Facebook.

Peter Schaar, Germany's freedom of information commissioner, told Reuters he wanted "clarity" from the United States "regarding these monstrous allegations of total monitoring of various telecommunications and Internet services." Another German official has called for a boycott of the companies. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is running for reelection, has said she will raise the issue with Obama this week either at Lough Erne or in Berlin.

"The most upset party in all of this, I think, is the Germans," said Michael J. Geary, an assistant professor at Maastricht University in the Netherlands and an expert on Europe. "The Germans were the most snooped-upon country, apparently, in March. In a country where memories of the former East German Stasi are still quite fresh, the response has been quite critical." Geary described Europeans as "peeved" and "quite annoyed" at the U.S. actions and said they have the potential to set back sensitive trade negotiations and do damage to transatlantic relations. "It's a major PR disaster for the administration," he said. "Now, they have really lost the moral high ground."

Among the questions Obama will face, said Geary, is how much of this information was gathered "simply for security or is it being used for economic advantage in the United States?"

Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said she expects the European leaders to be "extremely vocal about their concerns" privately. She said the disclosures could prove to be "a major stumbling block" for successful trade talks and revive European concerns about privacy. "Public opinion on this is actually quite strong in Europe," she said.

The White House anticipates the questions. "We certainly understand that, like the United States, countries in Europe have significant interests in privacy and civil liberties," said Ben Rhodes of the National Security Council. "So we will want to hear their questions and have an exchange about these programs and other counterterrorism programs that we pursue in the United States and in partnership." But Rhodes stressed to reporters at the White House that the president will defend the program as "a tool that is essential to our shared security."

"He'll be able to discuss with the other leaders the importance of these programs in terms of our counterterrorism efforts in particular, the constraints and safeguards that we place on these programs so that they have oversight against potential abuses."

No meeting with another leader at the summit is more eagerly anticipated than Obama's session with Vladimir Putin, who is back as president of Russia and back at the G-8 summit for the first time since George W. Bush was the U.S. president. Putin and Obama have had a particularly rocky relationship, with Putin never missing a chance to tweak or embarrass Obama. And when they sit down Monday evening at Lough Erne, they will face a crowded agenda, including the surveillance program, Syria, Afghanistan, trade, human rights and arms control.

In his comments this week, Putin has offered a modest defense of the surveillance program, suggesting it is understandable if done legally. But he cast the Kremlin as more law-abiding and more sensitive to privacy concerns than his American counterparts. "Such methods are in demand," Putin told RT, Russia's English-language satellite news channel. "But you can't just listen to the phone call in Russia; you need a special order from court. This is how it should be done in civilized society while tackling terrorism with the use of any technical means. If it is in the framework of the law, then it's OK. If not, it is unacceptable."

More daunting will be the Obama-Putin discussion of Syria. With the U.S. decision to help arm the rebels fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad, Obama and Putin now are arming opposing sides of a civil war that has already claimed an estimated 93,000 lives. Russia also has been unpersuaded by the evidence that persuaded Washington that Assad's forces used chemical weapons against the rebels. In the build-up to the summit, Rhodes acknowledged "differences with Russia on Syria." But he held out some hope for a meeting of minds in Northern Ireland.

"We still continue to discuss with the Russians whether there's a way to bring together the elements of the regime and the opposition to achieve a political settlement." But he quickly added, "We have no illusions that that's going to be easy."

Before he gets to Lough Erne on Monday, President Obama will deliver a speech designed to highlight an example when a country overcame bloodshed and forged a peaceful way to bridge a bitter, centuries-old sectarian divide. He will go to the Belfast Waterfront Convention Center to talk about the American role in ending the "Troubles" that pitted Protestants loyal to London and Catholics eager to unify Ireland under Dublin rule. It was in that convention center that President Bill Clinton in 1998 promised the people of Northern Ireland that they could "count on America" to help them if they chose peace. He urged them to "rise above feuds, not fuel them" and celebrated the Good Friday Agreement reached earlier that year under U.S. guidance.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.