To the Editor:
If America's allies believe " that the United States plays by its own rules and respects neither the sovereignty nor the political sensibilities of some of its closest democratic allies.", they give us too much credit. Our imperious Executive breaks our own rules with impunity. The extra-judiciary killing of AbdulRahman al-Awlaki violated U.S. statute and our Constitution. Likewise the wiretapping of uncounted Americans.
What is distinctive about bugging Angela Merkel's phone in all this is only that it didn't actually violate U.S. law. That's almost refreshing.
Barry Haskell Levine
N.S.A. Snooping and the Damage Done
Published: October 25, 2013
President Obama spent this week trying to persuade America’s close allies, France and Germany, that the National Security Agency’s extensive eavesdropping in those countries is under adequate control. He was not entirely successful. His efforts to reassure President François Hollande of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany seem to have been as incomplete as the explanations the administration has given to the American public about the agency’s excessive domestic surveillance.
The German government learned this week that the newsmagazine Der Spiegel had new evidence (presumably via information leaked by Edward Snowden) that the N.S.A. had monitored Ms. Merkel’s cellphone. On Monday, Le Monde reported that the agency had gathered data on more than 70 million phone calls and messages inside France within one 30-day period, suggesting a surveillance program that went well beyond any legitimate tracking of international terrorists.
Mr. Obama sought to assure Ms. Merkel that her phone was not being monitored now and would not be in the future, but he seemed to indicate nothing about past monitoring. David Sanger and Mark Mazzetti reported inThe Times on Friday that Germany has evidence of monitoring going back to the George W. Bush administration.
The Guardian also reported this week that the phone conversations of at least 35 world leaders were monitored by the N.S.A. in 2006, according to an agency memo leaked by Mr. Snowden. The N.S.A. apparently encouraged American diplomats and officials to provide phone numbers to be added to the surveillance program. Would it be surprising if foreign leaders now became much more restrictive about sharing their numbers with United States officials?
Such surveillance undermines the trust of allies and their willingness to share the kind of confidential information needed to thwart terrorism and other threats. When the N.S.A. violates French or German law, law enforcement agencies in those nations cooperate with the agency at their own risk. There is also the more subtle damage done by the feeling that the United States plays by its own rules and respects neither the sovereignty nor the political sensibilities of some of its closest democratic allies.
Broad data collection programs by the United States government also harm the efforts of American Internet companies to market their services internationally by casting doubt on their ability to protect privacy. Such companies face heavy legal pressures from the N.S.A. and other intelligence agencies to make private data available for government scrutiny.
And there is new pressure on European governments to seek stricter data protection in negotiations for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, with the eavesdropping reports souring the political climate for these talks.
European leaders are not naïve about the realities of international snooping. American security is built on the strength and reliability of its international alliances. These should not be put at risk merely because the N.S.A. now has the capacity to monitor more communications in more places than ever.
A good way out of this mess would be for Washington to take up the proposal made Friday by Germany and France to negotiate a formal pact that would set mutually acceptable surveillance guidelines. The next steps must come from Mr. Obama. He should move beyond unpersuasive and vague pledges to balance security against privacy, to substantive guidelines that limit the overreaching of N.S.A. surveillance programs abroad and at home.