Smart power: US allies "stunned" at scope of NSA surveillance

Who can blame them?  As the scope of the NSA surveillance programs became a little clearer since their exposure last week, the ostensible targets abroad turned out to be a little unhappy with Uncle Big Brother, too.  German chancellor Angela Merkel will lead the EU on its opposition to NSA snooping when Barack Obama travels to Berlin next week:

European leaders, describing themselves as stunned by revelations of an extensive U.S. surveillance program that included their citizens, moved Monday to demand more information from the U.S. government and said they would discuss ways to bolster their already stringent privacy laws. …

The discontent from Europe pointed to the breadth of fallout from the affair and to the potential for fresh strains between the United States and allies wary of American intrusiveness.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed to raise the issue when she meets in Berlin with President Obama next week, a spokesman said, and other German officials said they were concerned by the apparent monitoring of their citizens. Top officials of the 27-nation European Union also said they would press the U.S. government on the matter at bilateral meetings this week.

The PRISM surveillance program, portions of which were described in recent days by The Washington Post and the Guardian newspaper in Britain, makes clear that U.S. intelligence services now have the power to vacuum up data about telecommunications traffic across the world. An apparent snapshot from an NSA Boundless Informant database published on the Guardian’s Web site indicated that in March 2013, foreign intelligence gathering was primarily focused on the Middle East. For that month, more pieces of intelligence were gathered in Germany than anywhere else in Europe.

As the Washington Post’s Michael Birnbaum points out, Germans have only had a generation as a whole to be free of the kind of snooping that took place for almost 70 continuous years in East Germany.  After the Gestapo and the Stasi, Germans aren’t keen on government probing into their private affairs, and they’re even less keen on foreigners doing the snooping.  It doesn’t help when the President of the United States defends the program at home by saying, Hey, we’re not snooping on you … we’re snooping on everyone else in the world!

The EU has already been hostile to American dominance in the Internet and computer industry, taking Microsoft, Apple, and Google to court on anti-trust complaints over the last several years.  Not coincidentally, these are also the major partners of the NSA on PRISM and other collection programs. Merkel and other leaders are likely to get a lot more hostile to operations of American Internet providers in Europe, and might start thinking about subsidizing serious competitors as a defensive measure to keep NSA from snooping on their data.

Nevertheless, the White House says that the NSA programs are here to stay:

The Obama administration considered whether to charge a government contractor with leaking classified surveillance secrets while it defended the broad U.S. spy program that it says keeps America safe from terrorists. …

A senior U.S. intelligence official on Monday said there were no plans to scrap the programs that, despite the backlash, continue to receive widespread if cautious support within Congress. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive security issue.

We’ll see.