This weekend, an article in the German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that the National Security Agency has been spying on citizens and officials in Germany and across the European Union. The revelations — the latest from NSA leaker Edward Snowden — are threatening an ambitious trade agreement. We talk about the potential implications of the leak and what it may mean for Snowden’s search for asylum.


  • Heather Conley Senior Fellow and Director, Europe Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies


  • 13:06:40

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast a Cold War tale of friendship from Moscow to D.C., local novelist Elliott Holt's debut work explores trust and truth but first NSA leaks and American relationships across Europe.

  • 13:07:09

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIThis weekend the German news magazine Der Spiegel added the latest blockbuster revelation about spying by the National Security Agency detailing secret spying on German and European communications and even the bugging of European Union offices here in the United States.

  • 13:07:27

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe revelations have generated a fresh round of public outrage across Europe and they seem likely to impact negotiations over a massive U.S.-European trade deal. Meanwhile Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker remains in limbo in a Moscow airport.

  • 13:07:45

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to discuss these latest revelations and their impact on transatlantic relations is Heather Conley, senior fellow and director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, CSIS. Heather Conley, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:08:01

    MS. HEATHER CONLEYThank you for having me.

  • 13:08:02

    NNAMDIThese latest revelations from Der Spiegel, the NSA has been monitoring communications into and out of Germany and the EU, half a billion every month perhaps. More sensationally the U.S. is also alleged to have bugged European Union buildings.

  • 13:08:16

    NNAMDIYou say that these revelations like many that have come out over the last month may not have really shocked the leaders of these European countries but they have definitely caused a major stir across Europe. Please explain.

  • 13:08:31

    CONLEYWell, we certainly, mutually collect intelligence on one another. That's not surprising. What is surprising is how publicly Europe has been told about this and this is the release of these documents that Mr. Snowden held. It's the size, the scale, the scope, exactly where. It's massive and now this is out in the public discourse.

  • 13:08:59

    CONLEYEurope is outraged. It comes on the heels of the NSA Prism program about the collection of this metadata and Europeans protect their privacy and there is a real difference between Americans and Europeans about privacy.

  • 13:09:16

    CONLEYWe tend to. Americans tend to lend more credence to security and for Europeans though privacy comes first. And so this assaults them on multiple levels. There's a huge public outcry and the political leaders have to respond.

  • 13:09:33

    CONLEYNow the question is whether they're responding forcefully now and then will sort of get back to business or this is going to change the dynamics of the relationship in the near term and impact important issues like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and a whole range of issues, that we work very closely with Europe and that's what we have to wait and see.

  • 13:09:53

    NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for us, call us at 800-433-8850. Should the United States be conducting electronic surveillance among its allies? 800-433-8850 or send email to This is what German Chancellor Angela Merkel spokesperson Steffen Seibert has to say about the Der Spiegel article yesterday.

  • 13:10:17

    NNAMDI"We are no longer in the Cold War. If it is confirmed that diplomatic representations of the European Union and individual European countries have been spied upon we will clearly say that bugging friends is unacceptable." Is spying on friends unacceptable? You seem to suggest that well no it was going on before.

  • 13:10:32

    CONLEYIt has and is and will continue to go on. We do collect intelligence against friend and foe alike. But let's dig a little deeper into what Chancellor Merkel said. This question of trust and here I think even, you know, a dedicated transatlanticist like myself, I was surprised at the massive scale and scope of this.

  • 13:11:01

    CONLEYI, and I think it does deserve an answer about why such a massive surveillance had gone on. But let's understand the German context. You have, remember Angela Merkel is from former East Germany. Surveillance states, surveillance, memories of the Stasi, this is not to be taken lightly.

  • 13:11:22

    CONLEYThis was only 20-plus years ago that this was an active state policy. There is an enormous sensitivity to this. Secondly, we are three months from German national elections on September 22nd. She has to respond. I think she's actually trying to manage this responsibly.

  • 13:11:38

    CONLEYWe've heard much more harsh criticism from French President Francois Hollande, but we do have to restore trust fundamentally and I hope the Obama administration is working very actively to work on rebuilding that trust.

  • 13:11:55

    NNAMDII'd like to add a third, fourth and fifth to that because at least a third. Germany participates in a program known as Boundless Informant which is an NSA program that analyzes telephone metadata. The program produces heat maps of countries and all kinds of things, up to half a billion communications a month in Germany the NSA has been collecting making their country one of the biggest sources of information.

  • 13:12:21

    NNAMDISo Germany has to be saying, look we're working with you on this and you're still spying on us?

  • 13:12:30

    CONLEYAnd here's the difference. The programs that we're working on with the BND, the German intelligence collection agency are very focused on counterterrorism and again you're hearing from Europe that distinction. It's fine. We're working very closely with the United States on counterterrorism but you know, as one European official says, I don't know if there's a terrorist in the EU mission in Washington. Why are we focusing our assets there?

  • 13:12:52

    CONLEYSo they're separating us and saying, look we work closely with the United States and we want to go after the bad guys but there's a distinct difference about collecting very broadly from our citizens and they want to make that distinction. We may not want to make that distinction but Europeans need to protect the privacy of their citizens. That's a political imperative for them.

  • 13:13:14

    NNAMDIGive us a call, 800-433-8850. Spying on Germany or EU countries unacceptable? Do you think these revelations are different about the earlier stories about spying on U.S. citizens? 800-433-8850 and then I don't know if Germany knew this before but it certainly knows now that Germany is not considered a second-party country like the U.K., Austria, Canada and New Zealand.

  • 13:13:39

    NNAMDITop secret documents from the NSA says that the NSA does not target its second-party partners nor request that second-party partners do anything that is inherently illegal. However Germany is a third-party country, a group that includes roughly 30 countries and the NSA document says, "We can and often do target the signals of most third-party foreign partners.", another reason for Germany to be upset here?

  • 13:14:07

    CONLEYYeah, I know. There's a lot of discussion about what a third-party means.

  • 13:14:09


  • 13:14:09

    CONLEYAnd I think Germany is saying, well, wait, we're a NATO ally. We're a close ally. What do you mean a third-party? You know, there is a distinction of relationships on intelligence sharing and the United Kingdom is a class unto itself. It is such a special and unique relationship.

  • 13:14:20

    CONLEYAnd then we have another distinction that we work closely with Canada, Australia and New Zealand. And then, you know, the so called third-party, it's really not third. It's also a very close relationship with our NATO allies, our treaty allies but there are gradations in that intelligence sharing relationship.

  • 13:14:43

    CONLEYBut Germany should not fear. It's a very, very important and close partner in both intelligence sharing and across the board.

  • 13:14:52

    NNAMDII tell all of my friends that they're my best friend because nobody wants to be told that they're your second or third best friend.

  • 13:14:58

    CONLEYDefinitely as any teenager would say, our NATO allies are our BFFs absolutely.

  • 13:15:00

    NNAMDIHeather Conley is senior fellow and director with the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She joins us in studio. You too can join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. Has your own view about the NSA and Edward Snowden for that matter changed as more documents and details have emerged.

  • 13:15:18

    NNAMDICall us at 800-433-8850. The United States and the European Union are in the process of creating what would literally be the biggest free trade pact in world history. You made brief mention of it earlier, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership also known as TTIP.

  • 13:15:35

    NNAMDIIt would extend from California to Romania. Its boosters say it would create a $100 billion boost for the U.S. economy but these revelations seem to be throwing a monkey wrench into the works. How do you think this will affect trade negotiations?

  • 13:15:50

    CONLEYWell, even before we started there was a monkey wrench thrown into the Trade and Investment Partnership which we call TTIP. The administration and the European Union spent about a year pre-negotiating this trade agreement. Both sides have been focusing on this actually for about 15 years but it's been really tough.

  • 13:16:13

    CONLEYWe are very large economies, symmetrical in some way and what we're fighting about is not tariffs. We have fairly low tariffs. We just have a lot of trade which is great. It's the regulatory, mutualization, recognizing each other's standards and boy oh boy that's the third rail. It gets very technical. It gets very difficult.

  • 13:16:30

    CONLEYBut we spent the past year saying, okay we can do this. We can build confidence and this and right before we. It was announced that the negotiations would begin at the G8 Summit two weeks ago in Northern Ireland. The French raised a lot of objections.

  • 13:16:47

    CONLEYThey wanted to take away cultural exceptions, the film industry and they did not want that part of the trade negotiation and immediately we said, look if you start taking things off the table we're not going to be left with too much at the end of this process. We want everything to be on the table. It was a last minute sort of compromise and the trade negotiations were launched.

  • 13:17:07

    CONLEYSo these things, the talks had already been bumpy before we got here. Now, enter NSA Prism issue, enter these recent revelations about the listening in on the EU Missions. Now we're starting to hear, whoa, whoa, whoa. We need to slow down here. We need to make sure we in Europe have to have protection about data privacy and we know that free flow of data is critical to trade so we're going to have to get through this.

  • 13:17:36

    CONLEYHopefully the negotiators are supposed to be coming to Washington next week. We'll see if they come and see what they can do but this will slow things down. We have to overcome...

  • 13:17:46

    NNAMDIBecause this is precisely one of the regulations that they'll be negotiating...

  • 13:17:46

    CONLEYYou bet.

  • 13:17:49

    NNAMDI...issues having to do with privacy and digital privacy. You said everything on the table. If everything is indeed on the table, what would TTIP do if it is ultimately implemented?

  • 13:17:57

    CONLEYWell, number one, we hope that it would remove these low tariffs that are remaining on automobiles et cetera so we can keep those trade volumes high. Really this is a story of investment and we want to unlock the potential of that investment in both of our countries.

  • 13:18:21

    CONLEYWe are, in some ways we are so closely tied as an economic unit, we almost don't see Europe as much. We think of the emerging economies as our, you know, the next big trade partners. Actually it's Europe and it we can get regulation low. If we can focus on these important sectoral issues we can really unlock some economic growth and enormous potential.

  • 13:18:44

    CONLEYWe need the political leadership to do that. This is tough. These are some of the toughest and ingrained sectors and constituencies, agriculture. That's a tough one. But this could be really a game-changer for international trade and investment and that's the political decisiveness we need to get it done.

  • 13:19:04

    NNAMDIThe stakes are high. Here is Shelley in Bethesda, Md. Shelley, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:19:10

    SHELLEYHello, I was wondering, all these European countries that are protesting the United States spying. Do they have clean hands? Don't they have their own spy agencies?

  • 13:19:25

    CONLEYIt's a great question. They do and in fact in the 1990s our French colleagues actually got caught with, very publicly about some particularly commercial espionage that they were working on. This does happen. As I said, European collection intelligence agencies collect information as do we. So those relationships are both, we're collecting on each other but we're also sharing that information so it's truly a two-way street.

  • 13:19:58

    CONLEYThey do do this. The difference here is that so rarely do we see something so publicly discussed, so specifically discussed and that has changed the political dynamic in Europe and that's why we're seeing such a strong public reaction to the revelations.

  • 13:20:14

    NNAMDIWithin the United States, much of the outrage about the NSA story has focused on whether the agency is spying on Americans and whether the Obama Administration and the NSA itself have been as forthcoming as they should be, or whether indeed they have intentionally mislead congress or the American people. But nobody really disputes that the NSA can legally monitor international communications, right?

  • 13:20:37

    CONLEYRight. And this is a question and what's been very interesting to watch in particularly the case of Germany. The German prosecutor has now opened an investigation to see if these -- the NSA actually breeches German law, that they have a -- they need to protect their citizens. Does this -- it's a question of can the United States do this in such a wide ranging way? And what are the national laws that have to protect German citizens, French citizens and how can we again work together on this.

  • 13:21:11

    CONLEYA lot of legal questions are going to come from this. You're going to see greater scrutiny from the European parliament and from national parliaments on the legality of this issue.

  • 13:21:21

    NNAMDIThe specific outrage in the Der Spiegel article, European intelligence services are participating in this massive haystack, which ends up ultimately targeting their own citizens, thus a defining principle of intelligence gathering in the Western world that you don't spy on your own people has been rendered obsolete, it would appear.

  • 13:21:41

    CONLEYYeah, and again, this is sort of the challenge here. We cooperate so closely on intelligence gathering, and particularly we have to recall 9/11. There was a cell in Homburg, Germany -- outside of Homburg, Germany that was part of the plotting of 9/11. We do cooperate so closely because we know Europe has important information that we need to protect the American homeland and to protect the American people. So we have to work and find a way to work closely to share that information, while of course not in any way challenging international or national laws.

  • 13:22:20

    NNAMDIHere's Steve in Washington, D.C. Steve, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:22:24

    STEVEHi, Kojo. Great guest. Very educational. My original question was, how much of what the U.S. is doing in the European missions is really being done with a wink and a nod from the other governments, since they're equally interested in what they learn. And then the second part...

  • 13:22:45

    NNAMDIWell, allow me to have Heather answer that part of the question...

  • 13:22:47

    STEVEOkay, go ahead.

  • 13:22:48

    NNAMDI...because the NSA is also alleged to have bugged phones, infiltrated the internal computer networks of the EU mission buildings in Washington and New York.

  • 13:22:58

    CONLEYWell, and that's exactly it. We all know we do this to each other. That part is sort of understood. I think it was just the scale and scope of this. This was massive. And I think again at a time that I would question why we needed that much information. These are our closest partners and allies. Quite frankly, if we need to know the information I think -- even as President Obama was saying in his public remarks on his recent trip to Africa saying, if I need to ask something I'll call Chancellor Merkel.

  • 13:23:29

    CONLEYWe have that close relationship. And in some ways I thought he was saying, I'm not sure why we needed this -- it was massive. And again, the Snowden documents -- the revelation of how specific this was, it's shocking. And people are reacting to that shock of sort of the magnitude of what we were doing.

  • 13:23:46

    NNAMDIGlad you mentioned Snowden. Let's talk a little bit about the other side of this story. Snowden, Edward the NSA leaker is currently in a kind of legal limbo in Moscow's airport. His passport has been revoked. A large number of countries were apparently passed on his request for asylum. He says he's no longer seeking asylum in Russia. But first, what kind of pressure do you think the United States is exerting on friends and foes alike? Is it conceivable that any friend or even foe would take him right now?

  • 13:24:15

    CONLEYThis is quite an extraordinary story to watch, and particularly from an analyst perspective just to understand. I'm sure there's extraordinary conversation, pressure trying to figure out what the next step here is. And we're all going to get a -- we all have been getting quite an education in our extradition treaties and what are the legalities of doing this and revoking passports. And so, again, it's an education. We're all watching the next steps.

  • 13:24:45

    CONLEYI mean, it's been fascinating to me to watch Mr. Putin's response throughout this. I did not realize that...

  • 13:24:52

    NNAMDIBecause you can stay here if you no longer reveal any secrets.

  • 13:24:55

    CONLEY...because he doesn't want to embarrass his American friends. I mean, in some ways you've just got to chuckle at all of this, if it weren't so serious. It's been very revealing how in some way there is great pressure on our foes that the recent revelation that Vice-President Biden was making some phone calls and trying to...

  • 13:25:16

    NNAMDIAnd he wasn't inviting the President of Ecuador to a baseball game like we...

  • 13:25:19

    CONLEYHe wasn't.

  • 13:25:20

    NNAMDI...tend to associate Vice-President Biden with. This was clearly very serious.

  • 13:25:23

    CONLEYHe was applying great pressure. And Russia also knows that three week -- three months, excuse me, before President Obama is due to go to St. Petersburg, Russia for the G20 summit, he does not want Mr. Snowden in the Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport. So he's got some reasons he wants to move Mr. Snowden on. Where this goes from here, of course no one knows. We're watching it following it closely, but there's extraordinary pressure being applied here. This is important.

  • 13:25:49

    NNAMDIHere's Adam in Baltimore, Md. Adam, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:25:53

    ADAMYes. Hi, Kojo. How are you? It's a great show that you have. I've been listening very intently. And, you know, the comment I have is that, you know, a lady had called in before and she said, well, aren’t the Europeans -- don't they have -- you know, are their hands clean? And, you know, and I was listening to the speaker. And, you know, everyone engages -- every country engages in this.

  • 13:26:15

    ADAMI work in this sector and I can just really tell you that I think we're at a point now where, yeah we've all known that every country conducts surveillance and has different -- have revelations about who they do it to. The problem that we now, I think, we no longer can ignore that there's a big elephant in the room is, okay has it gone too far? Has it gone too far to the point where now our own allies have trouble trusting us? Or maybe not. Maybe we do need to continue to do this especially given the fact that we live in this terrible times of terrorism and that, you know, security is very important.

  • 13:26:51

    ADAMHowever, there is a point of no return I believe where something crosses into, you know, wow we can't even trust anyone anymore to -- as opposed to complete security amongst countries and friends and neighbors. So I think I'd like to kind of hear a little bit about that from your speaker because, you know, we do need to manage it. And I believe...

  • 13:27:13

    NNAMDIWell, I think, Adam, I have an email here that contextualizes this from Roger that Heather Conley can respond to. Roger writes, "It's wise to recall that countries don't have friends. They have national interests."

  • 13:27:26


  • 13:27:26

    CONLEYExcellent. Well, Adam, thank you so much for your comment and, Roger, that's a great quote. Thank you. Absolutely. There is a fine line. We work with our closest partners but we also want to have a deep understanding of where they are and what they're thinking. But you really hit the nail on the head. It's about that trust. And again there's -- we understand we do this to one another. We understand this is part of state craft.

  • 13:27:53

    CONLEYBut if you reach a point where politically you've breached a trust, then it's so difficult to do anything because, again, it's like any human relationship. If you don't have trust, it's very hard to move forward on an agenda. So what we have to be very careful about this particular issue is making sure that we haven't broken trust with our European partners. So we can't get on to doing the rest of our very important business, which in addition to the trade and investment agenda, try Iran, Syria, all the global hotspots.

  • 13:28:27

    CONLEYWe don't look first to Russia and China to solve those problems. We look to our closest friends, our British, our French our German partners to help solve those international challenges. So we have to circle back around. And we may not think this is a big deal here in the United States, but if our European partners do, we have to be clear, transparent and rebuilt that trust very quickly so we can move on to the rest of a fairly daunting agenda.

  • 13:28:54

    NNAMDIHeather Conley is senior fellow and director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Thank you for joining us.

  • 13:29:01

    CONLEYThank you.

  • 13:29:02

    NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, a Cold War tale. A friendship from Moscow to D.C. Local novelist Elliott Holt's debut novel explores trust and truth. A couple of the things we've just been talking about. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

Topics + Tags


comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows