Dealing With The Diplomatic Damage Of Leaks

This week The Guardian reported that the U.S. tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel's private cellphone. Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon speaks with P.J. Crowley, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for public affairs, about the Obama administration's response to the new NSA leaks.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Spies try to protect America from its enemies, but does that mean spying on friends too? The steady drip of intelligence leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden continues with the revelations that the National Security Agency tapped the mobile phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The Guardian newspaper broke the story this week and also reported that the U.S. spy agency intercepted 70 million phone calls and text messages in France. Now, the response from Germany and France has been swift, and as you might imagine, sharp. Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, called the spying shocking and unacceptable. He told Le Monde: We cooperate in the useful way in the fight against terrorism but that does not justify everything. P.J. Crowley is a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for public affairs. He joins us in our studios. Thanks so much for being with us.

P.J. CROWLEY: Pleasure to be here, Scott.

SIMON: Are Germany and France shocked, shocked like in Casablanca, or are they truly surprised?

CROWLEY: There's scambling(ph) going on here, yes. I mean, Europeans have a different view of privacy than Americans do. So, I think there is a difference of attitude or perspective on this. That said, I don't think it should shock anyone that governments spy on each other.

SIMON: Well, but these are allies.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. But the purpose of having intelligence capability is to understand the world, and understand not only what your interests are and how they will be affected by developments around the world but also the shared interests that you have with allies. But, obviously, as you go into a negotiation, whether it's on a trade agreement, whether it's on issues regarding privacy, whether it's on a very complex issue such as Iran, because national interests are difference. The bottom lines of your partners in those negotiations may be different. And understanding, you know, where you're heading and understanding how far your partners might go with you might be a reason why at least you want to understand what leaders are thinking, whether those are potential adversaries or close friends.

SIMON: But you can see why, let's say, Chancellor Merkel, is bound to be upset, as I've read it, that the phone on which she famously received text messages, according to reports, text messages were monitored by the NSA.

CROWLEY: There has been damage here. Obviously, deep disappointment and skepticism about U.S. actions and U.S. intentions, not unlike what we experienced 10 years ago with Iraq. These things go through a cycle and we'll work through this just as we have in the past.

SIMON: But when you say there's been damage here, I mean, I do want to know where, but it seems to me you're undercutting your own argument, if I may, because you're essentially saying, well, everybody does this, you know, all the time, which suggests to me that when President Obama and, let's say, Chancellor Merkel or Hollande get into the office together, they'll all go ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, you know, what was that all about?

CROWLEY: Well, it will take some time. You know, now, obviously, in domocracies...

SIMON: But if it will take some time and there's been damage, aren't you undercutting your argument that...

CROWLEY: No, not at all.

SIMON: ...that everybody does this?

CROWLEY: I mean, I'm not minimizing the impact of what has happened here. There has shone a spotlight on something that countries all do and it leads to some difficult conversations when these kinds of activities are exposed.

SIMON: It does seem, these stories seem to break before there's a summit meeting, or in this case Secretary Kerry arriving in France.

CROWLEY: So, this week you had a very significant story on U.S.-Pakistan relations, timed with the arrival in Washington of, you know, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. You have some information on potentially monitoring of many presidents and prime ministers timed with the start of a European political conference and then a negotiation with the United States. So, I think this is where, you know, journalists are doing what they do - reporting effectively, adding context to information and timing that where you're going to have the maximum effect.

SIMON: What would your estimate be? This affects relations for another three months, six months, a year?

CROWLEY: There may well be, for a period of time, some reluctance to share information. Everyone, we're wondering, given WikiLeaks and given Edward Snowden, if I tell you something important will it end up, you know, tomorrow on the front page of the New York Times or the Guardian or Le Monde? By the same token, there will be cooperation because ultimately it's in everyone's interest to do so.

SIMON: P.J. Crowley is a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for public affairs. Thanks so much for joining us.

CROWLEY: A pleasure, Scott.

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