With its back against the wall and fingers being pointed at it by US citizens and world leaders for being too nosey, the White House has finally acknowledged the need to put ‘additional constraints’ on the NSA’s intelligence gathering. However, whether Washington can regain the trust of its European allies remains to be seen. Gauging by some of the recent comments, the EU seems least satisfied with the White House’s response to the spying allegations.
Spokesman Jay Carney revealed that an ongoing review would address widespread “privacy concerns” as ex-NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden continues to blow the whistle on his former organization’s activity.
Perhaps the latest statement from Washington, coupled with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein’s assurance of a “major review” of the spying programs, could put the concerned quarters at ease.
“Collection on our allies will not continue,” the White House informed Senator Feinstein.
"With respect to NSA collection of intelligence on leaders of US allies — including France, Spain, Mexico and Germany — let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed," Feinstein said in a statement. She elaborated that the US should not collect phone calls or emails of friendly heads of state unless it was an emergency and had the approval of the president.
The United States is currently in the process of an overall review of its intelligence resources; an exercise that is expected to help the administration account for the “security of our citizens and our allies and the privacy concerns shared by Americans and citizens around the world,” Carney assured.
With Spain being the latest of the European countries reported to have fallen victim to US spying, the European Union has taken its concerns to Washington and a visiting delegation described the row as a “breakdown of trust”.
On Monday, two Spanish newspapers claimed that data from over 60 million phone calls were collected in less than a month.
Previously, the heads of European states would tolerate the violation of privacy for the sake of the war on terror, but their patience has worn out.
Noticeably irate over suspicions that Chancellor Merkel’s phone was bugged by the NSA, German officials warned that the US could lose access to an important tool to track the flow of terrorist money.
Another top official from Berlin accused Washington of spying on Merkel to obtain economic intelligence and urged the suspension of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) agreement.
However, the White House spokesman denied that the US was using its intelligence gathering capabilities to promote economic interests. He said that President Barack Obama was committed to ensuring that the US was “collecting information not just because we can, but because we should, because we need it for our security".
A few days earlier, the European Parliament also voted to halt US access to SWIFT as its members believed that Washington had violated the spirit of the agreement.
Washington must now play its cards very carefully to regain the trust of key European allies. So far, its responses have done little to ease the tension created by the spying allegations.
"They're giving us answers, but not the answers we want," he said. "We're getting a bit tired of this, 'Well, spying has always existed," British Labour MEP Claude Moraes, a member of the EU delegation, told the BBC.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will also send intelligence officials for answers and while a spokesman for her government said that it would disturbing if the suspicions were proven true, he hoped that “Germany and the United States can solve this problem together”.