JG logo

Hide photos

Obama says spying on allies is commonplace

Snowden asks Russia to grant him asylum

TOM RAUM
Thumbnail

Associated Press

President Barack Obama defended the United States’ practice of spying on European allies during a speech Monday in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama brushed aside sharp European criticism on Monday, suggesting that all nations spy on one another as the French and Germans expressed outrage over alleged U.S. eavesdropping on European Union diplomats.

American analyst-turned-leaker Edward Snowden, believed to still be at Moscow’s international airport, applied for political asylum to remain in Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a statement he acknowledged sounded odd, told reporters in Moscow that Snowden would have to stop leaking U.S. secrets if he wanted asylum in Russia – and he added that Snowden seemed unwilling to stop publishing leaks of classified material. At the same time, Putin said that he had no plans to turn over Snowden to the United States.

Obama, in an African news conference with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, said the U.S. would provide allies with information about new reports that the National Security Agency had bugged EU offices in Washington, New York and Brussels. But he also suggested such activity by governments would hardly be unusual.

“We should stipulate that every intelligence service – not just ours, but every European intelligence service, every Asian intelligence service, wherever there’s an intelligence service – here’s one thing that they’re going to be doing: They’re going to be trying to understand the world better, and what’s going on in world capitals around the world,” he said. “If that weren’t the case, then there’d be no use for an intelligence service.”

Allegations that the U.S. is spying on European officials appear in the German news weekly Der Spiegel.

French President Francois Hollande on Monday demanded that the U.S. immediately stop any such eavesdropping and suggested the widening controversy could jeopardize next week’s opening of trans-Atlantic trade talks between the United States and Europe.

“We cannot accept this kind of behavior from partners and allies,” Hollande said on French television.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin, “Eavesdropping on friends is unacceptable.” He declared, “We’re not in the Cold War anymore.”

Even before the latest disclosures, talks at the upcoming free-trade sessions were expected to be fragile, with disagreements surfacing over which items should be covered or excluded from an agreement. The United States has said there should be no exceptions.

Obama said the Europeans “are some of the closest allies that we have in the world.”

But he added, “I guarantee you that in European capitals, there are people who are interested in, if not what I had for breakfast, at least what my talking points might be should I end up meeting with their leaders. That’s how intelligence services operate.”

Nonetheless, Obama said he’d told his advisers to “evaluate everything that’s being claimed” and promised to share the results with allies.

© Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.