President Obama on Monday downplayed growing European criticism of American surveillance programs, framing reports of the United States monitoring European Union offices and computer systems as routine intelligence gathering.
The German magazine Der Spiegel first reported on more government documents provided by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, which show that the agency bugged E.U. offices in Washington and New York, monitored E.U. phone lines and even tapped into its computer network.
Obama never directly confirmed the allegations — he didn’t deny them either — but essentially argued that both the United States and its allies routinely spy on each other.
“They’re seeking additional insight beyond what’s available in open sources,” Obama said during a press conference Monday with Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete. “If that weren’t the case, then there’d be no use for an intelligence service.”
He added, “I guarantee you that in European capitals there are people who are interested, if not then what I had for breakfast, then at least what my talking points might be, should I end up meeting with their leaders.”
Obama vowed to provide a thorough accounting of such activity to European allies after an internal review of the allegations. However, some of those European leaders have expressed indignation in the wake of the revelations, saying they could undermine ongoing discussions for a new, transatlantic trade agreement.
“We cannot accept this type of behavior between partners and allies,” French President Francois Hollande said. “We ask that it stop immediately.”
In Germany, officials there compared such American practices to the former Stasi police spying on German citizens.
The new disclosures come after Snowden revealed that the federal government had secretly collected millions of Americans’ phone records and seized massive amounts of Internet data.
The former government contractor remains holed up in a Moscow airport, where he is seeking asylum in up to 15 different countries. Obama confirmed on Monday that U.S. officials are engaged in high-level talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin to extradite Snowden back to the United States.
Putin has shown no interest in detaining Snowden but said on Monday that if the ex-CIA official wanted to live in Russia, he’d have to stop leaking American secrets to the press. Russian officials announced that Snowden is seeking asylum in the country.
“I know he damaged the country and the Obama administration will deal with it,” Bush said of Snowden on CNN. “I think he damaged the security of the country.”