Are European Leaders Upset with the NSA?

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The European response to news that the U.S. National Security Agency was spying on European leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel has amounted to little more than a stern rebuke, at least for the moment.

After a meeting about telecommunications rules, members of the European Union said that though they disapprove of the NSA’s methods, the best way to settle the matter is to host private talks on the issue in the coming months, according to The Economist. A move like suspending trade talks between the United States and the EU seems unlikely. France and Germany are set to represent the interests of European countries during the meetings.

After many of the NSA’s activities were blown open by the revelations of Edward Snowden, outrage was prevalent not only within the U.S. but across the rest of the world, as well. Many international leaders expressed dismay, outrage, or even disbelief at the tactics the NSA was using to monitor the activities of people in America.

The problem is that while criticizing the NSA is easy, standing up to criticism is much harder. It’s not hard to take the moral high ground, but it’s difficult to defend it; France is well known for its corporate espionage, and the German intelligence agency, the BND, is famous both for its efficiency and its secrecy in methodology, according to The Fiscal Times.

There’s a more practical problem, as well, and it ties in to the old adage of “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” The Fiscal Times reports that many countries work directly with the NSA — indeed, some basically use the agency’s intelligence gathering services as a source of free information — meaning that they are afraid of being cut off if they are too vocal in their critiques. Not only would this be bad for international relations, but it could also be problematic in what would slip through international security nets.

With the EU’s response being so muted despite news that Merkel’s telephone was being monitored by the NSA, one can only assume that European countries are taking the quiet approach to resolving the situation, The Economist says. The NSA will maintain that it only was surveying Merkel’s telephone for reasons not related to her political status, and European leaders can claim that they expressed their indignation when confronted with the issue by the public.

No one wants to say that collaboration between intelligence agencies — alongside the extensive gathering of information — is essential, but the reaction from the EU indicates that real changes in the area are unlikely to occur anytime soon.

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