clear
Monday August 3rd, 2015 9:15AM

Europe mulls sanctions against US over spying

By The Associated Press
BERLIN (AP) -- The United States could lose access to an important law enforcement tool used to track terrorist money flows, German officials said Monday, as Europe weighed a response to allegations that the Americans spied on their closest European allies.

In Washington, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein called for a "total review" of all U.S. intelligence programs in response to the allegations - activity the California Democrat said she wasn't told about.

Feinstein said that while her committee was informed of the National Security Agency's collection of phone records under a secret court order, it "was not satisfactorily informed" that "certain surveillance activities have been in effect for more than a decade" - including eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's own cellphone.

She said President Barack Obama was also not told that Merkel's communications were being collected since 2002.

"With respect to NSA collection of intelligence on leaders of U.S. allies-including France, Spain, Mexico and Germany-let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed," Feinstein said in a statement Monday.

"Unless the United States is engaged in hostilities against a country or there is an emergency need for this type of surveillance, I do not believe the United States should be collecting phone calls or emails of friendly presidents and prime ministers," Feinstein said. "The president should be required to approve any collection of this sort."

Spain became the latest U.S. ally to demand answers after a Spanish newspaper reported that the NSA monitored more than 60 million phone calls in that country during one month alone. The report Monday in the daily El Mundo came on the heels of allegations of massive NSA spying in France and Germany.

With European leaders dissatisfied with the U.S. response so far, officials have been casting about for a way to pressure Washington to provide details of past surveillance and assurances that the practice will be curbed. The challenge is to send a strong message to Washington against wholesale spying on European citizens and institutions without further damage to the overall trans-Atlantic relationship.

As possible leverage, German authorities cited last week's non-binding resolution by the European Parliament to suspend a post-9/11 agreement allowing the Americans access to bank transfer data to track the flow of terrorist money.

German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said Monday she believed the Americans were using the information to gather economic intelligence apart from terrorism and that the deal, popularly known as the SWIFT agreement, should be suspended. That would represent a sharp rebuke to the United States from some of its closest partners.

"It really isn't enough to be outraged," she told rbb-Inforadio. "This would be a signal that something can happen and make clear to the Americans that the (EU's) policy is changing."

Suspending the agreement, officially known as the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program, would require approval by an overwhelming majority of the 28 European Union countries. The agreement allows access to funds transferred through the private, Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, which handles the movement of money between banks worldwide.

Asked Monday if the NSA intelligence gathering had been used not only to protect national security but American economic interests as well, White House spokesman Jay Carney said: "We do not use our intelligence capabilities for that purpose. We use it for security purposes."

Still, he acknowledged the tensions with allies over the eavesdropping disclosures and said the White House was "working to allay those concerns," though he refused to discuss any specific reports or provide details of internal White House discussions.

The German justice minister's comments follow days of vocal indignation in Berlin after German news weekly Der Spiegel reported the NSA had kept tabs on Merkel's phone calls since as early as 2002, three years before she became chancellor.

Merkel said Friday that she was open to the idea of suspending the SWIFT agreement, saying she "needed to look at this again more closely" and weigh "what we will lose for the security of our citizens and what we don't."

Germany and other European governments have made clear they don't favor suspending the U.S.-EU trade talks which began last summer because both sides stand to gain so much through the proposed deal, especially against competition from China and other emerging markets.

Still, the Europeans have said they will insist that the trade agreement includes stronger rules for protecting data as a result of the NSA allegations. Data protection laws in Europe are generally stronger than in the United States.

"It's obvious to us that we have to and will bring our European convictions regarding data protection, and protection of privacy and business information, into these negotiations," Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin on Monday.

The European Parliament's foreign affairs committee chairman, Elmar Brok, told reporters that failure to resolve the differences over data protection could threaten the trade talks. Brok, a member of Merkel's party who was in Washington to discuss the spy allegations, said the challenge was to strike a balance between security and personal freedom.

"We are fighting for the rights of our citizens," he said.

The steady drumbeat of reports stemming from documents provided to various media by NSA leaker Edward Snowden has created a sense of urgency among European governments that, at the very least, they need to be seen in the eyes of their citizens to be doing something to stop the spying.

At the same time, European leaders are anxious to avoid lasting damage in relations with their major ally. So far the issue has not hurt Obama politically within the United States because Republicans have blamed Snowden rather than the White House for the flap.

In the latest allegation, the Spanish newspaper El Mundo published a document it said showed the NSA had eavesdropped on more than 60 million phone calls in Spain between Dec. 10, 2012 and Jan. 8, 2013. The U.S. ambassador to Spain was summoned to the Foreign Ministry for an explanation.

Still, Florentino Portero, a political analyst at Madrid's Open University, said Spain's response to the allegations wasn't as strong as it could have been because of the country's ties with the U.S., especially intelligence sharing.

"The Spanish government doesn't want to create a crisis with the United States based on these leaks," he told The Associated Press.

Madrid is wary of endangering the U.S. military presence in Spain at two bases, Portero said. The U.S. is boosting its presence there as part of a missile defense system, and both Spanish and American officials have stressed that this will give Spain an economic boost as it struggles with unemployment of 26 percent following years of recession.

But Heather Conley, Europe director for Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that for Germany, at least, the situation appeared to have reached tipping point and for now other European countries were willing to follow Berlin's lead.

German intelligence officials are to travel to Washington this week and expect something tangible to bring home, she said.

"If they leave empty-handed, we've got a big problem," Conley said.
© Copyright 2015 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
S&P 500 index has its best year since 1997
The stock market closed out a record year with more all-time highs on Tuesday, giving U.S. indexes their biggest annual gains in almost two decades.
6:56PM ( 1 year ago )
Colorado readies for 'Green Wednesday' pot sales
Police were adding extra patrols around pot shops in eight Colorado towns that plan to allow recreational sales to anyone over 21 on Jan. 1.
1:52PM ( 1 year ago )
Kerry seeks framework for Mideast peace talks
A senior State Department official says Secretary of State John Kerry will try this week to get Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a framework for negotiating a final peace agreement, yet cautions against raising expectations for Kerry's latest round of shuttle diplomacy.
1:35PM ( 1 year ago )
U.S. News
Ethics laws set to take effect Jan. 1 in Georgia
After dominating much of the legislative session, a set of major ethics reforms is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.
7:04PM ( 1 year ago )
Feds announce test sites for drone aircraft
The Federal Aviation Administration announced six states on Monday that will develop test sites for drones, a critical next step for the march of the unmanned aircraft into U.S. skies.
2:23PM ( 1 year ago )
Congress letting 55 tax breaks expire at year end
In an almost annual ritual, Congress is letting a package of 55 popular tax breaks expire at the end of the year, creating uncertainty - once again - for millions of individuals and businesses.
2:21PM ( 1 year ago )
Politics
Climate change: Obama orders steeper emissions cuts from power plants
Aiming to jolt the rest of the world to action, President Barack Obama moved ahead Sunday with even tougher greenhouse gas cuts on American power plants.
By The Associated Press
6:40PM ( 14 hours ago )
Some Americans refuse to give up on Confederate flag
Many Americans assumed the Confederate flag was retired for good
By Associated Press
6:30PM ( 14 hours ago )
Biden for President? Associates mulling Clinton challenge
Vice President Joe Biden's associates have resumed discussions about a 2016 presidential run after largely shelving such deliberations while his son was sick and dying earlier this year.
By The Associated Press
9:50AM ( 23 hours ago )
Atlanta airport again leads in number of guns found in bags
Atlanta's airport once again leads the nation in the number of guns found in carry-on bags.
By The Associated Press
6:49PM ( 1 day ago )
Judge blocks release of new recordings by anti-abortion group
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal judge on Friday blocked the release of any recordings made at meetings of an abortion providers' association by an anti-abortion group that previously revealed secretly...
8:30AM ( 2 days ago )