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U.S. Spying Takes Center Stage At EU Summit


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block. We begin this hour with the latest news about the extent of the National Security Agency's spying activities. The Guardian newspaper came out with a report this afternoon saying that the U.S. has monitored the phone traffic of 35 world leaders. The paper cites a document from 2006. The news comes after revelations yesterday that the NSA tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone.

The news further damages U.S. relations with Western Europe. German officials reacted to the news with deep concern.

THOMAS DE MAIZIERE: (Speaking foreign language)

BLOCK: That's the German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere speaking with German public broadcaster ARD. He called the allegations really bad. He also said that as long as America is Germany's best friend, it really can't work like this. Meanwhile, at the European Union summit in Brussels, many leaders are expressing indignation that the U.S., their strongest ally, is engaging in any spying on European officials and citizens.

For more, we're joined by NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson. She is in Berlin. And Soraya, this is the latest in a series of revelations about the NSA's activities, including earlier revelations this summer about spying on Germany, but reaction now seems to be much stronger.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Yeah, I mean, they've been pretty upset by this all along. I mean, you're looking at German history here where during the East German Communist times the Stasi did a lot of spying on people and certainly during the Cold War there was a lot of it and then go back to World War II.

But I think what's particularly outrageous to them now is the fact that this was done on the chancellor herself. This is arguably the strongest or most important leader in Europe and certainly in Germany and so there really is a feeling of betrayal.

BLOCK: This all led to Chancellor Merkel calling President Obama. He apparently assured her that her phone is not being listened to. So I'm a little confused. If the NSA was tapping Merkel's phone, what does that mean? They were tapping it, but just not listening to what she was saying?

NELSON: Well, I think what President Obama was trying to tell her was that it's not being listened to now and it's won't be listened to in the future, but he didn't address, in fact, what happened in the past. And this is the $64,000 question, if you will, and what people in Germany want to know is, you know, did this, in fact, happen and what happened before.

And it sort of leads to the whole issue of why Germans aren't placated by these assurances by the president. They don't feel he's taking these allegations seriously and they don't really like the, trust me, it's OK, don't worry about it approach that they're seeing.

BLOCK: And apart from Germany, Soraya, what other reaction has there been across Europe?

NELSON: Well, there's a lot of outrage being expressed by leaders. The French president, for example, who had also called the U.S. ambassador in Paris on the carpet to answer questions about spying allegations there, wants to see this on the E.U. summit agenda, that this whole matter be discussed.

And also, Annette Heuser who is the executive director of the Bertelsmann Foundation in Washington says some European leaders are calling for pulling the Transatlantic trade talks on hold.

ANNETTE HEUSER: Bottom line is, Europeans are not accepting this when it comes to the transatlantic relationship because you don't spy on your friends and I would say this NSA scandal is a political phenomena right now that is happening across the Atlantic.

NELSON: She adds that the proposed trade agreement is the only prestigious project that Europeans and Americans have in the pipeline so this is a real serious issue.

BLOCK: And Soraya, it got even more serious today with that report I mentioned from The Guardian newspaper which says the NSA was able to monitor the phones of 35 world leaders. What more can you tell us about that?

NELSON: The newspaper cites a memo from October 2006 that it said it got from Edward Snowden. Now, this NSA memo doesn't name the world's leaders who were spied and said that it didn't receive much in the way of useful intelligence. But what was interesting is that they were asking U.S. officials in other departments to handover - basically open up their Rolodexes and hand over foreign contacts, with the hopes that they would get more intelligence from those individuals.

BLOCK: From those phone numbers.

NELSON: From those phone numbers.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Berlin. Soraya, thanks.

NELSON: You're welcome, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.