By Ana Camus
The United States has once again been embroiled in a diplomatic nightmare sparked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. After gaining temporary asylum in Russia, Snowden has been leaking a gradual stream of sensitive information to different journalists and governments around the world.
In one of the most controversial leaks, Snowden, viewed as a whistleblower by many and a traitor by others, revealed that the United States has been spying on allied world leaders by gaining access to their personal email accounts and smartphone devices. Some of the targets included Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mexico’s current president Enrique Peña Nieto (at the time of the alleged espionage, he was the leading presidential candidate) as well as former president Felipe Calderon Hinojosa, and Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, who accused the U.S. government of engaging in “a breach of international law.”
Calls and visits from President Barack Obama aimed at repairing the damage have not eased tensions. Angela Merkel, whose Blackberry was allegedly tapped, stated to the press that “trust now has to be built anew”. These comments came in the midst of an ongoing political debate in Germany in which a majority of Parliament wants to request further information about the spying allegations directly from Edward Snowden. Merkel and Brazil’s Rousseff have partnered to draft a letter to the United Nations in which they call for a resolution safeguarding Internet privacy in an effort to restrain NSA intrusions into foreign digital communications.
Mexico’s Foreign Ministry responded to the spying allegations, calling the NSA’s actions unacceptable, illegitimate and against the law. Former President Felipe Calderon described the revelations in the leaks as an “affront to the institutions of the country, given that it took place when I was president” via his Twitter account. In spite of public anger, no further diplomatic action or retaliation has been taken in Mexico.
France and Spain were also included in the turmoil. According to reports released by Edward Snowden and published in the French newspaper Le Monde, the NSA secretly monitored 70.3 million phone communications in France over 30 days spanning from Dec. 10 to Jan. 8. In addition, two Spanish newspapers reported that the NSA had gathered data on Iberian phone numbers and locations. The New York Times reported that the Spanish government summoned the American ambassador, who addressed the allegations by stating that “ultimately, the United States needs to balance the important role that these programs play in protecting our national security and protecting the security of our allies with legitimate privacy concerns.”
Recognizing that diplomatic ties have been strained, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told MSNBC the surveillance “reached too far.” Although this statement constituted the first glimpse of an admission from the American government, Kerry concluded there was “an enormous amount of exaggeration” in the allegations during an open-government conference in London.
The debate in the United States on Snowden’s leaks has simmered down due to pervasive media coverage of the government shutdown and Obamacare. However, these actions have deeply hampered America’s foreign and public diplomacy efforts. Despite all this, Edward Snowden declared in a recent statement from Moscow that he is “no enemy of America” and wishes to testify before the U.S. Congress.
Image by U.S. Embassy, Jakarta