The furor provoked by revelations that the American government has for years monitored the private communications of its allies showed no signs of abating this week as European leaders issued harsh condemnations while demanding a full explanation.
“Spying is not acceptable,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters on Thursday as she arrived in Brussels for a European Union summit. “Allies are supposed to trust one another. It’s not a problem just for me, but for all citizens.”
Beyond the immediate substance of the reports -- the notion that American power has been applied to peer into the activities of its closest allies -- reactions suggest an almost visceral sense of violation: European leaders have expressed profound feelings of betrayal, a sentiment that suggests the potential for lasting damage in their dealings with the Obama administration.
This breach has opened at a time in which the United States and its European allies are facing particularly nettlesome problems that would seem to require fruitful collaboration, from the international effort to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons capability to negotiations with Iran aimed at preventing that country from developing nuclear weapons.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault pronounced himself “shocked” by revelations published earlier this week in Le Monde detailing an American spying program that reportedly went by the code name Genie. The National Security Agency implanted surveillance devices on French computers overseas, including at its embassies.
“It is unbelievable that an ally country such as the United-States is capable to go as far as to spy on private conversations that have no strategic rationale and no impact on the national defense,” the prime minister told reporters in Copenhagen on Monday.
Ayrault demanded that the United States “give clear answers, to justify the reasons that led to such practices, and to put in place a system of transparency,” adding, “It’s the basis for a trustworthy relationship between our countries.”
In an interview with a French radio station, Europe 1, Interior Minister Manuel Valls expressed shock, amazement and disappointment over the Le Monde report.
“It is totally unacceptable for an ally country to spy on France or on other European countries,” he said.
Italian Premier Enrico Letta on Thursday demanded that the United States detail the extent of its spying into the workings of his government.
“We want the truth,” Letta told reporters in Brussels as he responded to questions about the latest bit of inflammatory information -- new reports from the journalist Glenn Greenwald, published in the Italian magazine l’Espresso, that the NSA’s spying operations have included the government in Rome, another stalwart American ally.
“We won’t permit any grey or shadowy areas,” Letta said. “Obviously, these statements need to be verified, but we want the truth. These kinds of activities are neither conceivable, nor acceptable.”
With reporting from Sara Taleb in Paris and Giulia Belardelli in Rome.