DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — President Obama defended U.S. intelligence-gathering tactics Monday in the wake of a report that the United States conducted electronic monitoring of European Union offices and computer networks.
In Asia, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said he was taken by surprise when E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton questioned him about the reported eavesdropping.
President Obama said he was sure that European countries used similar intelligence gathering techniques on the U.S., while in Tanzania.
Former National Security Agency head Michael Hayden says the Obama administration would be well-served by making the American people "more comfortable" with recently revealed surveillance programs.
The German magazine Der Spiegel said Sunday that the conduct was described in portions of documents from 2010 provided by Edward Snowden, the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor whose earlier revelations about international NSA surveillance have caused a firestorm of questions and criticism in the United States. The report said the agency had placed listening devices in E.U. offices in Washington and New York, monitored phone lines at the E.U.’s Brussels headquarters and breached its computer network.
Der Spiegel said the NSA described the 27-country bloc a “target.” The report has prompted outrage from top European officials.
At a news conference here Monday during his African tour, Obama said he has asked aides to look more closely at the revelations in the story, and he declined to comment on the specifics. But more generally, the president said all spy agencies gather information beyond that which is publicly available from large media organizations such as the New York Times and NBC News.
“They are seeking additional insight beyond what’s available through open sources,” he said. “And if that weren’t the case, then there would be no use for an intelligence service. And I guarantee you that in European capitals, there are people who are interested in, if not what I had for breakfast, at least what my talking points might be should I end up meeting with their leaders. That’s how intelligence services operate.”
The president insisted that there was nothing sinister about the NSA’s methods, emphasizing that any information he is given is less important than his personal conversations with European leaders.
“I’m the end user of this kind of intelligence, and if I want to know what [German] Chancellor [Angela] Merkel is thinking, I will call Chancellor Merkel,” he said.
The allegations made by Der Spiegel are the latest in a string of revelations on the tactics of
, which also has been collecting massive amounts of Americans’ cellphone records and monitoring computer records of big Internet companies such as Facebook and Google. The disclosures, made by The Washington Post and the Guardian newspapers, as well as Der Spiegel, were facilitated by former Snowden, who has been charged by the U.S. government with several felonies related to the leaks.
Snowden has left the United States and is presumed to be in Russia. Obama declined to confirm a report that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin have asked their law enforcement agencies to negotiate a return of Snowden to the United States. The United States does not have an extradition treaty with Russia, potentially making a turnover more difficult.