Brookings Now

Brookings Scholars Comment on NSA Surveillance of Foreign Leaders

Fred Dews

The Obama administration is embroiled by new revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) not only monitored U.S. citizens’ phone records, but also those of foreign leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Brookings scholars offer recommendations and commentary.

 

Jack Goldsmith, a nonresident senior fellow in Governance Studies and contributor to Lawfare blog, was “very skeptical about the suggestions in recent days that neither the White House nor the congressional intelligence committees knew about NSA collections against leaders in allied countries.” Indeed, as the LA Times reported, the White House and State department signed off on the activities. Goldsmith says “there is a lot more to learn here.”

Darrell West, vice president and director of Governance Studies, said that the revelations “are a serious setback in our relations with allies.”

Everyone understands that [surveillance] is fair game with adversaries. But allies don’t expect to get treated as enemies and are upset that America would stoop to this level. That is the most surprising part, that our intelligence agency spied on the heads of state of our closest allies.

Author

Allan Friedman, research director of the Center for Technology Innovation (CTI) at Brookings, called the lack of fear about the ripple effects if the surveillance activities became known publicly “a gross failing in the intelligence community and in the executive and legislative bodies that have responsibility for oversight.

In September, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff postponed her state visit to the United States over revelations of NSA surveillance activity in her country. Harold Trinkunas, director of the Latin America Initiative at Brookings, said that “NSA electronic surveillance highlights the degree to which Brazil’s sovereignty can be compromised by outside forces” and concludes that the incident will cause Brazil to add itself to the list of countries attempting to reform how it, and other South American countries, handle their data.

In June, CTI hosted a discussion on the subject Trinkunas raised in the Brazil context: the global discussion around national and international institutions that govern the flow of data around the world.


Additional expert commentary on the latest revelations appears below: