Amid reports that the United States did not spare even its allies and friends like India from its spying operations, President Barack Obama has responded that all nations collect intelligence on each other.
“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,” Mr. Obama was quoted as saying by CNN.
“That is how intelligence services operate,” he said at a news conference in Tanzania in response to questions about the latest embarrassing leaks by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor turned whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
Mr. Obama suggested such spying was commonplace, but sought to distinguish between what he portrayed as normal intelligence-gathering and the specific anti-terrorism programmes disclosed by Mr. Snowden’s earlier leaks to The Guardian newspaper in London and the Washington Post.
The U.S. President said he needed more information on the specific programmes cited in a Der Spiegel report that Mr. Snowden had detailed NSA bugging of European Union offices in Washington and New York, as well as an “electronic eavesdropping operation” that tapped into an EU building in Brussels.
The Guardian as cited by CNN reported that one NSA document leaked by Mr. Snowden describes 38 embassies and missions as “targets” and details surveillance methods that include planting bugs in communications equipment and collecting transmissions with specialised antennae.
Besides India targets included France, Italy, Greece, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, and Turkey, according to The Guardian.
Meanwhile, WikiLeaks on Monday released a statement attributed to Mr. Snowden, blasting the Obama administration for trying to block his efforts to seek asylum in another country.
“These are the old, bad tools of political aggression,” Mr. Snowden said in the statement issued through WikiLeaks, which has been assisting his effort to find a haven from US espionage charges. “Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who would come after me.”
Editorially commenting on the latest bugging controversy, the Washington Post said the first US priority should be to prevent Snowden from leaking information that harms efforts to fight terrorism and conduct legitimate intelligence operations.