The recent controversy with the NSA's PRISM program seems to be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the true extent of the surveillance programs the NSA has been involved in. It seems the NSA has also been spying on the European Union.
Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker, revealed documents that showed that the NSA had been bugging offices in Brussels, home to the European Council (which was the target of much of the surveillance), and in its other facilities in Washington, and New York. Additionally, the NSA seems to have been responsible for hacking into secure computer networks in order to collect information from government officials. The backlash from these revelations has been enormous, as European Union leadership has called for an immediate explanation by the U.S. government. German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said in a statement to The Associated Press that, "It is beyond comprehension that our friends in the United States see Europeans as enemies."
Going forth, it is clear that while the NSA's PRISM programs can be debated, the surveillance of allies is something that is a necessary duty of the American intelligence community. Keeping tabs on allies is necessary for the upkeep of comprehensive security of our country, and it does not encounter questions of unconstitutionality as citizen surveillance does. While the American relationship with its allies may be damaged, the actions taken by the U.S. are justified. Europe, as an ally, will not abandon the U.S. for these actions, and while the alliance may cool for awhile, the EU will see the positive aims of the NSA in due time.
But why was the U.S. engaging in such drastic surveillance of its allies? It seems that at the heart of the matter was anti-terrorism efforts. In a speech in Germany, President Obama clarified that "this applies very narrowly to leads that we have obtained on issues related to terrorism or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction." President Obama also responded to the new accusations, saying that, "This is not a situation in which we are rifling through ... the ordinary emails of German citizens or American citizens or French citizens or anyone else ..." Nevertheless, the spying has been viewed by some Europeans as an attempt by the U.S. to better assert its position in the negotiations of a new trade pact between the EU and United States.
Regarding the purpose of this espionage, some European parties speculate about economic reasons. But all this chatter is still just speculation. There is no evidence that the US was using the data for any cause regarding the trade pact. Nevertheless, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is now in jeopardy, according to Johannes Thimm, an authority on U.S. foreign policy at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. Dr. Thimm claims that "There are economic interests involved on both sides, and while the [TTIP] is generally in the spirit of cooperation, there are some trade-offs and really hard negotiations ahead." The spying that took place on the EU, according to Dr. Thimm, gives the U.S. "a huge strategic advantage" in the negotiating of this partnership. Another European political pundit, Josef Braml, an expert on Transatlantic relations at the German Council on Foreign Relations, feels that the extent of the surveillance is not limited to issues regarding terrorism. He expects "this to go much farther."
Thus, while it seems that the U.S. bugging and surveillance was done for commendable intentions, it has definitely been perceived by European officials and experts as more malicious. The geopolitical situation of the U.S. has again taken a hard punch from the critics of the NSA's extensive surveillance programs. But was the U.S. justified in its surveillance of American allies? Yes.
American Thinker pundit Rick Moran believes the U.S. was. Moran writes that "Knowing what your friends are doing is almost as valuable as knowing what the enemy is up to." Moran also states that the EU government already knew about the regularity of this sort of espionage activity, and they were already likely prepared with "countermeasures." The justification for espionage is very different than that put forth for the data collection enacted on American citizens. The merits and legality of PRISM and other programs run by the NSA are still being debated. But the need of espionage on allies is something that any honest intelligence community will admit is necessary.