Zakaria: We shouldn't be spying on ally leaders
October 28th, 2013
11:22 AM ET

Zakaria: We shouldn't be spying on ally leaders

CNN speaks with Fareed about claims the U.S. National Security Agency eavesdropped on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone calls, whether such an approach is justified and how the Obama administration has handled the controversy. This is an edited version of the transcript.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that the U.S. relationship with European nations has been severely shaken. Do you think these reports that continue to come out over U.S. eavesdropping on leaders are really hurting or threatening a relationship with some of our most basic and key allies?

I think it is. Look, some of this is what people are calling the Claude Rains routine – I'm shocked to discover there's gambling going on. And spying is the second oldest profession in the world. But two things have changed. One is just the explosion of technology, big data, the ability to find all this stuff and the United States’ incredible cutting edge on that. And the second was 9/11, which in a sense freed all the constraints that we have typically felt about collecting this kind of information, particularly from spies, because we felt like we need to know everything about everything. Those two forces have, frankly, made us sloppy about this.

We should not be, in my opinion, spying on our closest allies’ heads of government. It's one thing to try to find al Qaeda sleeper cells in Hamburg, but you don't need to tap Angela Merkel's cell phone to figure that out.

We hear from the administration and members of Congress that everyone spies on everyone. But does it feel we're in a different place, we're kind of in an uncharted territory here with us?

It does precisely because of the technologies that make it possible for to you listen to anyone, anywhere at any time, and so you have to come up with some new rules of the road. The United States is often caught in this kind of hypocritical position where we're trying to enforce rules for everybody else and we say we can't play by those rules. You know, we have nuclear weapons, but we don't want other people to have nuclear weapons. This is a similar thing. The hypocrisy can only happen for so long. You have to, in some way, show that you are being governed by some set of rules.

More from CNN: U.S. needs to get spying under control

So, I think the administration is doing the right thing – review the policy, get into conversations with the Europeans and come up with some rules of the road. Of course, they realize everyone spies. They spy on us. But I think what they're trying to say is look, even within that, you know, let's have some kind of rules of war, if you will.

Peter King, the congressman from New York, said something pretty interesting on "Meet the Press" this weekend. He said the administration needs to stop apologizing for the NSA's tactics. You said you think the administration is doing the right thing in reviewing the process. How are they handling the fallout, do you think?

Not very well. They're being surprisingly inarticulate about it. They should explain the motivation behind this has been things like terrorism, trying to figure out what's going on. One of the reasons they are is they don't want to get into specifics…and from what I've heard the stuff about Merkel's cell phone is a little more complicated and the reports are not accurate. Whatever, they've got to come up with a way to stand before the world and say look, this is what we do in general terms. This is why we do it.

Even if they're reviewing the policy, they need to have some general explanation that makes sense of it. If I were them, I would list 20 terrorist attacks that were thwarted as a result of this.

Now, France and Germany, they are sending over some senior intelligence officials to Washington this week to try to have a no spy accord or work on something like that. Is that going to be enough to try to settle the anger or calm the outrage that's felt around the world on this?

I think it's a good question. At a governmental level, I think we will be able to settle the anger. But clearly what is happening here is that European politicians are responding to a public that has become quite distrustful of the United States, views it as a kind of 800-pound gorilla that's out of control. And we need to think about that.

American legitimacy, our influence around the world, depends in large part on the idea that we are sort of rule based, we observe some of the kind of rules we want other people to observe. And that's why I say we've got to think about the rewards here of spying on Merkel – you're not learning that much, frankly, that you didn't know.

Not so surprising.

Precisely. The truth of the matter is at the level of high policy, particularly with democracies, most of the time you have a fairly good sense of what the leader is trying to do. If you're trying to find terrorists, that's fine. But again I'm not sure how tapping Merkel's phone gets you there.

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soundoff (127 Responses)
  1. Steve

    Did you notice neither the interviewer nor Zakaria cite Obama's name in the discussion? It is all part of the plan to distance Obama from this and make it appear like the NSA was committing these violations without the administrations knowledge. Of course, they can't come out and say that, since it would be a big lie, so they simply suggest it. Over and over and over again.....

    October 28, 2013 at 3:15 pm | Reply
    • sly

      Ho ho ho ...must be part of that huge global conspiracy to keep it secret that President Obama invented spying.

      Yup ... y'all Tea Party members are really intelligent when it comes to conspiracy theories.

      Remember when President Obama claimed that Saddam had weapons on mass destruction? Yup, just another lie that President Obama told, right?

      October 28, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Reply
      • j. von hettlingen

        America's fear is a situation described by Thomas Hobbes in his best-known work – "Leviathan". Hobbes said humans were by nature violent and the fear of uncertainty drove them to attack and prey on one another. It was not a love of domination that made people violent, but an overpowering need for safety. This struggling for power in a situation of chaos is what Hobbes called a "war of all against all".

        October 28, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
      • ✠ RZ ✠

        @jvh- if we were to apply "logic" rather than Hobbes, I don't think it would suggest that "fear" is the driving factor behind those who actully control America, being also those who are backed up by the full might and tecnology of the US Military. Certainly, the tactic of instilling fear within the masses as a means to a desired end has become rather apparent, however, the notion itself that America need fear any attack from another country should be commited to flames. I would consider the analogy comparing the usefulness of all this data gathering and monitoring to that of insider trading to be the better case. Especially given the collapse of 2008 and that both Americas financial system and its' currency might since best resemble those things called "walkers" on "The Walking Dead".

        October 28, 2013 at 9:25 pm |
    • Miss Demeanor

      You see the big Dick Cheney using this in a lame attempt to justify all the reptilian-stupid judgements he made by following right-wing paranoia or lies (WMD's in Iraq). The police-state mentality of Nixon, Cheney & friends is a serious threat to our society. Our rights should never be trampled unless there is an imminent threat that won't permit the ten minutes it takes to get a warrant. If there is time & sufficient reason to get a warrant, then get a frikkin' warrant. Unchecked power is usually a very bad thing. You should know that. No person who votes should let their team spirit ("my political party... we're the good guys... so anything goes") stop them from questioning authority... especially someone like the big Di<k whose trillion dollar war trashed our economy while enriching his former company Halliburton. Put the pieces together.

      October 28, 2013 at 4:12 pm | Reply
      • ✠RZ✠

        That's right Miss. D. "Follow the money". This cancer has been embedded since WWII and has now reached a crippling stage. People are now finally waking up to it. But so far very little has been done in the way of a cure. Not even sure if there is one.

        October 29, 2013 at 8:15 am |
  2. saywhat

    Its Israel which gets the aid.11-17 billion dollars a year.

    October 28, 2013 at 3:17 pm | Reply
  3. saywhat

    while what you point out seems right, agencies like NSA,CIA and such often run amok on their own.
    It must be said though that an NSA official has admitted informing Obama on Merkel snooping.

    October 28, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Reply
  4. DJ Farkus

    No no no...
    Our response should be honest and straightforward:

    "Yes, we have spied on you in the past"
    "Yes, we are spying on you this week"
    "Yes, we will spy on you next week"

    "Since we're discussing this, maybe its time you reviewed you internal security policies, because our eavedropping caught you discussing critical security issues numerous times. Maybe you need to stop discussing security issues on an inherently insecure device like a cell phone..."

    October 28, 2013 at 3:33 pm | Reply
  5. lord toronaga

    I love hearing all the spineless liberals on MSNBC siding with Obama and his creepy phone taps. How did Merkel's personal phone fit into our NATIONAL SECURITY. This is Obama's grand plan on winning the hearts and minds of our European allies... He spies on everyone. PARANOID SCHIZOPHRENIC president.

    October 28, 2013 at 3:51 pm | Reply
    • No more spying on everyone

      Thank you Mr. Snowden. You were completely right.

      October 28, 2013 at 4:04 pm | Reply
  6. lord toronaga

    Maybe Obama & Holder are spying on the conservative Supreme Court judges.

    October 28, 2013 at 3:52 pm | Reply
    • sly

      It doesn't appear that conservatives are intelligent enough to operate a telephone, so I wouldn't worry too much about that.

      Now ... if they ever start to bug a TeaBillies microphone – then we'd have an issue. I hear they like to babble for 21 hours straight sometimes.

      October 28, 2013 at 3:55 pm | Reply
      • lord toronaga

        You are a typical leftist loser who says nothing important and brings nonsense arguments to any discussion.

        October 28, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
  7. loki

    That funny Republican commercial with that scary Uncle Sam and Healthcare is beginning to look pretty accurate...

    October 28, 2013 at 3:55 pm | Reply
    • sly

      Yup – even scarier than allowing 50 million people access to Health Care is the idea that the US offers Public Education.

      We ought to eliminate Education, and of course, all Police and Fire service as well.

      The nerve of the government thinking that us Taxpayers want to pay for Education, or Crime Prevention, or Health Care. Only Big Insurance should be allowed to run those industries, and they should make all Americans pay up the nose to go to Elementary school. I think each child should cost about $20,000/year for Elementary school, just like Health Care.

      October 28, 2013 at 3:57 pm | Reply
      • Suzy Mack

        You ever get tired of shoving your nose up Obama's rear end ? It's gotta take a toll on your senses after a while.

        October 28, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
      • sly

        Oh absolutely not. Not with all these huge conspiracies around.

        Gosh, everyone knows you TeaBillies are right about everything, and actually President Obama lied when he said 85% of Americans hate the TeaBillies.

        Actually, ALL Americans love y'all! Your popularity is around 100%, and your husband Cruz definately speaks for everyone.

        Yup – it's a wonder all those terrible conspiracies are all over. Heck, us TeaBillies even know that 9/11 didn't happen – just another Conspiracy.

        Oh those bad bad liberals, trying to take all of our rights away! But they CANNOT! If I decide to go splatter up a few little school children, I CAN! It's my right as an American! Damn kids just get in the way of bullets anyhow.

        October 28, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
      • Inciteful

        The public education system in U.S. urban areas is total crap and it will stay that way because the Democrats count on uneducated, uninformed voters to get and stay in office and the Republicans don't care because they will never get the vote of these people.

        October 28, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
  8. Suzy Mack

    I'm pretty sure ISRAEL in somewhere in this disgusting affair.

    October 28, 2013 at 3:58 pm | Reply
  9. Joe

    You people act like no one has ever spied on another country or leader before. Remember Elsworth,...that happened on Nixon's watch. There are many others that can be brought up. The point is,...IT"S BEEN GOING ON FOR YEARS ! ! ! ! Everyone does it ! This is nothing new ! All this self righteous indignation is BULL ! Just another phony "scandal" the opposition hopes will derail the next election,...or take the heat off for the many failings that have been exposed the last few years. What we really need to do is seal the leak.

    October 28, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Reply
  10. amarjeet

    Collection of intelligence and defense of a country is not an easy task. America has to deploy all resources in all corners of the globe in various forms to collect intelligence with no exception of leadership as it has to have to keep track of speeches, words and accents for proper analysis. Sometime the leadership itself need protection and seek urgent protection against national opposition and personal targeting like Saudi Arabia rulers who were being protected by hired troops from third country to ensure safety of Royal families and taper of funding to that country with investments in defense technology and others purposes. There is no end to such discussion of facts. Even at domestic level, you keep and organize neighborhood watch that too is intelligence for action at appropriate time by appropriate authority.

    October 28, 2013 at 4:15 pm | Reply
  11. George

    So if I understand this correctly, Angela Merkel could be a terrorist, and that justifies tapping her phone, right?

    October 28, 2013 at 4:21 pm | Reply
    • sly

      After 2 world wars, I'd say monitoring the Krauts is a good idea ...

      October 28, 2013 at 4:59 pm | Reply
      • lord toronaga

        You never run out of hateful slurs do you. So what's your story... angry gay man with AIDS ?

        October 28, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
      • Jennifer

        I hope Germany throws us out of Germany. We would deserve that 100%.

        October 28, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
  12. Brian Cooley

    I truely hope that when the Piper gets Payed they don't take it out on the people of the US, and just take it out on the the idiot that's in charge and ordered alll of it!!!

    October 28, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Reply
    • Greg Keener

      Well put, Brian. Yes, Obama and his right-wing henchmen do need to be held accountable but won't, unfortunately! These people have no principles!

      October 28, 2013 at 7:08 pm | Reply
    • ✠RZ✠

      @Brian- that would imply a system of real justice. However, whatever the cost, it will be added to the federal debt and burdened directly by you know who.

      October 28, 2013 at 9:39 pm | Reply
  13. FM

    Government is too big, too unaccountable, too wasteful, & out of control. This is old news for a long time now. Our elected representatives, those in office long term, no longer represent us. Term limits are needed desperately to regain control of our government. The NSA & IRS need to be reformed. Unchecked power leads nowhere good.

    October 28, 2013 at 5:13 pm | Reply
  14. UIYTUYTIUY68787













    October 28, 2013 at 7:55 pm | Reply
    • rightospeak

      CNN thrall again to mess up comments. Welkom , JR . And they actually pay you , unbelievable.

      October 29, 2013 at 11:07 am | Reply
  15. No more spying on everyone

    What ever goes wrong .... Obama says he was never told about it. So who is actually running this country ? What does he do all day ? This smells of Clinton and Holder. The other great deniers...

    October 28, 2013 at 8:07 pm | Reply
  16. No more spying on everyone

    This is the liberal left's "War on privacy and good manners". They have little use for those two things because we are a "collective".

    October 28, 2013 at 8:09 pm | Reply
  17. Pro-active

    This has spiralled out of control and is now damaging American's standing in the World and we cannot run away form the fact that this is the result of the years of the Bush Administration and the policy changes that they made/put in place under the guise of keeping us safe in the West & ruling with fear. Meanwhile, terrorists, Jihadists and Criminals are still on the loose.

    October 28, 2013 at 8:25 pm | Reply
  18. dudley

    This is what causes Americans to question American values. Right now, with the divisions this president has further wrought many Americans will be less likely to support their own nation, questioning what it stands for, now.

    This can be the beginning of the end of a great nation unless its citizens vote OUT the current leaders and vote IN new ones.

    October 28, 2013 at 9:58 pm | Reply
    • sly

      dudley, stop whining and let our Intelligence Community do what every nations Intelligence Community does.

      And boy am I tired of Blaming Americans who every 2 years elect their Congress, and then whine about who they just elected. CONGRESS IS YOU! Look in the mirror. Vote intelligently.

      Naw ... ain't gonna happen. Americans will blame everyone but themselves, so every 2 years we hear "throw the bums out", and then they do, and then we elect a new set, and 2 years later whine "throw the bums out".

      It's like the GM of a bad NFL team whining "fire all these players, and get new ones. Who hired them anyhow? Oh wait, I did?"

      October 29, 2013 at 12:56 pm | Reply
  19. chrissy

    Totally agree @ chuk! And @ saywhat, hello my dear friend! Im still waiting for the US secrets to surface as to exactly how LONG we've had this SECRET spy team really! Im pretty certain the REAL time frame is going to be a heckuva lot longer than we are being led to believe at this moment! What puzzles me most however is, if the US has this great spy team WHY haven't they picked up on how much this country has been, and still is, being manip ulated by Isreal and specifically Netanyahu'sanidiot and put a stop to sending OUR tax dollars to that clown? They continually throw good money after bad in this foreign aid business!

    October 28, 2013 at 10:29 pm | Reply
  20. Big Ben

    The fake indignation about being spied on is laughable, Germany spies on us all the time as do all the other countries. What Angela Merkel should be indignant about is her own security staff supplying her with insecure communications equipment. If the NSA can hear what she is saying, so can the Russian FSB, the Chinese PLA, the Iranians, the Israeli Mossad, Anonymous, and all the rest of the nefarious organizations on the planet. She should be thanking us for outing the imbeciles on her security detail and spend her time shopping for some actual security instead of busting Obama's chops!

    October 29, 2013 at 12:08 am | Reply
  21. Allan Kinsman

    There are those which consider the spying business a common part of just the way things are in the world. All I can muster to this point of view is to say, if we continue to apply these narrow view points we will eventually fail to make the decisions which will profide the framework to elevate ourselves out of these short term, country centric points of view which pursue narrow convergent philosophies. If we set the table with mistrust we will find it. Yes, there is danger when you spit against the wind, but if you lead the way toward a wider point of view you at least can plan for those failures by knowing you will have them. When you are paranoid then everyone is your enemy and you never know your friends. America is the great experiment others have chosen to follow not because of the example. We have to set a better example, not the current political agenda. There are no sympathies in the world for a political system without integrity. It does not matter who is spying or rightous. Those which set the best example do get listened too. To have a chance and to be treated fairly. Freedom is not an easy road it is the way. Most of the world practices something else. Who are we, I guess just like everyone else?

    October 29, 2013 at 1:28 am | Reply
  22. JAL

    Nothing has changed. There is still a stronger initiative for peace and inclusion, than for war and exclusion. It is all about staying cool in the tinderbox. Easier said than done, I know.

    October 29, 2013 at 8:35 am | Reply
  23. Alfred

    Before 9/11 Germany was a safe harbor for anti-Americanism and anti-American terrorists, which also had training camps and sleeping cells there. Now, Germany is not NATO, it is just one member, but it does not obey to Washington DC politics. That's why it is not possible, not to try to surveillance Germany, for the sake for PEACE in NATO.

    October 29, 2013 at 8:49 am | Reply
    • Greg Keener

      Wrong, Alfred. Thanks to Angie Merkel and her "Christian" Democrat cronies, Germany today is little more than a U.S. satellite state similar to what East Germany was to Russia between 1949 and 1989. Germany does need to get rid of the "Christian" Democrats, become more self assertive and strive for world peace.

      October 29, 2013 at 11:56 am | Reply
  24. Brian

    So it is known this power exists, what do we do about it?
    There is some worth in being able to know of threats and dangers, however the perception is in the eye of the beholder. How can it be fair and right to intrude on every moment of every day of anyone of your choosing? Just because words are spoken, does not mean an action will be taken, we are humans with emotions and sometimes say the wrong things..they are removing you right to reflect, to think.. and playing God. There is no man on earth with whom this will sit well!

    October 29, 2013 at 9:00 am | Reply
  25. Allan Kinsman

    The most difficult thing is setting an example to follow. I think if we don't set the example then no one else will. Furthermore a bad example gives those using terror to advance their agenda's fuel. The old rock and a hard place. However, I think the role of a underlying principle which has taken America far in the world has been an ideal of fairness. If this is removed from both the image of this country and the reality of living here the great days of living here will be forever gone. We have very good reason to reevaluate our direction and look at our perception and practice of democracy.

    October 29, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Reply
  26. saywhat

    @Allan Kinsman
    well said. However 'ideal of fairness' has been missing from our foreign policy for quite sometime now especially during these past 12 yrs. Indeed we got to the pedestal of the greatest nation on earth riding not on our tanks or missiles but ideals set forth by our founding fathers.
    No more though and that pedestal has become shaky.

    October 29, 2013 at 12:33 pm | Reply
  27. saywhat

    On this spying scandal , its now become clear that its not just about terrorism. The program which has been in place long before Pr.Obama showcases the heady & unbridled use of technology that NSA possesses targeting whoever they please, populace, leaders . All and sundry.

    October 29, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Reply
  28. saywhat

    @Greg Keener
    Yes and Europe with their own bundle of economic woes is learning.Learning that US interests centered around ' the corner stone of their foreign policy' Israel, do not necessarily align with theirs.
    If we do not overhaul our F.policy, Europe is likely to gravitate away.

    October 29, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Reply
  29. Allan Kinsman

    I can say after my return from Vietnam forty years ago I have recognized the country our fore fathers envisioned had long ago departed. The reputation of those men who attempted to create a government which could resist the influences of power had also. I have read the words of Jefferson,Paine, Washington and others to get an insight about where to go. I spent years reading Eastern thoughts along the idea of actions designed to acknowledge the ego in our own interactions. My friend Bob says this system fails due to the fact it gives power to those who don't have the mind set. Perhaps he is correct. Thomas Paine once replied to a colleage in a letter. His colleage said, "Where freedom is, that is my home". Paine responded, where freedom is not, that is mine". I think I understand his point. Freedom is a goal yet attained. For sometime now, perhaps since the days of Lincoln, we have been on a different track. Like the French and the English and the Germans who made the puisuit of power a government priority and their downfall. Perhaps it is easy to think so highly of your ideals you forget what principle or integrity still are, I don't know. I do know the amusement park in Washington for too long has sent young men and women into foreign lands to die for a lack in diplomacy unpresidented in human history. Anyone to have journeyed to Vietnam can see this evolution. When Armies must be sent it is some proof, I believe, a context of reason is gone. We react to terrorism but do nothing to solve the issues which lead to the desperation of peoples. Policies which fill the corporate coffers and provide a comfortable living for those in Washington far out weigh the goals of a just society.

    October 29, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Reply
  30. saywhat

    Again very well spoken and on the mark@Allan.
    Take this 'war on terror' for example. That it has helped terrorism & violence expand and find new franchises is now acknowledged. The reason as you said, not attacking the root causes.
    Those in Washington and up on the Hill driven by self preservation, foreign lobbies and special interest do not have the intellect, vision or any semblance of statesmanship to guide this nation. Alas.

    October 29, 2013 at 1:50 pm | Reply
    • Allan Kinsman

      As it is said, saywhat, right on.

      October 29, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Reply
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