CNN speaks with Fareed about the controversy over National Security Agency spying activities in Europe – and what it means for ties between the U.S. and its European allies. This is an edited version of the transcript.
Intelligence chiefs were very unapologetic in their answers in the House committee hearings yesterday, defending the NSA spying programs. Is that enough to satisfy European allies?
Well, they've got two problems on their hands. The one is the European public. And the other is European leaders. So much of what they defended was the kind of metadata or using leads to follow up and figure out if there are terrorists. And that kind of thing, what you're doing is you're looking at patterns, you're seeing a bunch of phone calls from Saudi Arabia to Hamburg, Germany. Who are these people in Hamburg? Why are they being called?
I think people understand that the European public is very disquieted by the idea that they're being spied on by the American spy agency. That's one piece of it. The other piece, which they didn't defend, was the spying on Angela Merkel, the leader, the eavesdropping on phone conversations.
Now, that's always gone on to a certain extent. The key difference is, as the French foreign minister said, the Americans do it so much better than any of us that we're all somewhat jealous.
The thing that seems to have angered people most is the spying on Angela Merkel. But the fact that the spy chief kept saying that they don't think that necessarily the president is aware of a particular target, does that inoculate the president from this criticism?
I think it inoculates him in a specific sense, particularly maybe with the German chancellor. But there’s a broader problem, which is I think two things have happened in the last 10 years. We have technologically moved leaps and bounds with all the stuff, with metadata, with accelerated computing – we can analyze millions of phone calls, just the outside of the envelope, not the inside. But we can do millions of phone calls within a few minutes.
The second piece is 9/11. This broke the constraints that we have felt. It made us scared, it made us nervous and it made us say we'll do anything. I don't think that's the right perspective. We can't say we will do anything. There have to be some rules of the road.
Yes, balance is what people are looking for. But maybe out of balance at the moment? Our correspondent Jim Sciutto said earlier that these revelations could have real consequences with our allies. What do you think those real consequences could be?
Well, there are two kinds of things. I mean, ever since these leaks have taken place, you have to wonder to yourself, are American allies going to ever be truthful and confidential with us, with the fear that this stuff is all going to get leaked? Are they going to be forthcoming with the lack of trust that has been created?
I think that's a real problem. I think that in the long run, if we set some new rules of the road, we'll be fine because everybody spies. Everybody understands it. And I do think some of this is less about ethics and more about power. We spend more on intelligence by some estimates than the rest of the world put together.
So, we're in a different league. And we have to recognize that because of that, it arouses great suspicion and fear and makes people say, who's going to check you? We can't check you, you know, the normal checks and balances don't apply here. You've got to check yourself.
NSA Chief Keith Alexander said something really interesting. He's been quoted on this a lot, during the hearing. He said, "It's much more important for this country to defend itself and take the beating that they're taking right now than for us to give up on a program that helps prevent a future attack."
That's the same mentality that came straight out of 9/11, right?
Yes, and I think it's the wrong one. I think it's more important to continue to exist, survive and flourish as a constitutional democracy that protects itself. Of course it's important that we protect ourselves, but I think most Americans would be surprised by the lack of congressional oversight.
Dianne Feinstein, the Senate chair of the Intelligence Committee, doesn't seem to know enough. The president doesn't seem to know enough. So, who does know enough? This is unacceptable in a democratic society.
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