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 (128 Responses)
  1. saywhat

    About time they hear our voices. Come elections and we need to oust those in Congress and corridors of power,responsible for getting us where we stand today.

    October 29, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
    • G. Wodkins

      But the reason that you didn't ; and the reason that you won't ; IS ; You think you got a lot to lose , and the other fella don't!!

      November 1, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • JustSaying

      We would all like to vote for the best man but he is never a candidate.
      Kin Hubbard

      November 3, 2013 at 12:59 am |
  2. Allan Kinsman

    The cost of dropping a bomb far outweighs a gesture of an extended hand. Sure the hand does not represent change but it does suggest a willingness to understand your point of view. When you make a demand it represents no willingness to understand and therefore present more a challenge.If violence is used against a peoples there should be immediate outrage. Our government in the last forty years has supported violent governments up to and including Iraq. Yet an interesting point is we seem to be motivated toward situations of violence in countries producing oil? We are making our own problems with the approach which has been forthcoming in Washington. Yet our political system still supports the two major parties which has got us there. What to do?

    October 29, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • ✠RZ✠

      Ya gotta like that mantra. Though I think what needs to be done might indeed be "exceptional". And that is to get rid of all the clowns, crooks, creeps and con-artists in Washington and start over with a clean slate. No more BS. But I'm not too sure how well everyone might adjust to it after being exceptional for so long. Does anyone remember what it was like to be normal?

      October 30, 2013 at 12:05 am |
    • Karl Marx

      Israel spies on the U.S.A. So what gives with you guys? Let's see, Germany and USA give $ to Israel, does Israel spy on Germany?

      November 2, 2013 at 2:30 am |
  3. Allan Kinsman

    Ah, my mantra since 1970. If there in there out. Until we get those which lead and are not led.

    October 29, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
  4. chrissy

    Ah dear saywhat! You always say precisely the correct things. Now if only people stick to it and VOTE! And we really need to push the term limit and age cap issue! They are just too comfortable in their appointed positions! When they get comfortable they get lazy! And lol @ rightospeak! I left you another post on THAT topic on Europes financial thread.

    October 29, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
  5. sb

    The one thing I know about our politicians is that they love to be in control or even think that they are in control. Its easier to control the privileged few than a privileged many. That's why nobody cares about the income gap between the rich and the poor. It works to the benefit of the rich and the powerful. Secondly, The President has failed in his ability to discern the time and people he controls and this is a major intelligence failure. The legal branch of the government has been given unmatched powers, to the point where they are creating policy, dictating terms to the world and breaking international laws. This branch has suddenly gotten so much power with the Patriot act and the out of control, unchecked and illegal monitoring of citizens and people all over the world. We as people of the USA, have let it happen and now we are facing the consequences of our inaction. I had predicted this all along. We have made ourselves enemies of nations and if we continue on this path, the terrorists is going to be the least of our problems. Our country is imploding. People cannot seek help when they need it because of the constant monitoring and the possibility of backlash of losing their jobs and being exposed. A sick society will manifest itself in horrible ways and this is going to happen pretty soon. Already we have so many people out of jobs with terrible psychological problems. The absence of health care and the money to afford it, will make things worse. The overzealous hand of the laws seeks to imprison for profit, destroying many lives with one single imprisonment, all in the name of profit, with very little regard to prisoner reformation. Many people in prisons have been imprisoned unfairly and for terms not fitting their crimes. While the society turns its face from all these evils, it will surely be destroyed by it. We already see the rip in the fabric of society. A strong society can withstand many problems, but one that is already cracked up in so many places, will shatter at a single blow.

    October 29, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
  6. Noneya

    NSA: What makes you think the US government (NSA) is not the one providing your personal banking information to so-called foreign bandits and splitting your pilfered, tax free, dollars with them? Or, do you believe our government would never do something so deceitful. . .

    October 29, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
    • Bimbo the Birthday Clown

      Of course the U.S. government would do something like that, Noneya. Only a fool would believe otherwise!

      October 29, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
  7. ✠RZ✠

    Good intentions need not hide from one another. Hence the phrase "it's all good". And if such were the case, spying would pretty much prove to be a total waste of time. But the fact is that humans by nature cannot be trusted completely. Many cannot be trusted at all. And some can't even trust with themselves. Trust me.

    October 29, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
  8. chrissy

    Lol @ RZ....the one man comic team! Accurate on the human aspect though. Humans are Gods biggest failure. They are the only creatures on the planet that kill their own simply for fun.

    October 29, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
    • ✠RZ✠

      A few mere drops of jest does not the tempest tame. But to mock of its' poor reckoning might make it think again. And perchance that it should spite me with everything it has, I'd just have to get damn serious on it's sorry ass.

      October 29, 2013 at 11:30 pm |
  9. dieter621

    How naïve to think each and every country is not looking out for their citizens. Every country will use their resources to prevail, its only the inept that complain. How do you think China is making giant gains in industry? Its thru corporate espionage and sending students to our universities that work on defense contracts. Wake up!

    October 30, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
    • Maersk

      China make its giant gain in industry is through hacking into your tight azz and stealing of your chery. Isn't your azz still bleeding from their hacking?

      October 31, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
    • High Earl

      These foreigners are not naïve, they just are not loyal to the US.

      November 2, 2013 at 12:31 am |
    • Pragmatist

      You do not seem to know much about China nor about graduate schools at US universities. Foreign students DO NOT get to work on ANY research related to defense. These students come here to further develop their brains that can then be applied to develop superior products. Our kids would rather waste time drinking beer and playing video games for hours on end. If we want to stop the smart brains going back to their home countries we would have to have surgeons performing lobotomy on them before they return to China and India etc. Once you have a smart trained brain the rest is very easy and does not need any espionage. All the information you need is out there on the internet already.

      November 3, 2013 at 7:04 am |
  10. Rick McDaniel

    The Obama Regime, shouldn't be doing a lot of things, they ARE doing.

    That's what happens though, when the people vote for a dictator, in America.

    October 30, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
  11. chrissy

    Oh @ RZ, im so sorry if i offended you with my "one man comic team" comment, it was not my intent at all! I appreciate humor whenever i find it! And seriously, my intent was a compliment! Because Laughter is the Best Medicine always! 😉

    October 31, 2013 at 2:00 am |
    • ✠RZ✠

      Chrissy, Don't be ridiculous! Some of the gut busters I've come across in here have made my day. But we should all try taking things a bit less personally, and at same time make best efforts not to get too personal either. Humour without a grain of truth is merely a joke and criticism without any valid point is nothing but trash. So, no big stink, we can simply chuckle at one and toss out the other, without ever having to take any offence. But without first understanding something, no one can be rightfully expected to handle it, especially when it might be painful or sad. And that's the truth.

      October 31, 2013 at 6:40 am |
  12. Stupidreplies

    What a stupid stupid article, by a stupid stupid man.
    The whole world spy's on each other, just bc we do t better this stupid stupid man alleges we should weaken weaken ourselves.....spying won us WW2... And there's a long long list if wins due to spying....
    Have you ever heard of 9/12, of course not, bc our spy spy capabilities have Defeated defeated terrorist efforts...

    Stupid stupid article.... Now I know why Fox News has an audience

    November 1, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
    • Brian Bailey

      Excellent article – your response and name speaks for itself. Well done, you must be proud of your level of education.

      November 1, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
      • Stupidreplies

        @brian, tu, I have a masters degree. I appreciate the cudos and I appreciate your lack of basic understanding.
        Pls refer to to high school blogs bc that's all yer level is worth
        Thx fer showing yer level of Ed.

        November 2, 2013 at 12:42 am |
  13. doug

    the problem is not spying, the problem is that nobody can give 100% security of classified information. As long as humans are employed as spys they will be liable to spill the beans on those they are spying on.

    November 1, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
  14. Brian Bailey

    Zakaria is right and it mirrors what I have been posting for quite some time on CNN. The US has lost its sense of balance following 9/11 and while it was understandable for awhile, it's now time to adapt a more mature and reasonable appraoch. Terrorism is not as big a threat as it is still portrayed and only portrayed as in the US. The rest of the world is alot calmer about it including my country of Canada. We suffer at the borders from excessive US security, slowing down crucial trade from a neighbour who is much safer than the US in terms of crime, gun control, etc. We also don't like the unneceesarily rude and arbitrary US border guards who do not understand or care about our traditional friendship. It makes us want to say screw you too. The rest of the world, increasingly feels the same. Remember the GOLDEN RULE – it applies here and the US is foolish if it thinks it doesn't apply to the US. It does.

    November 1, 2013 at 10:34 pm |
    • Stupidreplies

      Wow, r u a liberal. Or do u sit behind a desk......pls refrain from commenting until u grow a pair......or graduate from hi school

      November 2, 2013 at 12:45 am |
    • vistar hornbill

      Unfortunately many Americans are so mired in American myths, and are failing to see clearly the political circus that is happening in Congress and Washington.

      Some Americans cannot face the truth, and so they fall easy pray to self serving Congress men who lie just to win votes.

      American cowboys are gullible ? The res of the well informed world thinks so.

      November 2, 2013 at 9:10 pm |
  15. High Earl

    You want to know why CNN's ratings are so low? It's because you have these foreign people sitting here telling us what America should be doing all over this station in this website. Maybe this brown fellow should go back to you, what is it Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and tell his home Folks what they should be doing.

    Of course the US should be spying on anybody and everybody, they are all spying on us. Take Wolf Blitzer for example, the Zionist Jew who works for Mostad. Or how about Anderson Cooper the CIA agent. Or how about this street walking fellow who wrote this piece, foreign news gatherer?. . Only a complete naïve fool or a treasonous foreign news mouthpiece would think otherwise.

    November 2, 2013 at 12:29 am |
    • Stupidreplies

      I spent years on a carrier... 80 miles Off the coast bc the Syrian missiles went 75 miles....helloooooo, And yes I'm dating myself...I luv earls "complete naive fool" statement. It rings to truth! Based on real life experience.
      GJ earl.

      November 2, 2013 at 12:51 am |
    • vistar hornbill

      White skin, blue eys, blond hair big noses are signs of mutation of the original human species who were actually short, dark skin, flat nose and black haired. This mutation is continuing by the increasing overconsumption of red meat, butter oil, hamburgers, malboro, coke, pizza, fried chicken ...........

      If one has before seen fat belly overweight gorillas walking around in the jungle, one would be saying "Hey that looks familiar in the the streets of America ! We have lots of gorilla look alikes lumbering in the streets".

      Judge not lest ye be judged 🙂

      November 2, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
    • vistar hornbill

      Americans cannot face the truth thats why CNN is not popular.

      In Asia where 3 billion people live, CNN has been rated the best, most watched, TV channel – FOR THE PAST 15 YEARS !

      November 2, 2013 at 9:12 pm |
  16. Joseph McCarthy

    Don't worry, people. After all is said and done, Germany will go on carrying out orders from Washington as always! On the other hand, if the Germans would bolt the Eurozone and assert itself as a partner in NATO instead of just another U.S. lackey, that country could be a game changer on the world scene!

    November 2, 2013 at 11:41 am |
  17. vistar hornbill

    Everyone is spying. Ask Putin, he was KGB boss once and can tell you alot about the excitement of finding out the secret private lives of foreign leaders. Spying would be a boring job if you have to leave out the juicy stuff, which I am sure NSA has plenty of it.

    November 2, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
  18. Nanson Hwa

    Hypocrisy only happens in Christian countries. A total natural phenomenon in America.

    November 3, 2013 at 12:05 am |
  19. Luqman

    Thanks Fareed. So the US knows it is the king of double standards. Just like you rightly said, the world is getting wiser. Once upon a time, everybody everywhere respects the American. Not anymore, in fact most people disdain them nowadays. Little wonder they dare not wear their American flag emblem in most countries any longer.

    November 3, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
  20. headinhome7

    I`m not an Obama supporter.However this(spying on each other has been going on forever.

    November 3, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
  21. sailbreeze

    There is no rime or reason to Mr. Obamas actions lately. What is he striving to achieve? Is alienating nation after nation in Americas best interest? I would think that we as a nation should strive to PRESERVE Americas relationships with friendly nations such as Germany!

    Sure, nations spy on each other, but the level this has reached is preposterous! The administrations latest actions has made the spy Snowden into a hero in many peoples eyes. Top European lawmakers are now saying that Snowden did the entire world a favor! This is how we want to be perceived?

    Putin's political chess-moves has made much of the world view him is a peacemaker, an even keeled leader who stopped Mr. Obamas aggression against Syria by using negotiation tactics instead of bombs. Many others see him as a humanitarian who will grant asylum to political refugees fleeing persecution by the US government! Is this the message the Land of the Free wants portray to the world?

    Mr. Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize based on his campaign promises to: "Work towards a more peaceful world situation" to "end wars" and "to create a more transparent government". Really?

    The only response from the President when scandals are rolled out is: "I had no idea, nobody informed me". Are we really expected to believe that?

    Shouldn't we the American people expect more from our Commander in Chief? For instance that he is SOMEWHAT in the loop on MAJOR issues? Or, are these mere excuses to avoid owning responsibility? Just asking....

    November 3, 2013 at 7:51 pm |
  22. Richard

    According to multiple and credible sources both inside and outside the federal government this sort of activity has been happening forever. Methinks Farreed is a bit naive. They "spy" on us, we spy on them. Not so much for "terrorist" related activity in Merkel's case but rather "Who is she talking to and how often and what do you suppose it means?". Grow up Fareed. I like his show but his insight in this matter is almost embarassing.

    November 4, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
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