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Obama Responds To European And Congressional Fury Over Spying


President Obama is trying to soothe his European allies who are furious about these spying revelations. A group of parliamentarians from Europe has come across the Atlantic, and today they met with U.S. officials and expressed their anger. Meanwhile, the White House is trying to deflect questions about whether the president plans to end this eavesdropping.

NPR's Ari Shapiro joins us now from the White House. And, Ari, there was some talk today that the Obama administration might actually stop spying on American allies in Europe. But has the White House confirmed that?

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: No, they haven't. The talk you're referring to comes from Senator Dianne Feinstein. She's a Democrat from California who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee. And she has strongly come out against spying on allies. She said in a written statement yesterday, and this is a quote, "the White House has informed me that collection on our allies will not continue, which I support," she said.

So today, we looped back to the White House and said, well, is that true? And spokespeople told us that they would not go into details of private discussions. They repeatedly said an intelligence policy review is currently underway. They said that review has led to some decisions and some of those decisions have led to changes in policy that are being implemented now. But they won't tell us what those decisions or changes in policy are until the review process ends, which is scheduled to be the end of this year.

CORNISH: So if President Obama won't commit to ending the surveillance, what is the president saying to try to pacify the allies in Europe?

SHAPIRO: He is talking a lot about that spying policy review without saying in any specificity what changes it's going to lead to. Here's part of what he said last night in an interview on ABC's new Latino channel, Fusion.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It's important for us to make sure that as technology develops and expands and the capacity for intelligence gathering becomes a lot greater that we make sure that we're doing things in the right way that are reflective of our values.

SHAPIRO: And, Audie, I think what you're hearing in that quote is a sense that is widespread in this administration that technological improvements have let the government do all kinds of things they weren't able to do before. They tapped the German Chancellor's personal cellphone and nobody really stopped to ask whether these are things they should be doing. And so that question, just because we can do something, well, does it mean we should be doing it, that's the question that seems to be the focus of this review.

CORNISH: And what's been the reaction to this? I mean, does any of it seem to be mollifying the Europeans?

SHAPIRO: Not really. As you mentioned, a group of them are in Washington today. They've met with officials from departments of State, Commerce, Homeland Security and more. And not only are they upset about the initial surveillance, but they also seemed very dissatisfied with the way the Obama administration has responded so far.

Elmar Brok is one of the delegates in town from Germany. And after some of his meetings today, he said there has been a real blow to the trust between the U.S. and his country.

ELMAR BROK: You have not the free feeling to go forward together if you're feeling that your neighbor and friend is monitoring you.

SHAPIRO: So, Audie, the Europeans are urging the U.S. to sign on to an agreement that would limit the NSA's ability to spy on European allies. But the White House has been relatively noncommittal about what kind of response the Europeans are likely to get.

CORNISH: Ari, there has also been questions this week about when President Obama learned that the National Security Agency was monitoring world leaders. What have you learned?

SHAPIRO: Not much from the White House. We ask about this daily, and the White House simply will not answer the question. German media reported that President Obama learned of eavesdropping on Angela Merkel back in 2010. The Wall Street Journal says he did not know about the eavesdropping programs until this summer. President Obama was asked point blank about this in that Fusion interview yesterday. He said he won't talk about classified matters and then he went on to change the subject.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Ari Shapiro. Ari, thank you.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.