Among Europe's leaders, Cameron stands apart on NSA spying scandal


British Prime Minister David Cameron stands out among the European leaders criticizing the National Security Agency's alleged surveillance of European leaders and citizens.


Oli Scarff

LONDON, UK – Revelations of the extent of the US National Security Agency’s alleged surveillance of Europe continued to cast a dark and angry cloud over the continent on Monday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel personally called US President Barack Obama for a dressing down last week. Spain joined France and Germany Monday in summoning its US ambassador for explanations of the latest allegations.

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s response stood out amid the concern and outrage.

On Monday, Cameron said it would be “very difficult for government to stand back and not to act” if newspapers continued to publish what he called damaging leaks from documents passed on by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

While leaders across the European Union and beyond wondered if they were among the dozens of heads of state whose phones were allegedly monitored by US intelligence, Cameron received this reassurance from a National Security Council spokeswoman Saturday: “I can confirm that his communications have not, are not and will not be monitored by the US."

In contrast, when pressed on Angela Merkel’s phone calls White House spokesman Jay Carney was able to say only that the US “is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of the chancellor" — no word on whether or not it already had.

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As the head of a nation whose intelligence forces are about as cozy as can be with their US counterparts, Cameron finds himself in a bit of an awkward position among his fellow European heads of state.

At a European summit in Brussels last week, Cameron signed on to a collective statement from all 28 EU leaders expressing concern over the extent of US surveillance.

The EU statement hinted at dissatisfaction with the extent of the UK's cooperation.

Surveillance could erode trust “between European countries as well as to relations with the USA,” the statement read. “A lack of trust could prejudice the necessary cooperation in the field of intelligence gathering."

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In a press conference afterward, Cameron refused to answer direct questions about spying. Yet he did make clear, in very British terms, that he had little sympathy for critics of surveillance.

“The first priority of a Prime Minister is to help try and keep your country safe, and that means not having some la-di-da, airy-fairy view about what this all means,” Cameron said.

“Intelligence and security services do an important job,” he continued. “We need those people. They’re brave people who help to keep us safe. And I’ve lost count of the plots that I’ve seen and the problems I’ve seen being avoided by the work that they do.”

Cameron had strong words for both Snowden and the journalists reporting on his leaks, as well.

“What Snowden is doing and to an extent what the newspapers are doing… is frankly signaling to people who mean to do us harm how to evade and avoid intelligence and surveillance and other techniques,” he said.

Previous revelations from Snowden have revealed the remarkably close relationship between US and UK intelligence operations.

The US has paid the UK’s top spy agency some $150 million to work on its behalf. Leaked documents show how the UK marketed its relatively permissive “legal regime” to the US, potentially to solicit work that would not be permitted under US law.

Meanwhile, Cameron's European neighbors Germany and France are pushing for a "no spying" deal between their countries and the United States, which would restrict how data was collected from their citizens.

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