German chancellor: Spying on allies harms trust between nations, leads to less security

BERLIN – German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned on Wednesday that countries who spy on their allies risk destroying trust, resulting in less rather than more security.

Merkel used her inaugural address to Parliament after her re-election to slam the United States and Britain over their spy programs. Among the allegations to surface from secret U.S. government documents released by former NSA analyst Edward Snowden last year are that friendly countries and their leaders — including Merkel — have been the target of electronic eavesdropping.

The U.S. says its surveillance programs are focused on threats to national security, including terrorism.

“Actions where the ends justify the means, where everything that is technically possible is done, harms trust,” Merkel said. “It sows distrust. In the end there will be less, not more, security.”

The German leader said her government felt a responsibility to protect the privacy rights of its citizens, too. But she rejected calls to pressure Washington into signing a “no spy” agreement between the two countries by suspending trade talks between the U.S. and the European Union.

“I am leading these talks with the force of our arguments,” she said. “I think we have good ones.”

She indicated she did not expect any easy solution, saying: “It’s a long path ahead.”

Merkel also said that despite the recent friction the “trans-Atlantic partnership remains of outstanding importance.”

“Germany cannot wish for a better partner than the United States of America,” she said.

That remark drew immediate criticism by opposition Left Party leader Gregor Gysi for what he called her “submissiveness toward the United States.”

Constanze Kurz, a privacy advocate and spokeswoman for Germany’s Chaos Computer Club, said it was laudable that Merkel had raised the issue at all.

“But the fact that she’s not giving any indication of wanting to put real pressure on the Americans and the British is disappointing. She doesn’t seem to realize, or want to realize, what a deep crisis of confidence there is, particularly among businesses,” said Kurz.

Her group, which calls itself Europe’s largest association of hackers, is planning to sue the German government for allegedly aiding U.S. intelligence efforts against German citizens.

Merkel has accepted an invitation from President Barack Obama to visit Washington in the coming months, though no date has been set. Her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told reporters on Wednesday that the spying issue would be discussed during the visit.