July 18th, 2013
07:24 PM ET

Terrorism chief worried about European reaction to Snowden leaks

By Dan Merica

Editor's note: This is one in a series of stories and opinion pieces surrounding the Aspen Security Forum currently taking place in Aspen, Colorado. Security Clearance is a media sponsor of the event, which is taking place from July 17 to 20 in Aspen, Colorado.

The United States' antiterrorism chief is worried about the leaks that former government contractor Edward Snowden has carried out - particularly, he said Thursday, because our European allies are watching and reacting.

In a panel at the Aspen Security Forum, Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said that while "it remains to be seen" how Snowden's leaks have affected relationships with U.S. allies, he is growing concerned.

"I an worried about it when I see what I read, particularly with respect to Europe and our European allies," he said. "How they may be reacting to this. But I think it just remains to be seen on that."

Olsen, who heads the center that is responsible for analyzing all terror threats, was noticeably measured in his answer.

His predecessor, Mike Leiter, who also participated in the panel, was far more blunt.

Leiter was director of the antiterrorism office during the Wikileaks situation, top-secret government cables were leaked to the Wikileaks website. Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, charged with the largest leak of classified documents in U.S. history, is now facing a court-martial trial.

"For an hour-long meeting, we easily had half an hour of that with me having my head bitten off and getting yelled at by our foreign service colleagues saying, 'How could you be so sloppy?'" Leiter said.

The former antiterrorism chief said reaction to Snowden could be worse.
"They are going to be much, much closer (holding onto) information that they collect," Leiter said. "It absolutely undermines those relationships."

Snowden, who is currently a man without a country in the transit zone of Moscow's airport, is seeking asylum from a number of countries. After leaking top-secret documents to the media, the former government contractor fled to Hong Kong and then to Russia. Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua have offered Snowden asylum.

In late June, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that - according to Snowden's leaks - the United States National Security Agency had tapped European allies. In particular, the report said that the United States had bugged European Union offices in Washington and New York, and conducted an "electronic eavesdropping operation" that tapped into a EU building in Brussels, Belgium.

The magazine's report also said that NSA spying has targeted telephone and Internet connection data in Germany more than any other European nation. An average of up to 20 million phone connections and 10 million Internet data connections are surveyed daily, Der Spiegel said, noting that the intensity of surveillance puts the U.S. ally on par with China, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

A number of European leaders said they were appalled by the reported U.S. program and the Der Spiegel story.

"I am deeply worried and shocked about the allegations," European Parliament President Martin Schulz said in a statement. "If the allegations prove to be true, it would be an extremely serious matter which will have a severe impact on EU-U.S. relations."

Leaders in France and Germany conveyed similar feelings.

"We have a strategic problem and our strategic problem is we can't keep our national secrets secret," Leiter concluded. "Those things that we should be protecting, we are not effectively protecting. That hurts our partners, whether it is our corporate partners, foreign partners, and it helps out enemies."

- CNN's Josh Levs and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.

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Filed under: Aspen Security Forum • Edward Snowden • Europe • France • NSA • Terrorism
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. SCOTT

    You know they all do it , so they are all guilty of the same thing. Just now they are ahead of the game because we can't listen in.

    July 19, 2013 at 5:33 am | Reply
  2. M.A.P.

    It is also totally irritating to see the US media solely focusing on Snowdon's whereabouts instead of talking about the spying. This isn't about SNOWDEN it's about American spying and distrust between western allies. They say the spying is to stop terrorism. Ok then why buggin EU officials in washington and Brussels – are the EU officials suspect of terrorism? GET REAL! They want to know what the EU is thinking and doind before they say it or do it. Very advantageous for the US, very unfair for the EU.

    July 19, 2013 at 5:24 am | Reply
    • John McKane

      Point well taken, M.A.P. Unfortunately, these crony European "allies" of ours will continue to take orders from Washington D.C., no matter what! These people have no sense of right or wrong, spying or no spying.

      July 19, 2013 at 8:10 am | Reply
  3. M.A.P.

    The mood is definately not good here in the EU. How would Americans feel if they learned the German intelligence agency had been recording and saving ALL of their telephone and internet communications? You guys would probably want to start a war. America has no business in monitoring German data and especially their allies in the goverment and EU goverernment. Why would the US spy on its ally like that!? It just makes us not trus the US and it has damaged Obamas image here to an extent where people who cheered when he was voted in now on the street protesting against him. Nice work, Obama!

    July 19, 2013 at 5:20 am | Reply
  4. USAPeasant

    Funny how these morons are more worried about how to spin their devilish programs than they are about getting rid of their illegal programs. Al lready this government is quickly becoming the most hated and most traitorous of all our American History. These appointed officials and the congressmen that vote for tyranny ought to resign in disgrace. They have all ready destroyed this nation and its values enough as it is. Time for them to get out of the way so that we can restore America.

    July 18, 2013 at 11:50 pm | Reply
    • George patton

      Good posting, USAPeasant. Thank you.

      July 19, 2013 at 8:12 am | Reply
  5. markjuliansmith

    "America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves." – Abraham Lincoln

    The defenders of the homeland should sing this every morning. Just as a reminder.

    Maybe tack it to the entrance foyer of the CIA, homeland security, State Department......, congress, whitehouse,...

    Cultural Foundation Codex (genetic, textual authority and messianic templates) = Cultural Ethics = Cultural Ideas = Cultural Motivation = Consistent Cultural and Adherent Behavioural Variance = Cultural Action For and Against Other.

    The fact is the Cultural 'education' (Cultural Foundation Codex) age 0- is the core problem.

    July 18, 2013 at 10:32 pm | Reply
  6. George patton

    What upsets me here is, that after all is said and done, these crony European "allies" of ours will go on carrying out orders from Washington D.C. with the same blind obedience as before! These leaks, unfortunately, will most likely change nothing!!!

    July 18, 2013 at 10:18 pm | Reply
  7. funguseater

    "Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said that while "it remains to be seen" how Snowden's leaks have affected relationships with U.S. allies, he is growing concerned."

    Right, because it is Snowden's actions and not that of the NSA that are damaging US relations. Man up and take some responsibility if you are going to continue this mass gathering of intel, and be prepared to pay the political price.

    July 18, 2013 at 9:49 pm | Reply
  8. Hernan

    It's not so much that the Evil Empire can't keep secrets, but rather many of the things it is trying to keep secret it ought not to be doing in the first place. Mr. Snowden's petty "crimes" pale when compared to the far greater wrongs of the USG. History will first exonerate, and then lionize Mr Snowden for his selflessness, foresight, and courage.

    July 18, 2013 at 9:03 pm | Reply
    • George patton

      Well put, Hernan. Thank you.

      July 18, 2013 at 10:13 pm | Reply
  9. markjuliansmith

    "How in the hell did we think we could do this kind of electronic surveillance and get away with it?"

    Because everyone else does it.

    Also the question should be "How in the hell did we think we could do this kind of electronic surveillance on the cheap with external contractors who have not been appropriately vetted and proven adherents to the cause and think we could get away with it?"

    This 'I want my **** yesterday' paradigm in a security system ignores the fact a society can be more easily destroyed from within than from without. Why do you think religions reserve their worst vitriol for the turncoats?

    July 18, 2013 at 8:29 pm | Reply
  10. peacefulpothead13

    The federal government should be worried but it's their own fault. They decided to spy on our own allies on now there's backlash.

    July 18, 2013 at 8:01 pm | Reply
  11. Portland tony

    If it hadn't been Snowden, the Europeans would have found out probably sooner than later. What I can't understand is: How in the hell did we think we could do this kind of electronic surveillance and get away with it? The same goes for the internal surveillance in the US. Too many people knew what was going on and it's not rocket science....at least not to a good computer programmer/analyst!

    July 18, 2013 at 7:50 pm | Reply

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