The NSA spying controversy is quickly transforming from a domestic headache for the Obama administration into a global public relations fiasco for the United States government.
After months of public and congressional debate over the National Security Agency’s collection of details on U.S. telephone calls, a series of reports about alleged spying on foreign countries and their leaders has unleashed an angry global reaction that appears likely to swamp the debate about gathering of metadata within American borders.The story will have only limited direct impact. Foreign leaders are probably much less surprised than their public reactions would indicate. But by harping on the incident, they might gain some diplomatic leverage over the United States, much as a wronged lover plays up a misdeed to get flowers and chocolate.
While prospects for a legislative or judicial curtailment of the U.S. call-tracking program are doubtful, damage from public revelations about NSA’s global surveillance is already evident and seems to be growing.
Citing the snooping disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Brazil’s president canceled a state visit to the U.S. set for this week. Leaders in France and Italy and Germany have lodged heated protests with Washington, with the Germans announcing plans to dispatch a delegation to Washington to discuss the issue. Boeing airplane sales are in jeopardy. And the European Union is threatening to slap restrictions on U.S. technology firms that profit from tens of millions of users on the Continent.
It will have little immediate effect on domestic politics. Americans do not know who Angela Merkel is, and they could not care less about her cell phone. (In a 2006 Gallup poll, only 4 percent could identify her as the German chancellor.) But, it does give an additional talking point to politicians who criticize NSA surveillance and further undermines the administration's already-sagging reputation for honesty and competence.