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Good Question: Why Does The U.S. Spy On Its Allies?

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(credit: CBS) Heather Brown
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – New details surfaced over the weekend about the United States spying on several world leaders, including tapping the personal cell phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Now, new information about spying on people and political officials in France, Mexico and Spain has emerged as well.

It’s angered many in those countries. Some have even threatened continued cooperation with the U.S.

“It’s totally unacceptable. This undermines the trust and this can harm our friendship,” said Guido Westerwelle, Germany’s foreign minister.

But, while some U.S. politicians have called for a full review of U.S. surveillance policies, others have jumped in to defend the National Security Administration.

“I think the President should stop apologizing, stop being defensive. The reality is the NSA has saved thousands of lives, not just in the United States, but in France and Germany and throughout Europe,” said U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-NY).

Dr. Eric Schwartz, dean of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, says the U.S. spies on its allies for good reason.

“To get critical national security information that could have a bearing on the well-being of the citizens of the United States,” Schwartz said.

He says there is plenty of information that friendly and unfriendly governments don’t share with the U.S. for a number of reasons.

“First of all, there’s a lot of information that governments have,” he said. He also says the U.S. doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with its allies on every policy issue.

“The United States might see a threat more severely than another government might see that threat,” he said. “You can think of many friendly governments around the world that might have dealings with Iranian companies that are procuring items that could play a role in Iranian nuclear developments.”

Many experts, including CBS senior correspondent John Miller, says spying is a two-way street.

“What the U.S. is being accused of here, if any of those other countries could have done it, for most part, they do do it,” Miller said.

Schwarz says there is a major distinction between spying on a head of state versus spying on companies, businesses or lower-level officials within a foreign government.

“There is a difference, which is why President Obama finds himself in a much more challenging situation and why, undoubtedly, in those private conversations with Merkel and others, they may reach certain kinds of understanding with what the U.S. will and will not do,” Schwarz said.

And, on Monday afternoon, White House Spokesman Jay Carney said President Obama spoke with Chancellor Merkel by phone.

“The president assured the Chancellor that the U.S. is not and will not monitor the communications of the Chancellor.” Carney said. “The United States closely values our close cooperation with Germany on a broad range of shared security challenges.”

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