Mild Rebuff US Rejects Criticism of Intelligence Practices

President Barack Obama on Wednesday gently rebuffed Chancellor Angela Merkel's criticism of US Internet surveillance and gave a light-hearted explanation of why he hasn't kept all his promises: "People don't always do exactly what you want -- it's shocking."

US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel speak on the terrace of the Chancellery in Berlin.
Getty Images/ Bundespresseamt

US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel speak on the terrace of the Chancellery in Berlin.

US President Barack Obama on Wednesday defended the surveillance of phone calls and Internet communications by American intelligence agencies, denying that the NSA had been "rifling through ordinary emails of German citizens or American citizens or French citizens or anyone else."

Speaking at a joint news conference with Angela Merkel after talks in Berlin, Obama said: "The encroachment on privacy has been strictly limited by a court-approved process."

He added that lives had been saved by surveillance, and pointed out that the information gleaned by US intelligence operations had helped German authorities too in the fight against terrorism.

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His comments amounted to a rejection of mild criticism voiced by Chancellor Angela Merkel standing next to him after she had said: "I made clear that although we do see the need for gathering information, the topic of proportionality is always an important one and the free democratic order is based on people feeling safe."

Merkel had said she would broach revelations about the NSA's PRISM surveillance program, news of which caused an uproar around the world and in Germany in particular -- with critics saying Obama has damaged his record on civil liberties.

'Right Balance has Been Struck'

"I came into office committed to protecting the American people but also our values and ideals," said Obama, adding that he had a "healthy skepticism" when he took office of how US intelligence programs were structured.

"But what I have been able to do is examine and scrub how our intelligence services are operating, and I'm very confident right now the right balance has been struck."

He said surveillance took place "very narrowly to leads we have obtained on issues relating to terrorism or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."

Merkel and Obama also discussed the planned US-European Union free trade agreement and Syria.

Germany's ardor for Obama has cooled markedly since his last visit -- then as the Democratic presidential hopeful running for office in July 2008, when 200,000 people chanting "Yes We Can" came to listen to his speech in Berlin's Tiergarten Park.

On Wednesday, the crowd will be much smaller -- some 4,000 invited guests will listen to Obama's keynote speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate, and some of them have been pulling out of the event because of the intense heat exceeding 30 degrees (86 degrees Fahrenheit) Celsius in Berlin, reports said. Officials have been trying to find people to fill the empty seats.

'Yes We Scan'

The magic has gone. There haven't been big crowds lining the metal police barriers to catch a glimpse of the president.

"Yes We Scan" has been a popular headline in German newspapers in recent days. The Pirate Party, which campaigns for Internet freedom, will hold a demonstration on Wednesday to protest against the Prism program.

"Mr. Obama, open this gate!" left-wing daily Die Tagszeitung wrote in a front page headline in English on Wednesday above a photo of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp on Wednesday

At the news conference, Obama reiterated that he still wanted to close Guantanamo, one of his may campaign pledges before the 2008 election.

When a German reporter remarked that he had failed to keep promises he had made, Obama gave a light-hearted but telling response. "One of the things I've discovered as a politician is that people don't always do exactly what you want -- it's shocking."

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cro -- wth wire reports

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Inglenda2 06/19/2013
1. no reason to believe what is said
Democracy is by definition a form of government – through, by and for the people. This has never truly been understood in Germany! From the very beginning, (1921 an SPD government sent troops on to the streets against the very people who had voted them into power), so-called democratic parties in Germany have an astonishing view of what a republic should be. It would seem, that many politicians to believe democracy can be reduced to government by the parties, for the parties, whereas the electorate, once they have voted, have nothing more to say. It is therefore quite understandable when they show surprise about the very extreme, nationalist policies, to be seen in other countries. Obama cannot just do what he likes, for were he to place human-rights before national security, no-one would support him. In the USA state security comes long before social justice. This is however presumably what the people want, otherwise there would have been no sensible reason for them to vote George w. Bush into a second term of office. What we now observe, in the internet spying affair, is just a symptom of this domestic consternation. In theory, behind every door, in every dark corner, or possibly by the neighbours, there could be a terrorist getting ready to use the first possible opportunity to kill or maim. Only in a country ruled by fear is it found normal for adults to carry weapons. Here is the USA not alone, but is also no shining example of freedom. Freedom from fear is one of the most wanted freedoms, but not one which can be bought with weapons. Few people will expect that the USA will stop using its technical advantages just in order to please Frau Merkel. Not that she is really interested in who and what spies on the German industry and population, her apparent irritation is all just part of the show. As long as the SPD can offer no-body better than Herr Steinbrück to be Chancellor candidate, there is little chance of her losing that position, however badly, or if at all, she runs the country. In a true democracy, all parties taking part in the elections, would want to have their own people in this position, but there is no sign of such ambitions be it from green, red or yellow. What does affiliate all concerned, is the mistake to regard a term of office as the right to dictate for a restricted time. In so far the difference to America is not so great.
reddragon6969 06/19/2013
2. NSA Spying
President says that the NSA surveillance that was done had Judicial Oversite but what he doesn't say is that the warrants are blank with a Judge's signature already on them and all they need to do is fill in the blanks. Plus, the FISA Courts on top of being secret have only rejected appx. 5 warrants since their creation in the early 70's. To me, that is a 'Rubber Stamp' court and no Judicial Oversite at all.
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