Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters A protester holds a mock bugging device during a demonstration against the National Security Agency (NSA) and in support of U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden in Frankfurt, July 27, 2013.

What Europe Got Wrong About the NSA

And Why Terrorism Might Change Its Mind About Spying

Over the last several years, as western Europe has been hit by Islamist terrorist attack after Islamist terrorist attack, Germany has largely avoided the violence. But the refugee crisis and the rise of the Islamic State (or ISIS) seem to have broken Germany’s run of good fortune. In the span of one week in July, a 17-year-old Afghan asylum seeker attacked five train passengers with an ax in the Bavarian city of Würzburg; a Syrian asylum seeker exploded a bomb outside a music festival in another Bavarian city, Ansbach, wounding 15; an 18-year-old German of Iranian descent massacred nine people at a shopping mall in Munich; and a 21-year-old Syrian asylum seeker used a machete to murder a local woman in Reutlingen who had rejected his advances. The last two attacks had no apparent connection to foreign terrorist groups. But the succession of violent incidents, all linked in some way to the Middle East, has created a sense of siege.

The United States has given, and will continue to give, significant support to its European allies as they investigate terrorist attacks and strive to disrupt future plots. Much of that help involves intercepting terrorists’ communications. And the bulk of that work is done by the National Security Agency (NSA).

Yet many Europeans view the NSA as more foe than friend. This is a vestige of the 2013 revelations by the former government contractor Edward Snowden about the extent of the NSA’s surveillance activities, which provoked widespread outrage among European publics. The disclosures also left U.S. technology companies scrambling to reassure foreign customers that their products were not compromised by the NSA. Some European companies, hoping to win business, encouraged the belief that they were.

A general view of the large former monitoring base of the U.S. intelligence organization National Security Agency (NSA) in Bad Aibling south of Munich, June 18, 2013.

A general view of the large former monitoring base of the U.S. intelligence organization National Security Agency (NSA) in Bad Aibling south of Munich, June 18, 2013.

The mistrust caused by the Snowden leaks continues to harm U.S. interests. Most notably, last October, in a case prompted by the disclosures, the European Court of Justice invalidated the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor agreement, which allowed participating companies to transfer customer data

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