As the ready-for-TV saga of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden continues to unfold, the impact on U.S. relations with countries friend and foe continues at full steam. The latest blow came this week, when Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff postponed a normally coveted state visit to Washington following the release of evidence that the U.S. spied on Brazilian political and business leaders.
While some judicial and intelligence officials in the U.S., including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, have acknowledged the leaking of classified NSA documents by a former employee has "generated some of the debate" that needs to happen in the U.S. over the surveillance program, there is no doubt the diplomatic fallout will continue to cause headaches for the Obama administration. Here are five of the problems with which they're dealing.
The 'Brazilian Blowout'
Rousseff's decision not to attend a White House meeting with Obama scheduled for October came despite a personal plea from the president for the visit to proceed as planned. Brazilians have reacted with anger to the revelations about U.S. spying, and no doubt the move was largely a domestic political calculation on Rousseff's behalf. Still, according to the Los Angeles Times, Rousseff is now pushing for legislation that would require American technology companies like Google and Facebook to keep all data on Brazilian citizens stored within the country. It's also reported that Brazil is in talks with Russia in hopes of setting up a direct meeting with Snowden. Aside from its global status as a founding member of the so-called BRICS and one of the world's fastest growing economies, Brazil is an innovator in energy technologies, which were to be a key focus of the October meeting.
The E.U. Snub
He may seem an unlikely candidate, but Edward Snowden could join Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela as the recipient of the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought when its members meet to vote for the winner next month. The largely symbolic snub by the E.U. legislative branch comes following requests for Snowden to testify at its headquarters in Strasbourg, France, along with National Security Agency chief General Keith Alexander, after documents stating that the U.S. spied on E.U. diplomatic outposts at NATO and the U.N. were revealed.
The European Parliament is also outraged about the violation of privacy rights of member-states' citizens, an issue it has squared off on with American companies in the past. While the legislative body is perhaps the weakest of the major European institutions, it is the E.U.'s only directly elected body and legislates on major issues related to trade. Implications for the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership could follow as negotiations on that agreement begin.
Classified documents provided by Snowden to Britain's Guardian newspaper this month show that the U.S. routinely shares intelligence data gleaned from domestic surveillance with the government of Israel. The discovery has yielded a surprisingly low level of interest in the U.S. media, but supporting documents also released in the classified documents quote intelligence officials as stating that "One of NSA's biggest threats is actually from friendly intelligence services, like Israel. There are parameters on what NSA shares with them, but the exchange is so robust, we sometimes share more than we intended." Though the two countries do have a history of spying on each other, the revelation could have implications as the U.S. seeks to deal with a variety of sensitive issues in the region, including Iran's nuclear program and dismantling Syria's chemical weapons cache.
Though the so-called "Russian reset" American diplomatic officials have been peddling for years fell apart long ago, the sheltering of Snowden by Moscow has played a central role in elevating the status of America's former cold war adversary on the world stage. The move by Russia to grant Snowden asylum was a final trigger that led to the cancellation of President Obama's one-on-one meeting with President Vladimir Putin during last month's G-20 summit, and many believe it has emboldened Moscow in its quest to protect its ally Syria from a U.S. military intervention.
The Latin American Left
Though less critical to key American interests, a number of left-leaning Latin American countries – many of which the U.S. engages with economically – have been offended and even embarrassed by the Snowden scandal. The private jet of Bolivia's indigenous President Evo Morales was forced to land in Vienna, Austria, when it was suspected that Snowden might be on board, and Argentina's President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner warned of "new forms of colonialism" emerging from the U.S. Finally on the streets of many Latin American countries, where sticking one's finger in the eye of the region's largest power and longtime interventionist is a favorite pastime, Snowden is perceived as a hero in the Bolivarian spirit.
Robert Nolan is an editor at the Foreign Policy Association and producer of the Great Decisions in Foreign Policy television series on PBS. Follow him on Twitter: @robert_nolan.
- Read Michael Shank: Polls Show Americans Want Congress to Take Action on Global Warming
- Read Banning Garrett: The U.S. and China Must Work Together to Ensure Global Peace and Prosperity
- Check out U.S. News Weekly, now available on iPad