President Obama has been busy this week taking calls from European leaders who seem really upset that the United States has been spying on them, perhaps to the point of tapping their cellphones.
First Obama heard from French President Francois Hollande. Mr. Hollande complained that documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the ex-NSA contractor who is now holed up in Moscow, showed that American intelligence agencies had gathered more than 70 million pieces of data from phone communications in France in just one 30-day period. Apparently, the French leader believes he is among those whose data was scooped up.
Then Obama got a call from Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel who wanted to know if American spies had been listening in on her cell phone conversations.
At the European Union summit that is currently underway, U.S. spying is the hot topic. According to the documents released by Mr. Snowden, American spooks have been snooping around at the highest levels in 35 countries considered U.S. allies. The Europeans are deeply offended, at least in public. American ambassadors have been called in to be lectured and, at the EU summit, the standard line is that trust has been breached.
"We need trust among allies and partners," Ms. Merkel said. "Such trust must now be built anew."
The White House is not fessing up to any specific spying allegations. President Obama's spokesmen are simply pointing out that everybody spies on everybody else. The Europeans acknowledge that they, too, are in the espionage business, but are insisting that the U.S. has taken it too far.
Perhaps the problem is that American intelligence capabilities have simply gotten too good. U.S. spy agencies cannot resist using all the cool tools they have while the Europeans might be just a wee bit jealous they cannot play at the same technological level. Or maybe they can and they simply do not have a Mr. Snowden uncovering all their secrets.