“If my telephone was intercepted when I was prime minister, all that anybody would have heard would have been praise for President Obama” — former prime minister Julia Gillard to a Washington audience, October 2013.

You won’t read praise for Barack Obama in Crikey on this subject.

Revelations in The Guardian that the US National Security Agency allegedly monitored the phone conversations of 35 world leaders are seriously concerning and deserve a serious response from the Obama administration.

Yes, these claims cover the final years of the George W. Bush administration. But for the present administration to bat away concerns by claiming this practice no longer takes place, while giving few details, is inadequate.

If the allegations are correct, and some evidence is presented by The Guardian, then the US has spied on world leaders, possibly including Australia’s (the leaders who were monitored have not been named publicly).

American exceptionalism, while tolerated by its allies to a certain extent, does not extend to systematic spying on them. This is not about national security or terrorism; there are no al-Qaeda operatives in the office of Angela Merkel, or running Brazil’s Petrobras oil company. Former Mexican president Felipe Calderon was not a Taliban agent. Yet we know all were “monitored” by the NSA.

This is about economic espionage, and about a security mentality that assumes, in order to look for a needle in a haystack, you need to watch the entire farm. Obama and his intelligence chiefs are inflicting serious diplomatic damage on the US. Legitimate questions about their mass surveillance must be answered.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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