BERLIN – The U.S. intelligence service will continue to spy on foreign governments, U. S. President Barack Obama said in an interview broadcast Saturday, although he assured Chancellor Angela Merkel that he would not let intrusive surveillance harm their relationship.
The frank admission comes a day after Obama curtailed the reach of mass U.S. National Security Agency phone surveillance sweeps, but said bulk collection of data would go on to protect U.S. citizens from terrorists.
In Friday’s long-awaited speech aimed at quelling international furor over the widespread eavesdropping revealed by Edward Snowden, Obama also said he had halted spy taps on friendly world leaders.
But Obama told German television ZDF’s heute-journal that intelligence gathering on foreign governments will continue.
“Our intelligence agencies, like German intelligence agencies, and every intelligence agency out there, will continue to be interested in the government intentions of countries around the world. That’s not going to change,” he told German television ZDF’s heute-journal.
“And there is no point in having an intelligence service if you are restricted to the things that you can read in the New York Times or Der Spiegel.
“The truth of the matter is that by definition the job of intelligence is to find out: Well, what are folks thinking? What are they doing?” he said.
Nevertheless, Obama said he would not allow the surveillance to harm his relationship of “friendship and trust” with Merkel.
“I don’t need and I don’t want to harm that relationship by a surveillance mechanism that somehow would impede the kind of communication and trust that we have,” he said.
“And so what I can say is: As long as I’m president of the United States, the chancellor of Germany will not have to worry about this,” he added.
Obama pledged on Friday that his country’s National Security Agency (NSA) would not routinely spy on leaders of the U.S.’ closest allies, following global outrage at revelations of massive electronic eavesdropping.
Germany has been incensed to learn that the NSA was carrying out widespread spying, including listening in on Merkel’s mobile phone conversations.
The NSA allegations were especially damaging in Germany due to sensitivity over mass state spying on citizens by the Stasi secret police in the former communist East.