Kerry admits US spying 'reached too far'

Photo: AFP
3 min

In an unprecedented statement since revelations of widespread US electronic spying first came to light, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday that in some cases surveillance had gone too far.


Secretary of State John Kerry admitted on Thursday that the US surveillance programme had in some cases “reached too far,” as he sought to ease tensions with European allies and other countries who have rebuked President Barack Obama over reports of widespread electronic spying and phone tapping.

“In some cases, I acknowledge to you, as has the president, that some of these actions have reached too far, and we are going to make sure that does not happen in the future,” Kerry told a conference in London via videolink from Washington.

Kerry was responding to a question addressed to both him and British Foreign Secretary William Hague about government surveillance.

Leaks by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden have revealed a massive spying operation orchestrated by the United States, sometimes with the cooperation of other countries.

Thursday’s admission that the Obama administration had overstepped limits in surveillance was unprecedented, but Kerry justified his country’s actions as part of a global effort to fight terror since the September 11, 2011 attacks.

“We have actually prevented airplanes from going down, buildings from being blown up, and people from being assassinated because we've been able to learn ahead of time of the plans,” he said.

Kerry also said that some news reports were exaggerated and were misrepresenting the scope of spying operations. “Just the other day... there was news in the papers of 70 million people being listened to. No, they weren't. It didn't happen,” he said.

From Rousseff and Merkel to Yahoo and Google

Similar conciliatory gestures from America’s top diplomat could continue as he embarks on a tour of the Middle East, Poland and North Africa this weekend.

This week German Chancellor Angela Merkel angrily confronted Obama with allegations that the NSA was snooping on her phone, saying it would amount to a “breach of trust”.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, at the head of Latin America’s largest country and biggest economy, cancelled a state visit to Washington scheduled for last month over reports that the United States spied on her personal communications.

Kerry risks confronting other angry world leaders and difficult questions during his tour, with nearly daily revelations of the extent of US spying operations.

On Wednesday, a report in the Washington Post alleged that NSA technicians had tapped into certain international centres belonging to Internet giants Yahoo and Google, claiming access to vast amounts of private data.

The report said a programme dubbed MUSCULAR, operated with the NSA's British counterpart GCHQ, can intercept data directly from the fibre-optic cables used by those companies.

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