WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is finding itself in a sticky surveillance situation.
Coming on the heels of back-to-back rebukes of National Security Agency policies this week, the government is scrambling to soothe the anger of some of its closest allies, still smarting over reports that their leaders and citizens were spied on. But other allies, like Britain and Australia, have long cooperated with the United States and its intelligence efforts.
As the Obama administration reviews its own NSA policies, it remains caught between allies who want the surveillance severely curtailed, and those who probably wouldn't mind if it quietly continued.
The U.S., Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand are reportedly part of a group of countries called the “Five Eyes.” The private club of countries share virtually all intelligence and have pledged not to snoop on one another. The tight-knit group, which was born out of American and British intelligence collaboration in World War II, have come to the defense of each other’s spy programs in the past.
But other allies, as well as adversaries, continue to fume over the near-daily revelations about the extent of U.S. surveillance, and are pressuring the Obama administration to rein it in. German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently ramped up her rhetoric, likening the practices to those of the Stasi -- the secret police of the communist leadership in East Germany. Merkel went so far as to say America couldn’t be trusted because of the volume of material it had allowed former NSA contractor Edward Snowden to leak.
The U.S. was forced to defend its programs earlier this year after a cache of documents was leaked by Snowden. The NSA reportedly said Snowden lifted 1.7 million documents from government hard drives, using his security clearance to get around measures that block off access for most employees. The NSA says Snowden still has access to 1.5 million documents.
On Wednesday, the 193-member U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution that called for the end of excessive electronic surveillance. The "Five Eyes" surveillance alliance reportedly supported the resolution only after the language that indicated foreign spying could infringe on human rights was weakened.
Snowden’s other leaks led to outing Singapore and South Korea as playing key roles in helping the U.S. and Australia tap undersea telecommunications links across Asia, according to a report in the Guardian.
This week, the NSA was dealt two blows in the United States.
On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled that the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records likely violates the Constitution, setting up the case for a potential high court showdown. On Wednesday, a presidential advisory panel tasked with reviewing NSA policies called for the agency to rein in spying on several fronts, recommending in its report the agency be stripped of its ability to store telephone records of Americans.
Oversees, allegations that the NSA listened in on Merkel’s phone calls came out in a German news report that prompted a bitter backlash against Obama and the United States.
According to The New York Times, Merkel told President Obama, “this is like the Stasi,” referring to the mass surveillance of German citizens and the tapping of her personal cell phone.
Merkel’s reprimand comes as the divide between Germany and the U.S. deepens and the consequences of Snowden’s leaks spread.
The worst may be yet to come, though. Snowden, who has been hailed by German politicians, is set to testify in a European Parliament inquiry in January via video link from Russia.
Germany, which has Europe's biggest economy, was once one of Washington's closest allies. In turn, the United States was West Germany's protector during the Cold War and the country is still home to thousands of U.S. troops.
“I believe we are into domestic policies [in Germany] here,” Patrick James, director of the Center for International Studies at the University of Southern California, told FoxNews.com. “Merkel will continue to come after Obama because it will be popular with marginal supporters in Germany.”
He added that there could be some behind-the-scenes diplomacy at work.
“The Germans may want concessions in some area or another in order to calm things down and of course both sides will see the wisdom of doing that privately,” James said. “Obama really needs a new event altogether to shift interest from the never-ending series of embarrassing technology-related stories.”
But Germany isn’t the only country angry over the NSA’s programs.
France, Mexico and Brazil have all expressed public disapproval, which have caused some to question whether too much diplomatic damage has occurred and whether America will be able to rebuild its bruised relationships.
Allegations that the U.S. spied on world leaders has undermined America’s credibility on a global scale and gives the message, “America doesn’t trust its allies,” French foreign prime minister Dominique de Villepin told NBC News.
De Villepin said the Snowden incident illustrated “an incredible weakness” of American leadership and that the surveillance programs were “not an act of a democratic country.”
In an “open letter to the people of Brazil,” first published Dec. 17 in a Portuguese translation by the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, Snowden praised the Brazilian government for standing against U.S. spying.
Snowden’s documents about the NSA’s spy programs were first published in the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers in June. The documents revealed Brazil as the top NSA target in Latin America – which didn’t sit well with the country’s president, Dilma Rousseff.
Rousseff pulled out of an official visit to Washington in October. She also pushed the United Nations to provide citizens more protections against spying.
But there have been allies like Israel and Britain that have defended the NSA’s snooping programs.
“These are states that, culturally speaking, tend to be more tolerant of government action in the name of public interest,” James said. “Israel, for instance, is more on the front line of danger at all times – at least in its own view – and its citizens will tend to be more approving of government actions taken in the name of security.”
By supporting NSA programs, Israel may “hope to trade its support for more leeway in areas where the Obama administration has tended to be critical of its ally,” he said.
Calls to the Israeli embassy for comment were not returned.