Policy Alert: NSA Spying Provokes Reactions from Rising Powers

Policy Alert: NSA Spying Provokes Reactions from Rising Powers

nsaRecent revelations of the U.S. National Security Agency’s (NSA) wiretapping of world leaders have generated enormous skepticism and criticism of the United States across the globe. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from India, China, Brazil, Russia, Japan, and South Korea.


The Indian government chose not to join the chorus of international criticism against the United States. It stated that there is “no cause for concern” that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been a target of NSA monitoring because he “doesn’t use a mobile phone and he doesn’t have an email account.”

  • This contrasted sharply from the government’s later announcement that it will unveil a new email policy devised for all government officials to avoid major service providers-such as Gmail, Yahoo! or Outlook.com – that have their servers in the United States.
  • In fact, according to the Hindu, of the five BRICS nations, the NSA spied on India the most. Overall, India ranked as the fifth most targeted country by U.S. wiretapping.

Indian media uniformly criticized the U.S. for its intelligence gathering, calling for the Indian government to take a firmer stance on the issue.

  • The Hindu critiqued that U.S. soft power “has lost moral credibility” in the light of NSA wiretapping, adding, “just as Brazil has made it clear to the U.S. that its government must be treated with respect…India should send a strong signal to the U.S. of its disapproval of these reprehensible tactics that in effect violate the country’s sovereignty.”
  • Arun Mohan Sukumar, assistant editor of the Hindu, argued that India must capitalize on the “rare consensus” that has emerged among the BRICS countries regarding concerns on NSA surveillance. He urged these nations to devise multilateral diplomatic measures to curb “excessive” U.S. spying.
  • The Times of India criticized the U.S. for “reckless and excessive” spying in the name of a global war against terrorism, calling for legislation in the U.S. that would regulate government intelligence gathering activities.


Chinese commentary lambasted the United States for its “unchecked spying,” attributing the wiretapping to an act of American arrogance and predicting the United States’ eventual demise.

  • Shi Yinhong, a senior expert on U.S. studies at Renmin University wrote, “Perceiving itself as a superpower, the U.S. holds the arrogant attitude that it is not a big deal to steal other countries’ information.”
  • Li Haidong, an American studies researcher at China Foreign Affairs University agreed, adding that the “NSA’s extensive surveillance activities regardless of friends or foes reflect its desperation to secure its global supremacy. The damage caused has prompted the world to question the legitimacy of U.S. leadership.”


The Brazilian government has announced an official decree establishing a new government email system to safeguard the privacy of government communications. This follows the September cancellation of Dilma’s Rousseff’s planned state visit to the White House. Most recently, government officials are responding to allegations of its own espionage program against foreigners residing in Brazil.

  • The Government’s Diario Official (Official Diary)  decreed that all official Government communications will be required to use a new government email service which will be created by government entities without bidding for national security interests.
  • Folha de São Paulo reported that Brazil’s Minister of Justice José Eduardo Cardozo defended the actions of its Government, stating  that the actions were undertaken as “counterespionage” and is a “completely different situation” from the U.S. wiretapping of foreign leaders.


The Russian media focused on the role of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in the wiretap revelations. Snowden was granted asylum by the Russian government in August.

  • The Moscow Times wrote, “Russia’s enthusiastic support for NSA leaker Edward Snowden… seems to be paying generous dividends for the Kremlin.” Noting that Russia’s intelligence gathering abilities lags severely behind the United States, the editorial opined that the Kremlin views Snowden’s cyber-vigilantism as a ‘payoff’ because Russia still adheres to a Cold War-era, zero-sum game: what is bad for the United States is good for Russia.”
  • “Wiretapping of EU officials by U.S. intelligence services is a manifestation of double standards,” stated Konstantin Dolgov, Attorney of the Russian Foreign Ministry.


The Japanese government remained silent in the midst of the NSA scandal, only stating that “Japan has continuously been conducting various communications with the U.S.” Japan’s newspapers expressed somewhat sympathetic views on the U.S. wiretapping.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun argued, “the United States should review the methods of its intelligence gathering activities both at home and abroad,” but maintained that “Intelligence gathering is vital to ensuring national security…it is essential that diplomacy be conducted based on this premise.”
  • The Sankei Shimbun agreed. “While the reinforcement of anti-terrorism measures is necessary, the United States should revise them if there are excesses such as wiretapping on its allies’ leaders.”


The South Korean government requested the U.S. to confirm whether NSA wiretapped the Korean Embassy in Washington or eavesdropped on Korean presidents. Washington only replied so far that it will “review” its intelligence-gathering activities.

  • The Joongang Daily bashed Washington’s response as “a de facto admission of the suspicion,” urging the South Korean government to “sternly raise a complaint and demand an apology” through presidential level concerns.
  • Acknowledging that “spying is a fact of life between friends and foes,” the Chosun Ilbointerpreted NSA wiretapping as a wake-up call for the Koreans. “South Korea is a hotspot for North Korean agents, and there can be no doubt that China, Japan and other countries are snooping on Seoul. It is the government’s job to guard against electronic eavesdropping, which can target anyone at any time.”