Edward Snowden’s disclosure of top-secret National Security Agency (NSA) documents to the media earlier this year highlighted the United States’ surveillance programs and metadata practices as a serious U.S. public diplomacy concern for the United States. During a recent overseas trip, I personally witnessed the United States’ damaged reputation in New Zealand as locals quickly expressed their alarm over the United States’ monitoring of friendly government leaders and foreign citizens. (Review this interactive map, which shows 29 countries where the NSA reportedly spied)
This article reveals the swift impact the leaks had on the German public. 49% of Germans trusted the U.S. government in July and now just 35% of Germans trust the U.S. government. In this article, Brazilian columnist Vanessa Barbara discusses how her Brazilian community expresses their frustration by writing notes to the NSA at the bottom of emails, sending illogical emails, and crafting serious emails about silly topics in an attempt to raise an NSA agent’s eyebrow. As National Public Radio reporter Tom Gjelten summed it up,”it is safe to say [people overseas] are angry.”
Since the damage is already done, I am curious how great of an impact the NSA’s actions will have on the U.S.’s public diplomacy efforts going forward and if it will negatively impact the work of non-state diplomatic efforts such as educational exchanges or business partnerships. As Nicholas Cull pointed out in this week’s reading, it is difficult to go at it alone, which is why I believe that President Obama, in his attempts to soothe frustrated allies, emphasized stronger intelligence partnerships. His address last Friday announcing his administration’s plan to curb the NSA’s capabilities reemphasized this promise, but naturally, many allies and friends abroad will remain skeptical.