Return to Transcripts main page


Special Relationship Status; Greenwald Pushes Back against NSA; Imagine a World

Aired October 30, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

What a time to take on this new job. The U.S. ambassador to the U.K., Matthew Barzun is my special guest tonight. And he took up his post in August right in the middle of an environment that is, to put it mildly, very challenging.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Here he is, giving a behind-the-scenes tour of the embassy in London.

MATTHEW BARZUN, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.K.: And over here, of course, is a portrait of someone I think needs no introduction. Here's Sir Winston Churchill, cigar in hand, looking intently and purposefully over my shoulder every day. And I love it because it's a reminder of the man who coined the term "special relationship" back in 1946.


AMANPOUR: Now U.S. relationships, whether special or not, are sharply in focus as the global fallout continues over the NSA spying allegations.

Today, a delegation from the E.U. arrived for talks in Washington following claims that German Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone was monitored, apparently along with dozens of other world leaders.

On Capitol Hill yesterday intelligence chiefs defended the principle of eavesdropping on world leaders. But it's the allegation of snooping on tens of millions of calls made my ordinary people, specifically in France and Spain, that was sharply denied.

The head of the NSA says metadata, such as what number is dialed and how long a call lasts was actually collected by European intelligence services and later shared with the United States.

But after months of revelations by the NSA leaker Edward Snowden, President Barack Obama has ordered a review of intelligence practices, meanwhile his global standing has taken a knock and rebuilding trust won't be easy.

All this as the U.S. tries to recover from that other debacle over the government shutdown, and that's a lot for any ambassador to cope with.

Matthew Barzun came to the court of St. James via volunteering on President Obama's first campaign and then chairing the Finance Committee for his reelection. He has also served as ambassador to Sweden and he knows a lot about working closely with America's key allies in good times and difficult ones.


AMANPOUR: Ambassador Barzun, welcome. Thanks for joining me in the studio.

BARZUN: Thank you for having me, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: So this week has been dominated by stories of ambassadors around Europe being summoned by the governments and demanding explanations.

Why have you not been summoned?

BARZUN: Well, the --


BARZUN: -- United States and the U.K. have an incredibly close, as you know, intelligence sharing cooperation. And that dates back to World War II, up through the Cold War and continues right up today as we try to make the world and ourselves safe from proliferation from terrorism.

So we work incredibly closely together. and that's the focus of the conversations I'm having.

AMANPOUR: In the same vein, I want to play you a little bit of what Prime Minister Cameron was asked and his response in Parliament this week.


KEVIN BRENNAN, CARDIFF WEST, LABOUR: Can he tell the House whether his phone has been targeted and, if not, why not?


DAVID CAMERON, PRIME MINISTER, GREAT BRITAIN: There was a -- there was a very good moment at the dinner when one E.U. prime minister said how disappointed he was that clearly no one was interested in his conversations. I won't -- I won't reveal who it was.


AMANPOUR: So, Ambassador, a light moment about a serious topic, one that has grabbed Washington right now by the horns, and that is the fallout from tapping and monitoring leaders' phone calls, emails, et cetera, even allies.

And in fact, at Congress, James Clapper yesterday said this is business as usual. This is what we do.

Explain to us what it is that U.S. and its allies do in terms of intelligence gathering.

BARZUN: Well, I think, you know, in Washington today, you've got delegation from the European Parliament there, engaging with the State Department, with the White House. You've got delegations from European countries there, engaging.

So the president, as he has said, takes this matter very seriously. And he's working on it. And it's part of the reasons that he's conducting this review, the White House review, and then also external reviews about how we strike the balance.

And he thinks it's really important that we find the right balance between, on the one hand, protecting the security of our citizens and our allies; and, at the same time, protecting the privacy that Americans and Brits and people all over the world share.

AMANPOUR: What do you make of what General Keith Alexander said yesterday? Because obviously one of the other things that has grabbed the headlines has been these accusations printed in Spanish and French newspapers with the help of Glenn Greenwald, that the U.S. was spying on French and Spanish citizens and collecting tens of millions of phone calls and other such.

General Alexander said it wasn't true. This is what he said.


KEITH ALEXANDER, NSA DIRECTOR: The sources of the metadata include data legally collected by NSA under its various authorities, as well as data provided to NSA by foreign partners.

To be perfectly clear, this is not information that we collected on European citizens. It represents information that we and our NATO allies have collected in defense of our countries and in support of military operations.


AMANPOUR: Does that present a bit of an issue? First, the fact that everybody accused the NSA of doing it, now General Alexander is basically explaining that actually it's our allies who are also doing it and that is what they do.

Could that sort of have a backlash, do you fear, as ambassador?

Do you think that that could put, let's say the leaders of France and Germany, in a difficult spot with their publics once they know that their intelligence are spying on them?

BARZUN: Well, what I would react to, to that clip and to the other one that you showed, is a lot of the explaining that's going on. And I think it's important to reflect on the fact that both here in the United Kingdom and back home in America, you see a open public debate about these topics.

You saw people on Capitol Hill in that clip. You see the president himself as spokesperson Jay Carney, everyone engaging, not only in public formats like we've seen, but also through diplomatic channels, engaging on this important topic, so that we can find the right balance.

And I think as we see all that back-and-forth of news stories that we reflect on how these democracies are handling this really important issue.



BARZUN: That's a good model.

AMANPOUR: -- and one of the really important issues, obviously, is cooperation in, let's say, counterterrorism.


AMANPOUR: Do you fear, as an ambassador, representing the U.S. government, do you fear that now exposing some of what's going on -- and this was kind of a first confirmation that actually, yes, the U.S. and other intelligence agencies cooperate.

Do you think it might hamper the trust of other governments or other intelligence agencies in cooperating with the United States?

Do you think these leaks, do you think these -- this open system that you're now talking about -- could hamper that?

BARZUN: I think it's vital that we continue working closely together. It's not really my position to come in on other countries, but certainly as it relates to the United Kingdom and the United States, the partnership is incredibly close and it's working to keep us safe.

And in order -- but I think to the larger point you were getting at, it's also important -- and the president has said this -- that our publics and our democracies be comfortable with this balance between security on the one hand and the privacy concerns that we all share.

AMANPOUR: The publics are pretty angry right now that, for instance in Germany they're pretty angry once they heard that Chancellor Merkel was also being monitored.

You know, you've seen the film; everybody's seen the film, "The Lives of Others," about the intrusions of the Stasi era in Germany. I guess I'm asking, do you understand as a human being these sensitivities amongst various European populations to all of this?

BARZUN: Well, I would focus on the sensitivities to the publics -- I can speak more to America and maybe what's going on in the U.K. I think an important point to realize --


AMANPOUR: But you were ambassador to Sweden beforehand as well. So you've got a pretty big view.

BARZUN: Sure. Look, and this is really important and that's why the president takes these matters so seriously and why these meetings are happened today in Washington.

AMANPOUR: You mentioned the delegation in the United States.

Now Viviane Reding, who's the E.U. vice president -- E.C. vice president -- has said, and I quote, that all of these disclosures, quote, "shows the U.S. views Europe as a threat, not a partner."

What is your response to that?

BARZUN: Well, I wouldn't characterize it that way at all. And --


AMANPOUR: I mean that she would say that, it's pretty dramatic.

BARZUN: These unauthorized disclosures have created issues that the president and his team are actively engaging in.

But that is just one of the many issues we're working on together, the U.S. and the U.K., and the U.S. and Europe more broadly. After I leave here today, I'm going to a session on the big transatlantic trade deal that we're trying to get.

So we need to keep moving forward and working on these other issues, and we --


AMANPOUR: Right. Well, tell me about how difficult that is, because you're talking about the E.U.-U.S. free trade deal, right?



So she even said that all of this could be damaged by these disclosures, even some European leaders who support that free trade agreement are saying the same thing.

Do you think that it'll get put on ice? Do you think that'll go through?

BARZUN: No. No, I don't.

It will continue to make progress. We need to make progress. There's too much at stake. Europe and the United States, we need more growth, more jobs.

If you just look at existing trade, the largest trading block in the world and a third of global trade in goods and services, that supports 13 million jobs in Europe and the United States, currently. So if we can build on that, we get a big deal done, an ambitious deal done, that could mean more growth, more jobs. And we sorely need those.


AMANPOUR: We'll have more of my interview with Matthew Barzun in a moment. But even as we were speaking, more revelations about the NSA were emerging. "The Washington Post" this time reports the agency secretly broke into the main links between Google and Yahoo! data centers around the world, allowing it to tap potentially into hundreds of millions of user accounts every day.

Now Glenn Greenwald, as we mentioned, is the man who first broke the Snowden leaks in "The Guardian" newspaper here after more than 200 stories in the past five months, he was now, as I mentioned, being accused of getting it wrong about the tapping of phones in France and Spain.

So a short while ago, I asked him whether that was true and how difficult it is to master all that metadata.


AMANPOUR: Glenn Greenwald, welcome back to the program.


AMANPOUR: So you just heard what General Alexander said about the specific publications and information that you had put out in those various Spanish and French newspapers, that actually it wasn't the NSA, he said, but it was in conjunction with those particular intelligence agencies.

He basically said that you and those newspapers got it wrong.

Listen to what he's saying, and I want you to respond to that.


KEITH ALEXANDER, NSA DIRECTOR: . the assertions by reporters in France, "Le Monde"; Spain, "El Mundo" and Italy, "L'Espresso," that NSA collected tens of millions of phone calls are completely false.

They cite as evidence screen shots of the results of a web tool used for data management purposes, but both they and the person who stole the classified data did not understand what they were looking at.


AMANPOUR: So, Glenn, he's being very specific and he's talking particularly about the reports of earlier this week, the tens of millions of phone calls in France and Spain. And he said it's completely false.

What is your reaction to that?

GREENWALD: Notice what he didn't offer, which is any evidence for the truth of what he's saying. This is, remember, an agency that is extremely beleaguered in the middle of a very intense scandal, both at home and abroad.

It is an agency whose top officials have a record of lying to the Congress and to the American people through the media, including General Alexander, and these claims, which I was astonished to watch journalists yesterday go on television and treat as though they were the gospel, are simply accusations made without evidence.

This reporting has been going on for months, Christiane, in Germany and Brazil. They've never once denied that this reporting is accurate. Suddenly they make this assertion in the middle of this scandal. And I think some skepticism is warranted.

AMANPOUR: Certainly.

Is it possible that you could have been mistaken, that some of these slides, those specific ones that they're talking about, not the other stuff, but these specific ones and he specifically said that it was not European citizens being monitored and it was not the NSA, it was those European governments.

Is it possible that there could have been a mistake made?

GREENWALD: Look, journalists are human beings. And all journalists and all human beings make mistakes.

We've been reporting on these stories dozens and dozens and dozens of articles in countries around the world for five months. Not a single one of our articles bears even a trivial correction let alone a substantive one, because we've been so meticulous.

Of course it's possible that at some point we'll make a mistake. And if evidence is presented that we did or even an accusation like today one is made that we did, we'll go and do more reporting.

And if warranted, a correction will be issued. But I gathered all the evidence today that I think is relevant to this question, showed exactly what the basis is, go look at what the NSA says these documents do when they thought they were talking in private and the basis is very clear for why it is we reported what we did.

Of course all journalists at some point make mistakes. And you own up to them and you make corrections. But evidence has to be presented that that's true. And so far there is none.

AMANPOUR: Glenn Greenwald, thanks. I know we'll be talking again. Thanks for joining me from Rio.

GREENWALD: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And so has U.S. surveillance of friends as well as foes caused a rift in what Ambassador Barzun quoting Winston Churchill called the special relationship between America and Britain? With the ongoing war in Syria and the effects of the U.S. government shutdown on the whole world economy, this is hardly the time for a crisis of confidence.

And as I said, we will have more of my conversation with Ambassador Barzun, shown here with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, keeping America's allies calm and carrying on when we come back.




BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sometimes on both sides of the Atlantic, we have drifted apart. we have drifted apart, and forgotten our shared destiny. In Europe the view that America is part of what has gone wrong in our world rather than a force to help us make it right has become all too common.


AMANPOUR: So that was Barack Obama before he became president, talking to an adoring audience in Berlin.

Now if you look at polls, you happen to come to this ambassadorial post at a moment of some crisis. And if you look at the polls, you'll see that president's approval ratings, while still fairly high, have taken a significant drop.

What is it as an ambassador that you think needs to be done? Because there's a perception that this president is just like the previous one, continuing the same national security goals, you know, the drones, the whole business of not closing down Guantanamo, obviously this -- the NSA and the surveillance.

What do you think needs to be done to stop this hemorrhage of support?

BARZUN: Well, I wouldn't characterize it that way. And I -- your graphic is good looking. I think it would be interesting to see the actual absolute numbers and not just the --


BARZUN: -- number dropped.

AMANPOUR: -- well, I mean, some of -- I mean, but number drops are quite important, 9 points in the U.K., obviously 13 in Jordan, Egypt and in other such places.

BARZUN: But I think from a high level --


BARZUN: -- it's important. And I think it is crucial.

And the -- you know, hearing that clip of the president back then, and if you could play another clip, which we probably can't do right now, of President Obama at the United Nations General Assembly at the end of September, where he made a similar point and he made it quite powerfully and he basically said to the international community what you ought to worry about is not America too engaged in the world, but America pulling back from the world, because we certainly have lots of hard work we need to do at home. But that you want America engaged in the world.

Look what we're doing in Syria on the chemical weapons issue, number one.

Two, on the humanitarian crisis, where the U.K. and the U.S. are the number one and number two contributors of humanitarian assistance.

And then third, finally, a political solution, not a military solution, to try to end the civil war there.

AMANPOUR: Right and --

BARZUN: (Inaudible) engaged.

AMANPOUR: Except that many would say that actually, you know, the reluctance to get involved militarily is allowing this to spin out of control. And even today we hear more and more stories about how, you know, thousands of people are still being killed. Yes, it would be great if the chemical weapons were finally destroyed in Syria.

Let me ask you this, though, because you were right in the middle of that as well. You wrote an op-ed in the British newspapers about the special relationship right after Prime Minister Cameron was basically told by his Parliament that forget it, we're not going to intervene.

A lot of people worried about the special relationship back then, and you defended it.

I wonder whether you think actually that Prime Minister Cameron, what happened in Parliament, actually gave President Obama leeway also then to go to his Congress, then decided not to, but actually not to get involved, to use that moment as to pull back from any military intervention.

BARZUN: What I think we saw in that -- in those weeks -- it was my first six days on the job there was a front page article in the largest circulation newspaper here, declaring the special relationship dead.

I got some emails from friends back home, saying, well done; six short days and it's over.

And of course, it's not over. It's as strong and healthy as ever.

And I think what the world saw in our democracy back home and the democracy here in the U.K. is spirited public debate about the use of force and what's in our interest and what's not. And I think that's a very healthy thing.

And I think we got to a good place with the specific issue around chemical weapons in Syria and then of course the larger issues of humanitarian aid and the political solution that we're all working so hard with.

AMANPOUR: Let's talk about another thing, which, again, you've been right in the middle of and I'd be fascinated to know how you viewed this thing that made the rest of the world wonder about the United States, and that is the government shutdown and the inability to get its financial economic house in order.

The shutdown, as ambassador, you know, it was being derided here and elsewhere.

How did it make you feel to see what was going on and how it was being reacted to here?

BARZUN: This was, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, not our finest hour. This is not how our democracy back home is supposed to work. And I got lots of questions from students up in Edinburgh about the shutdown.

I think the good news out of it is that at the 11th hour, Democrats and Republicans did come together to get a deal done. And so now the focus is --


AMANPOUR: (Inaudible) kicked down the road, though.

BARZUN: Well --

AMANPOUR: (Inaudible) January (inaudible).

BARZUN: -- (Inaudible) mid-December we'll see work on the budget and something done.

So I think it's --

AMANPOUR: You think there will be proper work and there will be a real proper (inaudible)?


BARZUN: (Inaudible) hope so. I certainly hope so. And I think we can then reassert and reshow the democracy that we're so proud of and how it works.

AMANPOUR: You said that, you know, this wasn't our finest hour and it's not meant to be how it works. But there is a line of thought right now that believes that perhaps structurally this is the way it's going to be, a Democratic president, a Republican House or vice versa or whatever, and this kind of institutional paralysis or inability to compromise is going to be the way of the future.

What are your thoughts on that?

BARZUN: I don't think that will be the way of the future. I think our system -- and I explained this to our British friends a lot -- our system is different from parliamentary systems and we have gridlock in a sense built into it.

So we have divided government and it's meant to work that way, as you know well, with checks and balances.

And I think it's important to make a distinction between our normal system -- and if you just take the issue of ObamaCare, and how it was thought out in the legislature and then it went to the top of our judicial system to the Supreme Court, and then we had a presidential election where this was a top issue.

So you see all three branches of our government -- legislative, judicial, executive -- all playing their part. And then it becomes the law of the land and then we try to go implement it.

And so I think that is the way our system works. It is contentious and a bit like American football. I try to explain to my British friends that it's start and stop; it's adversarial.

AMANPOUR: But this is pretty --


BARZUN: It works for us.

AMANPOUR: You agree, right? This is a pretty bad situation where the government could be shut down, where most, you know, reputable ecosystem and world leaders says that actually even if they, you know, defaulted, if the debt ceiling thing hadn't been worked out, it could have triggered a worse economic crisis than in 2008, just at the time when the U.S. and other countries are showing sort of green shoots of growth.

BARZUN: Absolutely. And everything I said about our system of checks and balances was not in any way trying to suggest that what we saw in the twin -- the government shutdown and then the debt brinksmanship -- was a good thing. It wasn't a good thing.

And I think the president put it quite bluntly. He said it's encouraged our enemies; it emboldened our competitors and it depressed our friends, who count on us for steady leadership. And I certainly saw that with friends here in the U.K., who do look to us, who work with us on the range of issues.

You touched on some: Middle East peace, Syria, the big trade deal we're trying to do, all these things we need to work together with the U.K. We have no better partner in the world than the U.K. to work on this.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Ambassador Matthew Barzun, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

BARZUN: Thank you so much, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Nice to talk to you.


AMANPOUR: And while Great Britain is no longer the far-flung power that it once was, 2,000 years ago it marked the northern frontier of the vast Roman Empire.

Just a few weeks ago, archeologists discovered this astonishingly well preserved Roman eagle, the symbol of imperial might at the bottom of an ancient ditch in the heart of London. The eagle with the snake in its beak likely adorned the tomb of a powerful political figure whose proud name like the power behind it is just a memory.

And after a break, the unexpected rise of another source of British pride, from pudding to paradise, when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally, with Halloween almost upon us, imagine a world where the landscape of nightmares is now one of the world's top tourist destinations. The lonely moors and fog-swept dales of Yorkshire in the north of England have long been a source of gloomy inspiration. Bram Stoker was drawn to the ruins of Whitby Abbey and made it the setting for his horror classic, "Dracula."

And Sherlock Holmes famously roamed those same moors in pursuit of the dreaded hound of the Baskervilles, not to mention Heathcliff and Jane Eyre, who wandered through the imagination of the Bronte sisters. But Yorkshire is more than gloom; it's more even than a puffy pudding that goes with roast beef at Sunday lunch. It's more than the name of a cute little terrier that you can fit in a purse.

The popular travel guide, "Lonely Planet," has just named Yorkshire the third best region in the world and while it trails a valley in the Himalayas and a remote coastal spot in Australia, it's a proud day for what the locals call "God's own country."

In fact, Yorkshire has been on a roll lately. Its athletes won 12 medals for Britain at the 2012 London Olympics and that would have been good enough for 12th place if Yorkshire were an independent nation.

And Yorkshire is a riot of color as well. Britain most famous living artist, Yorkshire's own David Hockney, is being celebrated with a new exhibition in San Francisco, featuring 150 blazing images sketched on his iPad.

And last but not least, there's the hit TV show, "Downton Abbey," set upstairs and downstairs on a Yorkshire estate. If the proof is in the pudding, then Yorkshire is the place to be.

And that's it for tonight's program. And remember, you can always contact us at and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.