U.S. President Barack Obama promised Americans and foreign leaders alike to provide them with “further transparency” regarding U.S. surveillance operations, during a globally aired TV address on Jan. 17.
The U.S. government has been submerged under a sea of controversy ever since embarrassing documents were leaked by CIA whistle-blower Edward Snowden in May 2013 that indicated the United States had been spying on governments with which it shares friendly relations and on the American public.
In October 2013 it was discovered that the U.S.'s National Security Agency had been tapping German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone, a fact that led to strained relations between the two countries .
Then in December 2013, further embarrassment came when it was revealed that they had spied on Israeli prime ministers in the past .
This fact was a particularly difficult pill to swallow for Israel who has a spy of its own, Jonathan Pollard, sitting in a U.S. prison since 1987. His life sentence is the longest in history of any spy caught spying on a friendly government.
The revelation spurred both Israeli and Jewish American leaders to call for Pollard’s release and censure the United States.
"With the close ties between Israel and the U.S. there are things that are forbidden to do and are unacceptable to us," Netanyahu said during a Likud faction meeting on Dec. 23 while calling for Pollard’s release.
In the wake of all these incidents, Obama staged his global address from the Justice Department in Washington on Jan. 17 to discuss new changes in NSA policy.
“The leaders of our close friends and allies need to know that if I want to know what they think about an issue, that I will pick up the phone and call them, rather than turning to surveillance,” Obama said. “The bottom line is that people around the world, regardless of their nationality, should know that the U.S. is not spying on ordinary people who don’t threaten our national security.”
While he took on a conciliatory tone, Obama did not apologize or address either Israel or Germany over the recent incidents.
Instead, he reminded the world that the United States has many responsibilities in terms of both national and global security.
“We are held to a different standard precisely because we have been at the forefront in defending personal privacy and human dignity,” Obama said.
“This debate will make us stronger. And I also know that in this time of change, the United States of America will have to lead," he added.