President Barack Obama responded to outrage by European leaders over revelations of alleged U.S. spying on them by saying Monday that all nations, including those expressing the strongest protests, collect intelligence on each other.
The German news magazine Der Spiegel reported Sunday that classified leaks by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden detailed NSA bugging of European Union offices in Washington and New York, as well as an "electronic eavesdropping operation" that tapped into an EU building in Brussels.
Mounting anger throughout Europe on Monday included a threat by French President Francois Hollande to halt talks with the United States on trade and other issues unless the bugging stopped.
U.S. and EU officials are scheduled to begin talks on a proposed trans-Atlantic free trade agreement next week.
The European Commission will sweep its offices for electronic listening devices and other security breaches, a spokeswoman said Monday.
Asked at a news conference in Tanzania about the latest leaks involving Snowden, Obama said he needed more information on the specific programs cited in the Der Spiegel report, but made clear such spying was commonplace.
"I guarantee you that in European capitals, there are people who are interested in, if not what I had for breakfast, at least what my talking points might be should I end up meeting with their leaders," Obama said. "That is how intelligence services operate."
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin opened the door on Monday to Snowden possibly staying in Russia. The admitted NSA leaker has been in the international transit lounge of the Moscow airport seeking asylum in Ecuador.
Snowden "must stop his work aimed at harming our American partners" if he wants to stay in Russia, Putin said. Previously, Putin had said Snowden should depart the airport for his final destination, wherever it might be.
Conflicting reports emerged Monday that Snowden was seeking asylum in Russia. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell was unable to provide clarity to reporters.
"We don't have information one way or another" about an asylum request for Russia, Ventrell said, later adding that Snowden "appears to still be in Russia and our position is the same that he should be expelled and returned home here to the U.S."
Obama said Monday that Snowden had traveled to Russia without a valid passport or legal papers, and he hoped that Moscow would handle the case as it would any other travel-related matter.
The president confirmed that the United States and Russia have had "high-level" discussions about Snowden, after an earlier report from Russia that the two nations' top law enforcement officials were working together to resolve the situation.
The new bugging controversy follows earlier European discontent over revelations of U.S. surveillance of overseas e-mails related to terrorism, as well as the collection of phone records as a database for further court-approved investigation.
Obama sought to distinguish between what he portrayed as normal intelligence-gathering and the specific anti-terrorism programs disclosed by Snowden's earlier leaks to The Guardian newspaper in London and the Washington Post.
In the end, he said, U.S. and European allies "work so closely together that there is almost no information that is not shared between our various countries."
Hollande, however, said bugging of EU offices went beyond the anti-terrorism programs previously revealed and must stop immediately before negotiations can go forward.
"We know that there are systems which have to control notably for the threat against terrorism, but I do not think that this is in our embassies or in the EU that this risks exist," he said.
Der Spiegel reported the allegations Sunday, citing information from secret documents obtained by Snowden and "in part seen" by the news magazine.
In Brussels, Der Spiegel says, the agency targeted the Justus Lipsius Building, which houses the European Council and the EU Council of Ministers, the union's main decision-making and legislative body.
And in Washington, the magazine report claims, the NSA installed bugs in the European Union's building and infiltrated its computer network.
To Michael Hayden, a former director of the NSA and CIA, the report reflected the reality of international spying.
"Any European who wants to go out and rend their garments with regard to international espionage should look first and find out what their governments are doing," he told CBS on Sunday.
Obama declined to comment in-depth on the Der Spiegel article, saying his staff needs to analyze the report to figure out which, if any, U.S. surveillance programs it involved.
"When we have an answer we will make sure to provide all the information that our allies want in what exactly the allegations have been," he said.