National Security Agency (NSA) chief General Keith Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified on Tuesday that the collection of European phone records occurred as part of a NATO intelligence sharing program. Washington gathered these phone records with help of allies in the region, according to the intelligence officials.
U.S. surveillance programs had already faced increased criticism set off by reports last week that the NSA had monitored German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone and those of up to 34 other world leaders. This was followed by media reports that the NSA had collected millions of French and Spanish phone records and intercepted millions of calls, stirring outrage and intense criticism from Europe. French President François Hollande voiced a diplomatic protest in a phone call with President Obama last week, saying that espionage should not occur between allies and friends. Spain’s prosecutor’s office said it had opened a preliminary investigation on the NSA’s surveillance techniques.
Chris Inglis (L), Deputy Director of the National Security Agency, General Keith Alexander (2nd L), director of the National Security Agency, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Deputy Attorney General James Cole (R) are pictured at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, October 29, 2013. Photo: (Reuters)
Revelations of U.S. spying on allied leaders and European citizens have prompted calls from U.S. congressional leaders for a close examination of NSA programs. President Obama ordered a thorough review of the programs on Tuesday and will consider changes. Members of the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee met in Washington on Wednesday to discuss the impact of surveillance programs on EU citizens. The EU delegation said the talks planned to address “legal remedies for EU citizens” affected by U.S. surveillance. According to White House officials, the entire review of NSA programs should be completed by the end of the year.
Leaders of the NSA pushed back against European complaints and defended the NSA’s practices of spying as a fundamental procedure of American intelligence operations in combatting terrorism. According to U.S. officials, French and Spanish intelligence agencies have well-established programs to share phone records with the U.S. for counterterrorism and defense purposes. U.S. allies, including EU members, have engaged in spying on the U.S. themselves.