Washington, DC, United States (4E) – Top intelligence officials told a House panel hearing on Tuesday that European citizens’ phone call records reportedly intercepted by the National Security Agency (NSA) came from both the U.S. and NATO allies. They also claimed that European intelligence agencies spied on the U.S. and its leaders.
NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander testified before the House Intelligence Committee that the purpose of the phone metadata collection was to defend the countries involved and to support their militaries’ operations.
Alexander said U.S. spying activities on Americans and foreigners are lawful, for valid purposes and subject to multiple oversights.
Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper also testified before the panel, which conducted the hearing in consideration of proposals to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) allowing the NSA’s controversial metadata collection.
Clapper defended the spying of foreign leaders saying it was routine to his job.
Committee chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) asked Clapper if U.S. allies also spy on America and its leaders. The DNI chief replied, “Absolutely.”
The testimonies of Alexander and Clapper rebut European media’s recent reports that NSA alone gathered millions of phone call records of French and Spanish citizens. Reports that NSA is also eavesdropping on mobile phones of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other foreign leaders sparked outrage from the latter. Merkel called President Barack Obama last week to complain of the NSA spying. The reports were based on information leaked by former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The two officials welcomed proposed changes to the FISA but warned that “over correction” could compromise the ability of the U.S. to protect itself from terrorist attacks.
The House has come up with the proposed USA Freedom Act, which requires proof that phone data sought is relevant to an authorized investigation into international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, according to NBC News. The measure also requires a court order to search collected communications of Americans.