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US intelligence chiefs questioned over spying on allies

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-10-29

Top US intelligence officials will testify at a congressional intelligence hearing on Tuesday against a backdrop of rising anger among key US allies over media reports that the United States has spied on European leaders and private citizens.

Top US intelligence officials, including the head of the National Security Agency (NSA), will testify at a House intelligence committee hearing Tuesday against a backdrop of rising anger among key US allies following reports that the United States has spied on European leaders and private citizens.

Recent media reports that the NSA has monitored German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone since 2002 and listened in to millions of private phone calls in France and Spain has angered some of Washington’s most important European allies.

NSA Director General Keith Alexander, NSA Deputy Director Chris Inglis, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Deputy Attorney General James Cole will testify before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence beginning at 1:30pm local time (5:30pm GMT).

Their testimony will cover NSA programs and potential changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which regulates electronic eavesdropping.

The reports of spying on US allies have forced the White House to promise a review of surveillance policy and even public acknowledgements that America’s electronic spying programmes may have gone too far. The disclosures have proved more damaging than revelations leaked to the press in recent months by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

“We recognise there need to be additional constraints on how we gather and use intelligence,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday.

House Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, told reporters on Tuesday there should be a review of NSA spying on allied leaders. He said the United States must balance its obligations to allies with its responsibility to keep Americans safe.

New bipartisan legislation proposes bringing an end to the government’s “dragnet collection” of information. The bill also calls for greater oversight, transparency and accountability for domestic surveillance.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy and Republican Representative James Sensenbrenner – the primary authors of the USA Patriot Act, which expanded surveillance after the September 11, 2001, attacks – now want to make sure the information-gathering does not go too far.

“The government surveillance programs conducted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act are far broader than the American people previously understood,” said Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “It is time for serious and meaningful reforms so we can restore confidence in our intelligence community.”

Democrats divided

US Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate’s intelligence committee, joined the critics on Monday, expressing outrage at the decision to collect intelligence on allies and anger that her committee was not informed.

“With respect to NSA collection of intelligence on leaders of US allies – including France, Spain, Mexico and Germany – let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed,” said Feinstein, who has in the past defended some of the NSA programs leaked by Snowden.

The White House is also conducting a review of intelligence programs prompted by disclosures about top secret spying programs to the media by Snowden, who is temporarily living in Russia, out of reach of US attempts to arrest him.

The Senate intelligence committee conducted a similar hearing in September at which proposals included limiting the NSA’s metadata collection program, prohibiting recording the content of phone calls and legally requiring that intelligence analysts have a “reasonable” suspicion that a phone number is associated with terrorism before being allowed to query the relevant database.

Transatlantic rift

A senior EU official said Tuesday said it was urgent that Washington try to rebuild trust with Europe, warning that transatlantic trade talks among other accords were at risk.

Viviane Reding, vice president of the European Commission and EU justice commissioner, told AFP that the latest spying revelations had "shaken and damaged" the relationship. Moreover, the reports have left Europeans feeling that they "are not seen as partners, but as a threat".

Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Reuters that she also feels the allegations of US spying on Merkel and other leaders were likely to have a lasting impact.

“It’s just raising really big doubts, uncertainties and question marks about not only the president’s leadership but whether the United States is a reliable ally,” said Conley, who served as a deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe under former president George W. Bush.

Europe had already been indicating disillusionment with the Obama administration. In the past several years, European leaders have expressed disappointment with its failure to keep a pledge to close the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and its use of drone strikes to kill terrorism suspects in Pakistan and Yemen.

The political bickering that led to the federal government shutdown also dented US prestige abroad.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

 

Date created : 2013-10-29

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