October 30, 2013
James Clapper, director for National Intelligence said that “yes”, there has been spying on foreign governmental leaders conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA).
House Representative Mike Rogers asked Clapper at a meeting of the House Intelligence Committee (HIC) to discuss oversight on programs such as PRISM and the NSA surveillance operations for over-seas targets.
Attending the meeting was Chris Inglis, deputy director of the NSA; James Cole, deputy attorney general; along with Clapper and General Keith Alexander, director of the NSA.
Clapper said: “That’s long been par for the course. It is a hearty perennial; as long as I’ve been in the intelligence business.”
With regard to intelligence collections, Clapper said that the executive branch is not aware of all information syphoned or all “collection priorities”.
Clapper explained: “It is better for us to have a program and take a beating than have our country be attacked. What we do not do is spy unlawfully on Americans, or for that matter, spy indiscriminately on the citizens of any country. We only spy for valid foreign intelligence purposes as authorized by law, with multiple layers of oversight to ensure we don’t abuse our authorities.”
House Representative Dutch Ruppersberger told the intelligence panel: “One key fact we need to keep in mind is that NSA’s focus is on foreign threats. Under FISA, NSA does not target Americans in the U.S. and does not target Americans anywhere else, without a court order.”
Alexander told the HIC: “It is much more important for this country that we defend this nation and take the beatings than it is to give up a program that would result in this nation being attacked.”
The NSA director said that media reports that the NSA was spying on France and Spain are “completely false”.
Information provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was also “provided to NSA by foreign partners. This is not information that we collected on European citizens. It represents information that we and our NATO allies have collected in defense of our countries and in support of military operations.”
Rogers asserted: Our challenge is to build confidence and transparency while keeping our intelligence services agile and effective against our adversaries. China does not ask a FISA court for a warrant to listen to a phone call on their state-owned and censored network. The Russian Duma does not conduct oversight on the FSB. But America has those checks; America has those balances. That is why we should be proud of the manner in which America collects intelligence.”
Last week, Senator Dianne Feinstein called for a review of all intelligence programs.
Feinstein said: “With respect to NSA collection of intelligence on leaders of U.S. allies–including France, Spain, Mexico and Germany–let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed.”
German media reports that although Germany is grateful to the US for “bringing democracy to” their country, “the United States still behaves like a (digital) occupying power, then it’s about time we questioned the friendship.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to President Obama to “demand clarification” on reports that the NSA had listened to phone calls and read text messages.
Merkel commented: “Spying among friends is not at all acceptable.”