WASHINGTON — The chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said the U.S. shouldn’t be spying on leaders of any country unless America is “engaged in hostilities” against it.
The staunch opponent of NSA leaker Edward Snowden in the wake of the first batch of revelations about collection of telephone metadata on Americans also said after the latest revelations about listening in on phones of world leaders that she’s launching a “major review” into collection programs.
Presumably the cessation of spying would also include China and Russia, with whom the U.S. is not at war.
“It is abundantly clear that a total review of all intelligence programs is necessary so that members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are fully informed as to what is actually being carried out by the intelligence community,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement.
“Unlike NSA’s collection of phone records under a court order, it is clear to me that certain surveillance activities have been in effect for more than a decade and that the Senate Intelligence Committee was not satisfactorily informed,” she added. “Therefore our oversight needs to be strengthened and increased.”
Feinstein and her Republican vice-chairman, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), stood by the intelligence community and the Obama administration after Snowden’s initial leaks, saying that the former NSA contractor was harming national security and defending the NSA’s activities as vital.
“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,” Feinstein said today.
“Unless the United States is engaged in hostilities against a country or there is an emergency need for this type of surveillance, I do not believe the United States should be collecting phone calls or emails of friendly presidents and prime ministers. The president should be required to approve any collection of this sort.”
German newspaper Bild am Sonntag claimed that President Obama had ordered the continuation and escalation of the bugging of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s private phone, including the collection of text messages, and that NSA leader Keith Alexander told Obama about the operation in 2010. Bild said sources revealed the program began under President Bush to monitor Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.
The NSA pushed back against that report, saying in a statement that Alexander “did not discuss with President Obama in 2010 an alleged foreign intelligence operation involving German Chancellor Merkel, nor has he ever discussed alleged operations involving Chancellor Merkel. News reports claiming otherwise are not true.”
“It is my understanding that President Obama was not aware Chancellor Merkel’s communications were being collected since 2002. That is a big problem,” Feinstein said.
“The White House has informed me that collection on our allies will not continue, which I support,” she added. “But as far as I’m concerned, Congress needs to know exactly what our intelligence community is doing. To that end, the committee will initiate a major review into all intelligence collection programs.”
But White House officials quickly told media off the record that no changes have been decided as the administration reviews intelligence collection policies around the world.
The NSA chief along with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Deputy Attorney General James Cole will testify in an open hearing on potential FISA changes Tuesday before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
At today’s White House press briefing, spokesman Jay Carney was asked about a Wall Street Journal report that said Obama didn’t learn about the tapping of Merkel’s phone until this summer.
“I’m not going to get into details of internal discussions. But the president clearly feels strongly about making sure that we are not just collecting information because we can, but because we should. And I noted the other day a readout from a phone call the president had with Chancellor Merkel made clear that we do not and will not monitor the chancellor’s communications,” Carney said.