News

Spy chiefs face Congress amid rift with Europe

Spy chiefs face Congress amid rift with Europe

SPY WOES: U.S. National Security Agency Director General Keith Alexander (L), Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Deputy Attorney General James Cole (R) are sworn in to testify at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing earlier this week. Photo: Reuters

By Tabassum Zakaria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – When top U.S. intelligence officials testified at a congressional hearing weeks ago, the public uproar was over the National Security Agency collecting the phone and email records of Americans.

But when the NSA director and other spy chiefs appear at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday it will be against a backdrop of angry European allies accusing the United States of spying on their leaders and citizens.

The most prominent target appears to have been German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose mobile phone was allegedly tapped by the NSA.

More than any previous disclosures from material given to journalists by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the reports of spying on close U.S. allies have forced the White House to promise reforms and even acknowledge that America’s electronic surveillance may have gone too far.

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

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate’s intelligence committee, joined the ranks of critics on Monday, expressing outrage at U.S. intelligence collection on allies, and pique that her committee was not informed.

“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,” said Feinstein, who appeared to confirm U.S. spying on Merkel’s communications since 2002.

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

NSA Director General Keith Alexander, NSA Deputy Director Chris Inglis, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Deputy Attorney General James Cole will testify at an open hearing of the House Intelligence Committee at 1:30 p.m. (1730 GMT) on Tuesday.

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

“The House Intelligence Committee continues to assess a number of proposals to improve transparency and strengthen privacy protections to further build the confidence of the American public in our nation’s FISA programs,” said Susan Phalen, spokeswoman for Republican committee Chairman Mike Rogers.

The Senate Intelligence Committee conducted a similar hearing in late September at which Feinstein said proposals included putting limits on the NSA’s phone metadata program, prohibiting collection of the content of phone calls, and legally requiring that intelligence analysts have a “reasonable articulable suspicion” that a phone number was associated with terrorism in order to query the database.

Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe, said the administration needed to be more proactive in handling the uproar.

“The administration has been completely reactive to these leaks,” she said.

The allegations of U.S. spying on Merkel and other leaders are likely to have a lasting impact on relations, Conley said.

In the last several years, Europeans have been disappointed with the Obama administration over its failure to close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and its use of drone strikes to kill terrorism suspects. The spectacle of the recent federal government shutdown also dented U.S. prestige in Europe.

“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,” Conley said.

Recent Headlines

yesterday in Local Sports

The Seahawks announce 2014-15 schedule

Updated
FILE - In this Oct. 2, 2011, file photo, taken with a fisheyelens, the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons play during an NFL football game at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Opened in 2002, the stadium's signature roof canopies and rainbow-like trusses hang over the field to protect most of the seats and trap in the crowd noise.

The defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks will open their title defense on Thursday, Sept. 4, against the Green Bay Packers.

yesterday in Local Sports

Seager’s 2 HRs give Seattle 5-3 win over HoustonĀ 

Updated
seattle mariners mlb kyle seager

Mariners snap a 8 game losing streak to avoid AL West cellar.

yesterday in Sports

Emmert supports more efficient, effective NCAA

NCAA President Mark Emmert answers a question at a news conference Sunday, April 6, 2014, in Arlington, Texas.

NCAA President Mark Emmert believes college sports can address the concerns of union organizers without changing the entire model.

yesterday in Local Sports

Seattle signs Trufant, CB expected to retire

seattle seahawks logo generic

Seattle announced the signing Wednesday and said Trufant was expected to announce his intentions during a news conference Thursday.

yesterday in Sports

For Wrigley, it’s party of a century

Jake Schrum, 10, of Cedar Lake, Ind., holds a sign during the fifth inning of a baseball game between the Chicago Cubs and the Arizona Diamondbacks at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Wednesday, April 23, 2014.

Exactly 100 years after the Chicago Federals pounded the Kansas City Packers in the first game at the Chicago ballpark, Wrigley got quite the birthday bash on Wednesday afternoon