Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein is calling for a "total review of all intelligence programs" after allegations that the National Security Agency eavesdropped on the German chancellor — activity the California Democrat says she wasn't told about.
Feinstein said Monday that while her committee was informed of the NSA's collection of phone records under a secret court order, her committee, quote, "was not satisfactorily informed" that "certain surveillance activities have been in effect for more than a decade."
She said President Barack Obama was not informed either that German Chancellor Angela Merkel's communications were being collected since 2002.
Her statement follows reports based on new leaks from former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden indicating that the NSA listened to Merkel and some 34 other foreign leaders.
The United States Monday said it must better weigh the risks and rewards of its spying activities, as Europe fulminates over reports it eavesdropped on Chancellor Angela Merkel and other world leaders.
In its most comprehensive response yet to the allegations, albeit using heavily nuanced language, the White House said that the fact it had the technical expertise to carry out certain espionage missions did not mean that it should.
The comments followed a Wall Street Journal article which quoted unnamed senior officials as saying President Obama did not know U.S. spies were bugging Angela Merkel's cellphone and that when he found out, he ordered it stopped.
The White House stuck to its refusal to discuss the case of Merkel and other alleged operations specifically, but did speak in a way that may be designed to appease allies over National Security Agency activities.
Obama spokesman Carney said that internal reviews into U.S. intelligence gathering would ensure surveillance programs include proper "accounting for both the security of our citizens and our allies and the privacy concerns shared by Americans and citizens around the world.
"We also need to ensure that our intelligence resources are most effectively supporting our foreign policy and national security objectives, that we are more effectively weighing the risks and rewards of our activities," Carney said.
In the fog of unspecific language and hints that characterize the way officials talk about intelligence matters, it was not clear whether Carney was hinting at a curtailing of certain spying operations.
While stressing that spies must focus "above all" on threats to the American people, his words did, however, seem calculated to offer some recognition to US allies who believe US espionage activities overstepped the mark.
"We need to ensure that we are collecting information not just because we can, but because we should, because we need it for our security," Carney said.
The evolving and careful White House repositioning came after days of outrage in Europe over reports apparently based on disclosures by fugitive security analyst Edward Snowden and evasive statements from the top American officials.
Carney, however, refused to comment on the Wall Street Journal article which said the NSA ended a program to spy on Merkel and other world leaders after an internal review revealed it to White House officials.
The review alerted officials to the monitoring of 35 world leaders, the paper said quoting an unnamed senior official.
It was unclear if the officials spoke to the Journal as part of a damage limitation exercise designed to insulate Obama from personal embarrassment, following his call with Merkel over the issue last week.
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