Sen. John McCain called on National Security Agency chief Keith Alexander to quit over the damage done to U.S.-German relations by revelations that the NSA may have tapped Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.
The disclosures and allegations meant it was time for a “wholesale housecleaning,” including a personal apology to Merkel by President Barack Obama, and repercussions for Alexander, McCain said in an interview with the German news magazine Der Spiegel published today.
“Of course he should resign, or be fired,” McCain said when asked if Alexander should quit. It’s “conceivable” that Obama didn’t know about the eavesdropping, “but the fact remains that he should have known it. Responsibility always stops at the president’s desk,” he added. “Knowing how angry Angela Merkel was, he should have apologized.”
Merkel called Obama last month to demand clarification after Spiegel reported that German authorities had enough information to confront the U.S. over suggestions that the NSA may have tapped Merkel’s personal mobile phone. While the revelations risked a rift over broader U.S. surveillance of German citizens, Merkel’s government made clear last week that its trans-Atlantic relationship with the U.S. was paramount and would ride out the spying scandal.
McCain, a former presidential candidate who sits on both the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, said the allegations of phone tapping had overstepped “certain boundaries.”
He proposed the Obama administration set up a commission to make recommendations on intelligence gathering in the post-Sept. 11, 2011, world, including “credible people here and around the world” such as former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and ex-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
“Friends spy on friends, we all know that, but there have to be certain boundaries,” McCain said. “Those boundaries were probably, to some degree, there because we didn’t have the capabilities we have now. But when you go to the point where you invade someone’s privacy, the leader of certainly Europe, if not one of the foremost leaders in the world, Angela Merkel, then it was a mistake.”
Asked how damaging it would be to U.S.-German relations if Germany were to grant asylum to former contractor Edward Snowden, the source of many of the intelligence leaks, McCain said that Merkel “would never consider such a thing.”
“We’re too good friends,” he said.
McCain’s spokesman didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail sent outside of U.S. office hours asking him to confirm the interview.
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