As Europe seethes, US to review intel operations
Posted Tuesday, October 29 2013 at 16:41
Washington - The White House said it will seek to keep US intelligence-gathering operations in check and possibly add new restraints for more transparency amid mounting European ire over American snooping on the continent.
"There are a number of efforts underway that are designed to increase transparency, to work with Congress to look at reform to the Patriot Act (and) to look at ways we can increase oversight and increase constraint on the authorities provided by these programs," presidential spokesman Jay Carney said at a news briefing Monday.
The New York Times, quoting administration and congressional officials, reported Monday that President Barack Obama is considering banning eavesdropping on leaders of US allies in the wake of the European furor.
As Spain became the latest ally to summon a US ambassador to denounce the mass eavesdropping, the normally loyal head of the US Senate intelligence committee claimed her panel had been kept in the dark.
Washington stands accused of snooping on the telephone and online communications of millions of ordinary citizens in Europe, including allied world leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Obama refused to corroborate such reports, citing the need to keep intelligence operations classified. But he acknowledged that the way US agencies go about their business was being reassessed.
"We give them policy direction," he told ABC News.
"But what we've seen over the last several years is their capacities continue to develop and expand, and that's why I'm initiating now a review to make sure that what they're able to do doesn't necessarily mean what they should be doing."
Senator Dianne Feinstein said lawmakers on her committee had not been briefed on the extent of National Security Agency activity and announced a "major review" of spy operations.
Spain summons US envoy
"With respect to NSA collection of intelligence on leaders of US allies -- including France, Spain, Mexico and Germany -- let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed," Feinstein said.
"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."
Feinstein, a member of Obama's Democratic Party who defended the NSA in the recent past, did not disguise her opposition to those policies that have led to a deterioration in transatlantic ties.
"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," she said.
The Spanish government meanwhile called in US ambassador James Costos to explain the latest allegations.
A senior Spanish foreign ministry official met the envoy after the El Mundo daily published a classified document purportedly showing that US intelligence services tracked 60.5 million Spanish telephone calls in one month.