General Keith Alexander, director of the US National Security Agency (NSA) has defended his agency’s surveillance of friendly foreign governments but he said the orders came from American diplomats and policymakers.
Gen. Alexander tried to justify the NSA’s programs based on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He said they only keep the phone calls in addition to their date, time and duration, but that the content is not needed.
During a pointed exchange with the former US ambassador to Romania, James Carew Rosapepe, the NSA chief also said bugging America’s close allies was done at the request of US policymakers and diplomats.
Rosapepe, now a Democratic state senator in Maryland, pressed Alexander to give “a national security justification” for the agency’s use of surveillance tools intended for combating terrorism against “democratically elected leaders and private businesses.”
Alexander replied, “That is a great question, in fact as an ambassador you have part of the answer. Because we the intelligence agencies don’t come up with the requirements. The policymakers come up with the requirements.”
“One of those groups would have been, let me think, hold on, oh: ambassadors,” he added.
The NSA chief’s remarks at the Baltimore Council on Foreign Relations suggest a widening rift over the surveillance programs between the intelligence community and the Obama administration.
In recent days, the Obama administration has tried to distance itself from the NSA, a tactic that has irritated senior intelligence officials.
Many details of the NSA’s global spying programs have been disclosed by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden since June.
Recent intelligence leaks have shown that the NSA has been eavesdropping on phone calls of at least 35 world leaders including those of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of Europe’s most influential leaders.
US spy services never envisioned the disclosure of their spying secrets on such a magnitude.
“The conduct of intelligence is premised on the notion that we can do it secretly, and we don’t count on it being revealed in the newspaper,” Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., said this week during a congressional testimony.
The spy chief also acknowledged that President Barack Obama and other senior White House officials were well aware of NSA spying activities against leaders of friendly foreign nations.
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