WASHINGTON — Sen. Diane Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, on Monday called for a “total review of all intelligence programs” following allegations that the National Security Agency eavesdropped on the German chancellor — the latest revelation in a spying scandal that has strained longstanding alliances.
The NSA’s program of spying on the foreign leaders was already damaging relations with some of the closest U.S. allies. German officials said Monday that the U.S. could lose access to an important law enforcement tool used to track terrorist money flows.
As possible leverage, German authorities cited last week’s non-binding resolution by the European Parliament to suspend a post-9/11 agreement allowing the Americans access to bank transfer data to track the flow of terrorist money. A top German official said Monday she believed the Americans were using the information to gather economic intelligence apart from terrorism and that the agreement known as the SWIFT agreement should be suspended.
Feinstein, D-Calif., said while she was not informed about the spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, her committee was informed of the NSA’s collection of phone records under a secret court order. But she said she “was not satisfactorily informed” that “certain surveillance activities have been in effect for more than a decade.”
Her statement follows reports based on new leaks from former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden indicating that the NSA listened to Merkel and 34 other foreign leaders.
Feinstein said the U.S. should not be “collecting phone calls or emails of friendly presidents and prime ministers” unless in an emergency with approval of the president.
NSC spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden refused to comment on “assertions made in the senator’s statement” about U.S. foreign intelligence activities. European Union officials who are in Washington to meet with lawmakers ahead of White House talks said U.S. surveillance of their people could affect negotiations over a U.S.-Europe trade agreement. They said European privacy must be better protected.
Many officials in Germany and other European governments have made clear, however, that they don’t favor suspending the U.S.-EU trade talks which began last summer because both sides stand to gain so much through the proposed deal, especially against competition from China and other emerging markets.
As tensions with European allies escalate, the top U.S. intelligence official declassified dozens of pages of top secret documents in an apparent bid to show the NSA was acting legally when it gathered millions of Americans’ phone records.
Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper said he was following the president’s direction to make public as much information as possible about how U.S. intelligence agencies spy under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Monday’s release of documents focused on Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the bulk collection of U.S. phone records.