On Tuesday afternoon, U.S. intelligence officials did their best to disprove reports that the NSA monitored more than 170 million phone calls in France, Spain, and other European countries last year. NSA head Gen. Keith Alexander called the reports "completely false" and said the information was provided to the NSA by the intelligence agencies in each country.
"This is not information that we collected on European citizens," Alexander said during his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. "It represents information that we and our NATO allies have collected in defense of our countries and in support of military operations."
But what about the Edward Snowden-provided classified documents on which the initial reports were based? Alexander claims that reporters and Snowden “did not understand what they were looking at.”
French and Italian officials did not respond to requests for comment form the Wall Street Journal, though a Spanish official said Spain collaborated with the NSA on operations in Mali, Afghanistan and certain international operations against jihadist groups.
The French and Spanish intelligence agencies have had extensive, long-running programs to share millions of phone records with the United States for counterterrorism and defense purposes, according to current and former officials familiar with the effort.
The information was not phone calls’ content but records of phone calls or “metadata’’ collected “by French intelligence agencies and provided to us,” said a senior Obama administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. “We share information with many countries.”
During the same hearing, James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said top White House officials knew about the NSA's monitoring of allied foreign leaders. “They can and do,” he said, according to the New York Times, though he didn't completely throw the Obama administration under the bus. “I have to say that that does not extend down to the level of detail. We’re talking about a huge enterprise here, with thousands and thousands of individual requirements.”
And it's not just American intelligence agencies facing accusations of spying on allies: On Tuesday, the Kremlin denied reports that Russia provided bugged USB thumb drives and rechargeable cables in gift bags in an attempt to eavesdrop on G-20 delegates during this September's summit.
[Image via AP]