WASHINGTON (TIP): Undeterred by the European backlash, US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has stoutly defended America’s spying on world leaders, including close allies, commenting other nations are doing much the same. At a Congressional hearing on Tuesday, October 29, when asked whether allies also spied on the United States, Clapper asserted: “Absolutely.” Clapper also defended the domestic surveillance that has drawn flak for sweeping up phone records of millions of Americans, saying it was necessary to protect the country against terrorists. Gen. Keith Alexander, Director of the National Security Agency, which has been at the centre of a major international controversy ever since whistleblower Edward Snowden’s sensational revelations, strongly defended the agency’s far-reaching surveillance operations. But Alexander denied that his agency had swept up millions of phone records of French and Spanish citizens, whose Governments have complained over the issue to Washington. Instead, it was NATO which collected and shared the information with the United States. The Europeans have been unmoved with American explanations thus far. A delegation from European Parliament, currently in Washington, was slated to hold a meeting with a senior official of the National Security Council at the White House on later on Wednesday. Germany has sent a separate team of officials as well.
European Parliament member Jan Philipp Albrecht told the Voice of America (VOA) that the reports about the eavesdropping Chancellor Merkel were the tipping point, commenting: “Now people are really concerned. They see that it is not any longer connected to a terrorist threat, because Angela Merkel is not a terrorist.” Albrecht held out the threat that unless US effected major changes with Congress passing legislation to balance national security needs with the responsibility to protect basic civil rights, Europe could suspend important trans-Atlantic trade talks. At the House Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Clapper sought to play down the complaints of European allies, suggesting that spying of each other’s leaders has been a long-time practice of intelligence agencies across the world. As one who has worked in intelligence for some 50 years, Clapper said it was “a basic tenet” to collect, whether by spying on communications or through other sources, confidential information about foreign leaders to find out “if what they’re saying gels with what’s actually going on”. Alexander, too, commented that one of the first things he learned in intelligence school was that it would be valuable to learn about the intentions of foreign leaders.