The head of the National Security Agency denied Tuesday that the United States collected telephone and e-mail records directly from European citizens, calling reports based on leaks by Edward Snowden "completely false."
“Incredible to see the heads of the most secretive organizations in the U.S. speaking out publicly and openly defending surveillance at home and abroad. They said emphatically that the White House would have known of the spying, but they added the president might not have known of specific targets, and they fought back hard against the storyline that the U.S. is the only country in the business of spying on its allies,” reports CNN’s Jim Sciutto.
"To be perfectly clear, this is not information that we collected on European citizens. It represents information that we, and our NATO allies, have collected in defense of our countries and in support of military operations," Army Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA director, told a House committee reviewing the agency's surveillance activities.
“Much of the what they defended was the kind of megadeta or using leads to follow up and figure out if they’re terrorists,” CNN’s Fareed Zakaria says.
“I think people understand that. The European public is very disquieted that they’re being spied by this American spy agency.”
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The statement by Alexander before the House Intelligence Committee came as a number of lawmakers called for changes to the way intelligence is collected.
The hearing, billed as a discussion of potential changes to the 35-year-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, commonly known as FISA, follows a report by the German magazine Der Spiegel that the NSA monitored German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone. Some reports also suggest the United States carried out surveillance on French and Spanish citizens.