WASHINGTON, October 28 (RIA Novosti) – European lawmakers in Washington on Monday blasted the United States in the wake of reports of massive US surveillance activities against its allies, including alleged eavesdropping by US intelligence on German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“Confidence is vanished,” Elmar Brok, a German member of an EU Parliament delegation visiting the US capital this week, said after meeting with members of the US Congress on Monday to discuss the alleged surveillance, Reuters reported.
The White House has been scrambling into damage-control mode in the aftermath of the disclosures about the surveillance dragnet, including allegations that the US National Security Agency (NSA) tapped Merkel’s mobile phone and conducted extensive spying in Spain, Italy and France.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters at the daily briefing Monday that US President Barack Obama has ordered a review of the surveillance program to be completed by the end of the year in an attempt to balance security needs against privacy concerns.
“We recognize there needs to be additional constraints on how we gather and use intelligence,” Carney said.
Carney declined to discuss specific allegations regarding the US government snooping, saying Washington was discussing the matter with its allies through diplomatic channels. He said his readout from a phone call between Obama and Merkel last week that made it “clear that we do not and will not monitor the chancellor’s communications.”
Carney did not say whether the United States had monitored Merkel’s communications in the past.
Citing secret NSA documents, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported Saturday that the NSA had spied on Merkel’s mobile phone for more than 10 years and that her cell phone number had been on a special list of an NSA unit, the Special Collection Service (SCS), since 2002.
Citing unidentified US officials, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that the White House ordered the NSA to halt the wiretapping of some 35 foreign leaders’ communications after it learned of the practice this summer.
On Sunday, the NSA denied a report in Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper that the agency’s director, Keith Alexander, told Obama about the surveillance targeting Merkel in 2010, CNN reported.
“Gen. Alexander did not discuss with President Obama in 2010 an alleged foreign intelligence operation involving German Chancellor Merkel, nor has he ever discussed alleged operations involving Chancellor Merkel,” NSA spokeswoman Vanee’ Vines was quoted by CNN as saying.
The European Parliament delegation met with US lawmakers behind closed doors Monday on Capitol Hill, a meeting that addressed restoring trust between Washington and its allies abroad, according to US Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee.
“It started to identify some of the differences that we have that we’re going to have to bridge. That’s a good thing,” Rogers was quoted by Reuters as saying. “That’s a good start and that’s why we’ve pledged to take a delegation back to Brussels to follow up on this conversation.”
Claude Moraes, a British member of the EU delegation who is leading the inquiry into mass US surveillance, said Monday that alleged US spying “is not a cosmetic situation for us,” ABC News reported.
“We believe that this disconnection that’s going on suggests that perhaps there isn’t sufficient [U.S.] appreciation … for the lack of privacy that EU citizens feel for this activity,” ABC News quoted Moraes as saying.
The Spanish Foreign Ministry said Monday that it had summoned the US ambassador to the country, James Costos, to clarify information relating to NSA surveillance activities.
The announcement followed a report by Spain’s El Mundo newspaper Monday stating that the NSA had monitored more than 60 million telephone conversations in Spain between Dec. 10 and Jan. 8. The reported was based on documents leaked by fugitive former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, El Mundo reported.
Snowden, a computer specialist and former NSA contractor, was the focus of international attention over the summer after he leaked classified evidence of US government surveillance programs to the media.
He fled to Hong Kong and then to Moscow, where he was granted temporary asylum in Russia in late July despite repeated extradition demands from Washington. He is now living at an undisclosed location in Russia.