Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Spying Known at Top Levels, Officials Say October 29, 2013 Spying Known at Top Levels, Officials Say By MARK LANDLER and MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT WASHINGTON — The nation’s top spymaster said on Tuesday that the White House had long been aware in general terms of the National Security Agency’s overseas eavesdropping, stoutly defending the agency’s intelligence-gathering methods and suggesting possible divisions within the Obama administration. The official, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, testified before the House Intelligence Committee that the N.S.A. had kept senior officials in the National Security Council informed of surveillance it was conducting in foreign countries. He did not specifically say whether President Obama was told of these spying efforts, but he appeared to challenge assertions in recent days that the White House had been in the dark about some of the agency’s practices. Mr. Clapper and the agency’s director, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, vigorously rejected suggestions that the agency was a rogue institution, trawling for information on ordinary citizens and leaders of America’s closest allies, without the knowledge of its Washington overseers. Their testimony came amid mounting questions about how the N.S.A. collects information overseas, with Republicans and Democrats calling for a congressional review, lawmakers introducing a bill that would curb its activities and Mr. Obama poised to impose his own constraints, particularly on monitoring the leaders of friendly nations. At the same time, current and former American intelligence officials say there is a growing sense of anger with the White House for what they see as attempts to pin the blame for the controversy squarely on them. General Alexander said news media reports that the N.S.A. had vacuumed up tens of millions of telephone calls in France, Italy and Spain were “completely false.” That data, he said, is at least partly collected by the intelligence services of those countries and provided to the N.S.A. Still, both he and Mr. Clapper said that spying on foreign leaders — even those of allies — was a basic tenet of intelligence tradecraft and had gone on for decades. European countries, Mr. Clapper said, routinely seek to listen in on the conversations of American leaders. “Some of this reminds me of the classic movie ‘Casablanca’ — ‘My God, there’s gambling going on here,’ ” Mr. Clapper said, twisting the line from the movie uttered by a corrupt French official who feigns outrage at the very activity in which he avidly partakes. Asked whether the White House knows about the N.S.A.’s intelligence-gathering, including on foreign leaders, Mr. Clapper said, “They can and do.” But, he added, “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.” The White House has faced criticism for the N.S.A.’s surveillance practices since the first revelations by a former agency contractor, Edward J. Snowden, in June. But in recent weeks it has struggled to quell a new diplomatic storm over reports that the agency monitored the cellphone of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany for more than a decade. White House officials said that the president did not know of that surveillance, but that he has told Ms. Merkel that the United States is not monitoring her phone now and would not in the future. On Wednesday, a delegation of senior German officials is scheduled to meet at the White House with Mr. Clapper, the president’s national security adviser, Susan E. Rice; his homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, Lisa Monaco; and other officials. Several current and former American officials said that presidents and their senior national security advisers have long known about which foreign leaders the United States spied on. “It would be unusual for the White House senior staff not to know the exact source and method of collection,” said Michael Allen, a National Security Council official in the George W. Bush administration and a former staff director for the House Intelligence Committee. “That information helps a policy maker assess the reliability of the intelligence.” Mr. Allen, the author of a book about intelligence reform called “Blinking Red,” said this information often comes to the president during preparation for phone calls or meetings with the foreign leaders. The White House declined to discuss intelligence policies, pending the completion of a review of intelligence-gathering practices that will be completed in December. But a senior administration official noted that the vast majority of intelligence that made it into Mr. Obama’s daily intelligence briefings focused on potential threats, from Al Qaeda plots to Iran’s nuclear program. “These are front-burner, first-tier issues,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter. “He’s not getting many briefings on intelligence about Germany.” Another senior administration official said that Mr. Obama did not generally rely on intelligence reports to prepare for meetings or phone calls with Ms. Merkel. “He knows her well, he speaks with her regularly and our governments work together every day on a wide range of issues,” said this official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic concerns. “Because we talk so frequently, we know where they stand and they know where we stand on most issues.” Mr. Clapper and General Alexander got a warm reception from the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan, who defended the N.S.A.’s methods and said he had been adequately briefed about its activities. But elsewhere on Capitol Hill, the outrage among America’s allies was clearly fueling concern. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and one of the fiercest defenders of American surveillance operations, said Monday that she did “not believe the United States should be collecting phone calls or emails of friendly presidents and prime ministers.” Ms. Feinstein said her committee would be conducting a “major review” of the intelligence programs. Another strong defender of the N.S.A., Speaker John A. Boehner, agreed that “there needs to be review, there ought to be review and it ought to be thorough,” he said. “We’ve got obligations to the American people to keep them safe. We’ve got obligations to our allies around the world.” “But having said that, we’ve got to find the right balance here,” he added. “We’re imbalanced as we stand here.” An aide to Mr. Boehner said, “The speaker still believes our surveillance programs save lives, but the president needs to do a better job of managing and explaining them.” On Tuesday, House Democrats and Republicans introduced a bill that would curb some of the N.S.A.’s practices, including the bulk collection of telephone data inside the United States. “The picture drawn is one of a surveillance system run amok,” said Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, a sponsor of the bill. “Our intelligence community has operated without proper congressional oversight or regard for Americans’ privacy and civil liberties.” Even on the House Intelligence Committee, members sparred over what they had been told by the intelligence agencies about eavesdropping on foreign leaders. Representative Adam B. Schiff, a California Democrat and a senior member of the committee, said that he had first learned about the practice after the recent news media reports. “Would you consider that a wiretap of a leader of an allied country would be a significant intelligence activity requiring a report to the intelligence committees?” Mr. Schiff asked Mr. Clapper. Mr. Clapper said the agencies had “lived up to the letter and spirit of that requirement.” Mr. Schiff disagreed, saying that the agencies had much work to do “to make sure we’re getting the information we need.” He said that disclosures about such eavesdropping could create significant “blowback.” Mr. Rogers disputed Mr. Schiff’s claim, saying that Mr. Schiff needed to take the time to educate himself about what the committee had been briefed on. “To make the case that somehow we are in the dark is mystifying to me,” Mr. Rogers said. “It is disingenuous to imply that this committee did not have a full and complete understanding of activities of the intelligence community as was directed under the national intelligence priority framework to include sources and methods.” Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting. © 2012 The New York Times Company Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to "The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

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