December 5, 2013
US sees need for 'constraints' on NSA spying
The White House moved to reassure US allies and citizens concerned about the sweeping nature of US surveillance practices by acknowledging that more constraints are needed to assure that privacy rights are protected.
Amid a growing uproar in Europe and protest from a key US lawmaker, officials said they would review intelligence collection programs with an eye to narrowing their scope.
"We need to make sure that we're collecting intelligence in a way that advances our security needs and that we don't just do it because we can," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
President Barack Obama has come under fierce criticism abroad over allegations that the US National Security Agency tapped the mobile phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and conducted widespread electronic snooping in France, Italy, Spain and elsewhere.
The accusations have caused tensions between the United States and some of its closest traditional allies, potentially imperiling a US-European trade deal and trans-Atlantic information sharing.
At least some of the spying appeared to have been done without Obama's knowledge.
California Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said: "It is my understanding that President Obama was not aware Chancellor Merkel's communications were being collected since 2002."
"That is a big problem," Feinstein said in a statement in which she said oversight of the NSA "needs to strengthened and increased."
Feinstein pledged her committee will conduct "a major review into all intelligence collection programs."
The snooping scandal is a direct result of disclosures of US secrets made to media organizations by Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor now living in asylum in Russia.
Carney told reporters that with new intelligence-gathering capabilities "we recognize there needs to be additional constraints on how we gather and use intelligence." This could include greater oversight and transparency, he said.
The comment suggested some changes were in the offing on the scale of US electronic spying as part of a separate White House review of the collection activities of the NSA and other US intelligence agencies. The review is to be completed by year's end.
There was no suggestion today that the director of the National Security Agency, General Keith Alexander, could be forced out over the controversy, with the White House underscoring that Obama retains full confidence in him and other NSA officials.
Alexander and his deputy, Chris Inglis, are due to retire early next year, moves unrelated to the Snowden controversies. Both men, along with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Deputy Attorney General James Cole are due to testify before a House of Representatives committee tomorrow.