- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 27, 2013

As outrage in Europe grows, lawmakers are defending U.S. surveillance practices — including phone tapping — and saying other nations likely engage in similar spying, even if their leaders don’t know it.

Top members of Congress also suggest that Germany, France and other nations should be thankful for, rather than angry about, American snooping.

“It needs to be overseen and we need to be sure we’re not collecting information we don’t need, but we should collect information that’s helpful to the United States’ interests,” Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said during an interview Sunday on CBS‘ “Face the Nation.”

“If the French citizens knew exactly what that was about, they would be applauding and popping champagne corks. It’s a good thing. It keeps the French safe. It keeps the U.S. safe. It keeps our European allies safe,” he said. “This whole notion that we’re going to go after each other on what is really legitimate protection of nation-state interest, I think is disingenuous.”

Mr. Rogers made the comments, echoed by other leading Republicans, amid reports that the U.S. conducted mass surveillance of French citizens.

Even more damning, the German magazine Der Spiegel has reported that American intelligence services have been monitoring the phone calls of German Chancellor Angela Merkel since 2002, long before she assumed her post.

The magazine relies on “leaked documents” that reveal the depth of U.S. spying and represent the latest in a string of revelations that began this year when former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden released a massive amount of data related to U.S. intelligence-gathering techniques.

Ms. Merkel reportedly is sending intelligence chiefs to Washington this week to confront the Obama administration directly.

She and President Obama spoke on the phone last week after the initial charges came to light, but the White House has refused to say whether it spied on Ms. Merkel in the past.

Officials have said only that the U.S. is not doing such snooping now, nor will it do so in the future. That’s hardly enough for angry German leaders.

“If the Americans intercepted cellphones in Germany, they broke German law on German soil,” said Hans-Peter Freidrich, the nation’s interior minister, adding that “those responsible must be held accountable.”

Although many questions remain about exactly what U.S. intelligence services are doing, one thing is clear: It’s been going on for many years.

“It’s nothing new. … It’s something that we’ve been involved in for a long time,” former Vice President Dick Cheney said during an interview Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

Mr. Cheney refused to discuss specific cases or accusations and made clear he was referring only to intelligence-gathering in a general sense.

Some of history’s most famous espionage cases involved spying on allies, including American Jonathan Pollard’s activities against the U.S. on behalf of Israel and Britons Kim Philby, Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess. Though the three men also were active during the early Cold War era, their work for the Soviet Union included the years of World War II, when Britain and the Soviet Union were allies.

Espionage efforts, lawmakers say, are undertaken by most countries around the world — though they often are shrouded behind even greater secrecy than what has been revealed in the U.S.

Mr. Rogers, for example, turned the tables on allies such as France and Germany, saying they should focus on their own intelligence-gathering and strengthening oversight efforts so they are more fully aware of what their own governments are doing.

“We have to get court orders for certain activities for phone collection and other things. You have all those levels of oversight. So you have a big group of people sitting at a table deciding if what we should do is right or wrong. They don’t have that in some of our European capitals,” he said. “I think they need to have a better oversight structure in Europe. I think they would be enlightened to find out what their own intelligence services have been doing in the interests of their own national security.”

But on Capitol Hill, lawmakers are divided. Some fear that the spying accusations could lead to deep rifts between the U.S. and its key allies.

Speaking on CBS on Sunday, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire Democrat, said the U.S. must do some “repair work” with nations such as Germany and France.

“I think we have hard questions we need to ask of the NSA about what’s really going on in this program,” she said.

Other members of Congress have echoed her sentiments and have raised questions about whether the U.S. has crossed the line.

At the other end of the spectrum, Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican and former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, believes outrage over American snooping is overblown.

Like Mr. Rogers, Mr. King argued Sunday that American intelligence agencies — including the NSA — are part of a global force for good and said America should be proud of them, not apologetic.

“I think the president should stop apologizing and stop being defensive. The reality is the NSA has saved thousands of lives not just in the United States but in France and Germany and throughout Europe,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. “We’re not doing this for the fun of it. … We’re not doing this to hurt Germany. But the fact is, there can be information that’s been transmitted that can be useful to us and ultimately useful to Germany.”

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