Did the Obama administration spy on the phone communications of international heads of state, and why?

Spying by the National Security Agency on heads of state, including in countries that consider themselves U.S. partners, has European capitals in tizzies -- and demanding explanations from Washington.

President Obama and his team argued Monday that whatever the United States has been doing with its secret data-gathering, it’s aimed at safeguarding a dangerous world. According to spokesmen, Obama assured German Chancellor Angela Merkel that her phone communications are not and will not be collected going forward (sidestepping comments about past practices). The Wall Street Journal reported Obama was in the dark until recently about U.S. spying on the communications of other heads of state, but ended the practice when he found out.

Obama said Monday he would not discuss classified NSA programs and activities, but suggested the government’s know-how about vacuuming up phone and electronic data compels policymakers to carefully supervise the spymasters.

“We give them policy direction,” he said during an interview with ABC’s new “Fusion” program. “But what we've seen over the last several years is their capacities continue to develop and expand, and that's why I'm initiating now a review to make sure that what they're able to do, doesn't necessarily mean what they should be doing.”

On Monday, the Spanish government officially called U.S. Ambassador James Costos on the carpet, demanding information in the wake of media reports that NSA collected data and location information from 60 million telephone calls in Spain. The Spaniards’ outrage followed tempests in France, Germany, Mexico and Brazil over similar reports.

To placate agitated allies as well as U.S. critics, and to buy time to better assess what leaker-in-exile Edward Snowden might share next with journalists, the president months ago ordered reviews of intelligence activities -- reviews that, according to some accounts, proved illuminating even to the occupant of the Oval Office.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and frequently a staunch supporter of NSA activities, said Monday that Congress should conduct its own review of these matters. The California Democrat also caused a stir when she said that “the White House has informed me that collection on our allies will not continue, which I support.” A National Security Council spokeswoman issued a statement Monday night specifically refusing to comment on “assertions made in the senator’s statement today.”

On Tuesday, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence will hold an open hearing on NSA programs.

To keep up with recent developments as well as ongoing government reviews and their aims, the following Q&A was compiled by RCP as a recap:

Did the Obama administration spy on the phone communications of international heads of state, and why?

According to information provided by Snowden to The Guardian newspaper -- and then corroborated by media in United States and abroad -- the answer is yes. The administrations of George W. Bush and Obama snooped on other heads of state, which is not a particularly startling revelation, but media reports assert the United States monitored Merkel’s personal phone data going back to 2002, three years before she was elected to lead Germany. It is unclear from a secret 2006 memo revealed by Snowden whether the government listened to actual conversations, or simply gathered data from the phones of heads of state.

“We have made clear that the president spoke with Chancellor Merkel and assured her that we do not and will not collect intelligence on her communications,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said, avoiding any comments on past monitoring.

The purpose of U.S. snooping on allies ostensibly was tied to counterterrorism, but in Merkel’s case, it has also been reported the administration sought to track her handling of the European financial crisis. The White House denies the government spied on the leaders of other countries to gain economic policy advantages or financial information.

READ ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2013/10/29/the_nsa_spying_uproar_an_rcp_primer__120487.html

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