The United States has defended the use of mass surveillance in foreign countries as necessary to safeguard its own citizens. At the same time, a leading senator has called for a review of US intelligence programs.
White House spokesman Jay Carney used a press conference on Monday to respond to criticism about the latest allegations of spying on Washington's European allies. Carney said monitoring electronic communications was a key part of protecting American citizens in a world that was becoming increasingly interconnected.
"If we're going to keep our citizens and our allies safe, we have to continue to stay ahead of these changes, and that's what our intelligence community has been doing extraordinarily well," Carney said.
However, in light of outrage in Europe over reports that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cellular phone, among other allegations, Carney conceded that the United States may have to rethink some of its intelligence activities.
"We... need to ensure that our intelligence resources are most effectively supporting our foreign policy and national security objectives, that we are more effectively weighing the risks and rewards of our activities," he said.
Meanwhile, Diane Feinstein, who chairs the US Senate's intelligence committee, has said that she would launch what she described as "a major review into all intelligence collection programs."
At the same time, she rejected media allegations that US President Barack Obama had been aware of the alleged tapping into the German chancellor's phone dating back to 2002.
Bundestag special session
This came just hours after representatives of Chancellor Merkel's conservatives and the Social Democrats (SPD) announced that the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, would hold a special debate on the US spying allegations next month. A spokesman for the chancellor's Christian Democrat (CDU) bloc said that the Bundestag would debate the issue on November 18 – almost certainly before the two parties have reached a deal to form a new coalition government.
There were also growing calls from the opposition Green and Left parties for the Bundestag to form a special parliamentary committee to look into the allegations. This would require the approval of a third of Bundestag lawmakers, but while the Greens and the Left hold only about a fifth of seats in the assembly, the CDU and the SPD have said they would support any "appropriate" motion by the opposition.
Also on Monday, Spain's foreign ministry summoned the US ambassador in response to a Spanish newspaper report that the NSA had spied on more than 60 million Spaniards over a one-month period in late 2012 and early 2013.
Meanwhile, the journalist who has worked with former NSA subcontractor Edward Snowden to bring the alleged activities of the US intelligence service to light has called on Germany to offer sanctuary to Snowden.
Glen Greenwald told ARD public television on Monday that the extent of the NSA's snooping, including the eavesdropping on Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone, would not be known without information made available by Snowden.
"Germany is precisely one of the countries that has most benefited from these revelations, from the start," Greenwald said.
Snowden is currently in Russia, which has offered him temporary asylum. US authorities are demanding that he be extradited so that they can put him on trial on a series of criminal charges.
pfd/ccp (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)