US denies culling phone data

Updated: 2013-10-31 07:13

By Agencies in Washington, Moscow and Jakarta, Indonesia (China Daily)

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Espionage chiefs in the United States turned the tables on European allies in the transAtlantic spat over intercepted phone records, saying in many cases it was European agencies - not the NSA - that gathered and shared them with the US.

They dismissed allegations that US spy agencies had swept up data on millions of phone calls as "completely false" and said European newspapers that had made those claims did not understand the data they were using to make the allegations.

The assertion came as a senior official said US President Barack Obama was considering banning US spies from tapping the telephones of allied leaders in the wake of German outrage over alleged snooping on Chancellor Angela Merkel's communications.

European allies of the US have spent days angrily protesting after newspaper reports, based on leaks from fugitive analyst Edward Snowden, that Washington collected tens of millions of telephone calls and online communications in Europe as part as a vast anti-terror sweep.

General Keith Alexander, head of the US National Security Agency, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified to Congress that the reports were based on a misunderstanding of information passed by Snowden to European newspapers.

"The assertions by reporters in France, Spain, Italy that NSA collected tens of millions of phone calls are completely false," Alexander told the House Intelligence Committee.

"To be perfectly clear, this is not information that we collected on European citizens," he said.

Hours earlier, The Wall Street Journal reported that electronic spying was carried out by the intelligence agencies of France and Spain outside their own borders and sometimes in war zones and was then passed onto the NSA.

The claims, if true, could embarrass European governments that have vehemently protested to the US about alleged overreaching and infringements on the privacy of their citizens by the NSA.

Alexander said journalists had misinterpreted leaked data about the alleged spying operations.

"They cite as evidence screenshots of the results of a web tool used for data management purposes, but both they and the person who stole the classified data did not understand what they were looking at," he said.

Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa meanwhile said on Wednesday that the Indonesian government has asked an explanation from the US government about media reports on a wiretapping facility ran by the US embassy in Jakarta.

"Indonesia cannot accept and has submitted a strong protest note related to the existence of a wiretapping facility in the US embassy in Jakarta," Natalegawa said in a statement released by his ministry.


 US denies culling phone data

US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper walks by protesters who are calling for an end to US spying practices, at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday. Jason Reed / Reuters

(China Daily 10/31/2013 page11)