U.S. officials said Tuesday that reports last week of the National Security Agency’s collection of intelligence abroad on millions of people in France and Spain are inaccurate.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the intelligence-gathering was precipitated by French and Spanish intelligence services — not the NSA. At heart seems to be a misinterpretation of documents from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that were provided to the French publication Le Monde and the Spain-based El Mundo
From the report:
U.S. intelligence officials studied the document published by Le Monde and have determined that it wasn’t assembled by the NSA. Rather, the document appears to be a slide that was assembled based on NSA data received from French intelligence, a U.S. official said.
Based on an analysis of the document, the U.S. concluded that the phone records the French had collected were actually from outside of France, and then were shared with the U.S. The data don’t show that the French spied on their own people inside France.
U.S. intelligence officials haven’t seen the documents cited by El Mundo but the data appear to come from similar information the NSA obtained from Spanish intelligence agencies documenting their collection efforts abroad, officials said.
The countries then shared with the NSA their intelligence for security purposes.
NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander confirmed the general premise of the WSJ report at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday.
“The assertions by reporters in France, Spain and Italy that NSA collected tens of millions of phone calls are completely false,” Alexander said. “Both they and the person who stole the classified data did not understand what they were looking at.”
A senior administration official told Business Insider in an email: “The United States cooperates with many countries to share information about the threats we face. I’m not going to get into the specifics of that cooperation.”
The reports last week had caused a fresh round of international uproar against the NSA. The main theme of European summit last week was the anger directed at the agency from these reports, as well as a report that said the NSA had been listening to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conversations since as early as 2002. Germany and France went as far as to demand an unspecific “no-spying agreement” with the U.S.
Much of that anger now appears to have been misdirected, and it adds to the notion that “everybody spies on everybody.” The Wall Street Journal’s report, however, did not address the Merkel revelations.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday that the outrage was “disingenuous.” Rogers blasted “inaccurate” reporting that he said sought to “place blame on our intelligence services.”
Both the reports in Le Monde and El Mundo were co-written by Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who originally revealed the extent of the NSA’s surveillance programs based on the documents from Snowden.
“It’s a good thing,” he said. “It keeps the French safe, it keeps the U.S. safe. It keeps our European allies safe. This whole notion that we’re going to go after each other on what is really legitimate protection of nation-state interests I think is disingenuous.”
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