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WASHINGTON — Two Republican congressmen on Sunday defended Washington’s surveillance programs abroad in reaction to protests from allies, after the scope of the eavesdropping was revealed this year by former spy agency contractor Edward Snowden.
Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said much of the public information on those efforts, including allegations the National Security Agency had spied on millions of French citizens, was misguided.
“They are seeing three or four pieces of a 1,000-piece puzzle and trying to come to a conclusion,” he said on CNN’s State of the Nation.
The media were given one slide, which included the word “France” on it, Mr. Rogers (R., Mich.) said, which “started a huge amount of discussion about Americans collecting phone calls in France with French citizens.”
“That is 100 percent wrong,” he said. The slide referred to a counterterrorism program that had nothing to do with French citizens, he said.
Instead, he said, European authorities don’t have enough oversight of their intelligence services. He suggested the revelations did not surprise European intelligence agencies, only the governments for which they work.
Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House subcommittee on counterterrorism and intelligence, addressed the matter on NBC’s Meet the Press. “The President should stop apologizing, stop being defensive.
“The reality is the NSA has saved thousands of lives, not just in the United States but also in France and Germany and throughout Europe,” Mr. King (R., N.Y.) said.
“The French are some ones to talk; the fact is, they’ve carried out spying operations against the United States, both the government and industry. As far as Germany, that’s where the Hamburg plot began, which led to 9/11. They’ve had dealings with Iran and Iraq, North Korea ...”
“We’re not doing this for the fun of it,” Mr. King said. “This is to gather valuable intelligence which helps not just us but also helps the Europeans.”
Meanwhile, a German newspaper reported Sunday that President Obama knew the U.S. intelligence service was eavesdropping on Chancellor Angela Merkel as long ago as 2010, contradicting reports he had told the German leader he did not know about the surveillance.
German media reported earlier that Mr. Obama apologized to the German leader when she called him on Wednesday, telling her he would have stopped the bugging had he known about it.
But Bild am Sonntag, citing a “U.S. intelligence worker involved in the NSA operation against Merkel,” said NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander informed Mr. Obama in person about it in 2010.
“Obama didn’t stop the operation back then but let it continue,” the mass-market newspaper quoted the source as saying.
The NSA said, however, that General Alexander had never discussed with the President any intelligence operations involving Ms. Merkel.
Bild am Sonntag said Mr. Obama in fact wanted more material on Ms. Merkel and ordered the NSA to compile a “comprehensive dossier” on her. “Obama, according to the NSA man, did not trust Merkel and wanted to know everything about the German,” the paper said.
White House spokesman Caitlin Hayden declined to comment and reiterated the policy line that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations.
The NSA first eavesdropped on Ms. Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, after he refused to support President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq, the paper said, and extended the spying when Ms. Merkel took over in 2005.