Secretary of State John Kerry sharply rebuked the NSA surveillance program that monitored the communications of 35 world leaders, many of whom hailed from governments friendly to the U.S., becoming the highest-ranking Obama administration official to do so since the news broke last week.
According to a classified document leaked by fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the NSA urged officials inside the White House, State Department, and Pentagon to turn over phone numbers of foreign leaders. The document said that one official reported 200 phone numbers, including those of 35 world leaders.
In a conference call, Kerry said the NSA “reached too far” and “inappropriately” spied on U.S. allies. He said that the Obama administration is conducting a “thorough review.”
“We have actually prevented airplanes from going down, buildings from being blown up, and people from being assassinated because we’ve been able to learn ahead of time of the plans,” Mr Kerry said, according to the BBC. “I assure you, innocent people are not being abused in this process, but there’s an effort to try to gather information. And yes, in some cases, it has reached too far inappropriately.”
“Our president is determined to try to clarify and make clear for people, and is now doing a thorough review in order that nobody will have the sense of abuse,” Kerry said.
The U.S. is trying to mitigate the diplomatic fallout from the disclosure, which came to a head last week when German Chancellor Angela Merkel accused the U.S. of tapping her personal cell phone. In a readout of a phone call between Merkel and Obama provided by the White House, Obama said that “the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of Chancellor Merkel” – but did not comment on past actions. Plus, a French newspaper reported that the NSA gathered more than 70 million phone records of French citizens over the course of a month (similar allegations were made by a Spanish newspaper regarding 60 million Spaniards. NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander disputed those reports when testified before congress this week.) Previous disclosures by Snowden caused Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to cancel a trip to Washington – including the first state dinner to be held in her country’s honor in two decades – and spurred an outcry from Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto after a Brazilian news program reported the NSA spied on both countries’ leaders.
Meanwhile, U.S. tech giants including Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo and AOL are pushing back against NSA eavesdropping after documents leaked by Snowden showed the scope of its data collection on private U.S. citizens – including its collection of cell phone records and metadata from Internet companies. The tech companies called on the Senate Judiciary Committee to reform the NSA’s surveillance policies in a letter Thursday.