The United States’ espionage chiefs have said spying on allies is necessary and the collection of millions of European phone records was conducted with the help of European governments.
The US national intelligence director, James Clapper, told members of the House of Representatives’ intelligence committee on Tuesday that spying on allies was “a hardy perennial” and a “basic tenet” of intelligence work.
"It's invaluable to us to know where countries are coming from, what their policies are, how that would impact us across a whole range of issues," Clapper said. Asked if US allies had conducted the same type of espionage against US leaders, Clapper responded: "Absolutely."
The director of the National Security Agency, Keith Alexander, meanwhile told the panel that the “metadata” from phone records of millions European citizens were swept up by NATO and not his organisation.
Over the last week, media reports have said that the NSA collected tens of millions of European phone records, and spied on political leaders, such as Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.
Asked about collection of foreign phone records, Alexander said that the US was given data by NATO partners as part of a programme to protect military interests.
Both spy chiefs said that the reports from France, Spain and Germany were inaccurate.
Their evidence was given after President Barack Obama called for a review of NSA spying, and several senior politicians lined up to condemn the NSA’s reach.
In rare agreement, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, and House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, both said Tuesday that it was time for a thorough review of NSA programmes.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, who leads the upper house’s intelligence committee, called for a “total review of all intelligence programmes” following the Merkel allegations. She said that her panel has not been fully advised of NSA activities in programmes in operation for almost a decade.
Several longtime allies have joined Germany in expressing their displeasure about spying on their leaders.
Spain's prosecutor's office has opened an inquiry to determine whether a crime was committed by NSA surveillance of its citizens.
The French president, Francois Hollande, said the US should not be eavesdropping on its allies.