Washington (AFP) – The United States has said in some cases its surveillance program has gone too far, an unprecedented admission in its tense row with Europe over U.S. spying against allies.
After 10 days of scandal with key European allies, a statement Thursday by Secretary of State John Kerry was the first to explicitly acknowledge overstepping by U.S. intelligence.
Kerry justified the surveillance in broad terms, citing the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States, as well as attacks in London, Madrid and elsewhere to argue that the U.S. and other countries have had to come together to fight “extremism in the world that is hell-bent and determined to try to kill people and blow people up and attack governments.”
He said U.S. intelligence has since 2001 averted attacks with intercepts of communications. But he acknowledged, without going into specifics, that at times it has been too much.
Kerry also sought to give assurances that such steps, which have roiled close allies like Germany, would not be repeated.
“I assure you, innocent people are not being abused in this process, but there’s an effort to try to gather information,” Kerry told a London conference via video link. “And yes, in some cases, it has reached too far inappropriately.”
“And the president, 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,” he said.
Kerry added that what Washington was trying to do was, in a “random way,” find ways of determining if there were threats that needed responding to.
“And in some cases, I acknowledge to you, as has the president, that some of these actions have reached too far, and we are going to make sure that does not happen in the future,” he said.
Recent allegations and reports of widespread spying by the U.S. National Security Agency have sparked a major rift in trans-Atlantic ties.
This week German Chancellor Angela Merkel angrily confronted President Barack Obama with allegations that the NSA was snooping on her phone, saying it would amount to a “breach of trust.”
A German intelligence delegation and a separate group of EU lawmakers were in the U.S. capital Wednesday to confront their American allies about the alleged bugging.
Kerry’s remarks — released in a State Department transcript — came in response to a question addressed to both him and British Foreign Secretary William Hague about government surveillance.
Kerry spent a good portion of his answer justifying the collection of data as necessary due to the threat of terrorism and suggested Washington was not alone in doing so.
“Many, many, many parts of the world have been subject to these terrorist attacks,” he said.