Washington (AFP) – European spy services shared phone data with the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and media reports alleging otherwise are “completely false,” the NSA’s chief told lawmakers on Tuesday.
“The assertions by reporters in France, Spain, Italy that NSA collected tens of millions of phone calls are completely false,” General Keith Alexander told the House Intelligence Committee.
“To be perfectly clear, this is not information that we collected on European citizens,” he said.
Alexander was asked about reports in France, Spain and Italy, based on disclosures from intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, alleging the NSA had scooped up phone records of millions of European citizens.
Rejecting the accounts, Alexander said European newspapers had misinterpreted the NSA documents Snowden leaked and that much of the data was collected by European intelligence services then shared with the National Security Agency.
In addition, Alexander confirmed in response to a question that the calls referenced in the leaked document had in many cases been made outside on the European country which noted them.
“They cite as evidence screen shots of the results of a web tool used for data management purposes, but both they and the person who stole the classified data did not understand what they were looking at,” he said.
The NSA chief’s comments supported a report earlier Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal, in which unnamed U.S. officials told the paper that the accounts in Europe were incorrect and that the spy agency was not spying on European citizens.
Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee — who has called for a major review of NSA policies — also said European “papers got it all wrong.”
The reports in Le Monde and other newspapers had alleged NSA spying inside France, Spain and Italy.
“The papers got it all wrong on the two programs, France and Germany,” she said. “This was not the United States collecting on France and Germany. This was France and Germany collecting. And it had nothing to do with their citizens, it had to do with collecting in NATO areas of war, like Afghanistan.”