WASHINGTON — Nations spying on each other’s leaders is a two-way street and a longtime practice in the intelligence world, according to the U.S. intelligence chief.
National Intelligence Director James Clapper spoke Tuesday to lawmakers in a Congress divided over how to revise National Security Agency surveillance programs that have fueled bitter criticism at home and abroad. Though most of the programs were enacted as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, U.S. officials are nearly unanimous in saying they’re ready for a review to see if the scope of spying remains necessary.
At a House Intelligence Committee hearing, Clapper defended the secret surveillance that sweeps up phone records and emails of millions of Americans as vital to protecting against terrorists. He played down European allies’ complaints about spying on their leaders, saying they do it, too. “That’s a hardy perennial,” he told lawmakers.
Clapper said that during his 50 years working in intelligence it was “a basic tenet” to collect, whether by spying on communications or through other sources, confidential information about foreign leaders that reveals “if what they’re saying gels with what’s actually going on.”