European officials are in Washington seeking more information about charges that the United States has been spying on Europeans and their leaders.
Claims that the National Security Agency tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone prompted her intelligence team to visit the White House on Wednesday. The meeting was closed to reporters.
U.S. officials say the NSA is not currently gathering information on Merkel and that it will not do so in the future, but Washington has not said if the intelligence agency has spied on her in the past.
The U.S. Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, and other security officials met with Germany’s national security adviser and intelligence coordinator to discuss the matter.
European Parliament members are also in Washington seeking answers.
Britain’s Claude Moraes said they want to know if the NSA is spying on Europeans, and whether European agencies are helping with that.
“Spying has always existed. But we have said repeatedly that friend-on-friend spying is not something that is easily tolerable if it doesn’t have a clear purpose,” said Moraes.
German MP Elmar Brok said spying on allies cannot be tolerated.
“We want to get rid of espionage between friends. Not symbolic, really get rid of it,” said Brok.
Army General Keith Alexander, director of the NSA, defended his agency during congressional testimony on Tuesday.
He denied allegations that the NSA had collected telephone records of million of European citizens, as leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden indicate.
“Those screenshots that show, or at least lead people to believe that we, NSA, or the United States, collected that information is false. And it’s false that it was collected on European citizens. It was neither,” said Alexander.
Alexander said the agency has received targeted information from phone calls by some Europeans, through NATO allies.
“The sources of the metadata include data legally collected by NSA under its various authorities, as well as data provided to NSA by foreign partners. To be perfectly clear, this is not information that we collected on European citizens,” continued Alexander.
Because of the allegations, some European officials want to suspend the “Safe Harbor” data-sharing agreement, which helps more than 4,200 American companies that do business in Europe.
Meanwhile, there are allegations that the NSA has broken into the main links that connect data centers for the search engines Yahoo and Google around the world. Reports in the Washington Post regarding documents provided by Edward Snowden indicate as much.
Meanwhile, the United Nations says it has received assurances that U.N. communications networks “are not and will not be monitored” by U.S. intelligence agencies. A U.N. spokesman would not comment on whether the world body’s communications had been tapped in the past.