BERLIN: The United States could lose access to an important law enforcement tool used to track terrorist money flows, German officials said Monday, as Europe weighed a response to allegations that the Americans spied on their closest European allies.
In Washington, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein called for a “total review” of all U.S. intelligence programs in response to the allegations — activity the California Democrat said she wasn’t told about.
Feinstein said that while her committee was informed of the National Security Agency’s collection of phone records under a secret court order, it “was not satisfactorily informed” that “certain surveillance activities have been in effect for more than a decade” — including eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s own cellphone.
She said President Barack Obama was also not told that Merkel’s communications were being collected since 2002.
“With respect to NSA collection of intelligence on leaders of U.S. allies — including France, Spain, Mexico and Germany — let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed,” Feinstein said in a statement Monday.
“Unless the United States is engaged in hostilities against a country or there is an emergency need for this type of surveillance, I do not believe the United States should be collecting phone calls or emails of friendly presidents and prime ministers,” Feinstein said. “The president should be required to approve any collection of this sort.”
Spain became the latest U.S. ally to demand answers after a Spanish newspaper reported that the NSA monitored more than 60 million phone calls in that country during one month alone. The report Monday in the daily El Mundo came on the heels of allegations of massive NSA spying in France and Germany.
With European leaders dissatisfied with the U.S. response so far, officials have been casting about for a way to pressure Washington to provide details of past surveillance and assurances that the practice will be curbed. The challenge is to send a strong message to Washington against wholesale spying on European citizens and institutions without further damage to the overall trans-Atlantic relationship.
As possible leverage, German authorities cited last week’s nonbinding resolution by the European Parliament to suspend a post-9/11 agreement allowing the Americans access to bank transfer data to track the flow of terrorist money.
German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said Monday she believed the Americans were using the information to gather economic intelligence apart from terrorism and that the deal, popularly known as the SWIFT agreement, should be suspended. That would represent a sharp rebuke to the United States from some of its closest partners.