Wednesday November 25th, 2015 3:18AM

Lawmakers: Spy programs may have gone too far

By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Faced with anger over revelations about U.S. spying at home and abroad, members of Congress suggested Tuesday that programs the Obama administration says are needed to combat terrorism may have gone too far.

The chairman of the House intelligence committee said it might help to disclose more about National Security Agency operations but barring NSA from collecting millions of Americans' phone records would scrap an important tool.

"We can't ask the FBI to find terrorists plotting an attack and then not provide them with the information they need," said Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich. He spoke at the start of a hearing where top intelligence officials were testifying, including National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander.

A bipartisan plan introduced Tuesday would end the NSA's massive sweep of phone records, allowing the government to seek only records related to ongoing terror investigations. Critics both at home and abroad have derided the program as intrusive and a violation of privacy rights.

The proposal comes as President Barack Obama and key lawmakers are saying it's time to look closely at surveillance programs that have angered many Americans and now are drawing complaints from world leaders because of reports that their cellphone conversations were monitored.

The White House is considering ending eavesdropping on friendly foreign leaders, a senior administration official said.

The administration tried to tamp down damage Tuesday from the months-long spying scandal - including the most recent disclosure that the National Security Agency had monitored the cellphone conversations of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. A final decision about listening in on allies has not been made, the senior official said.

The White House also faces complaints at home about the NSA collecting millions of Americans' phone records and sweeping up Internet traffic and email. The Obama administration defends those programs as important in the fight against terrorism.

Asked about the reports of eavesdropping on world leaders, Obama said in a television interview that the U.S. government is conducting "a complete review of how our intelligence operates outside the country." Obama declined to discuss specifics or say when he learned about the spying operations.

"What we've seen over the last several years is their capacities continue to develop and expand, and that's why I'm initiating now a review to make sure that what they're able to do doesn't necessarily mean what they should be doing," he said Monday on the new TV network Fusion.

A second U.S. official said Obama did not know the NSA was monitoring Merkel's communications until after his visit to Germany in June. The official said information about the surveillance of foreign leaders emerged in the course of the White House's broader review of spying programs, triggered by media reports based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter by name and insisted on anonymity.

The White House says the United States isn't currently listening to Merkel's conversations and won't do so in the future.

On Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner said there should be a thorough review of intelligence gathering, bearing in mind the responsibility to keep Americans safe from terrorism and the nation's obligations to allies.

"We have to find the right balance here," said Boehner, R-Ohio. "And clearly, we're imbalanced."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called for a "total review of all intelligence programs" following the Merkel allegations. In a statement, the California Democrat said the White House had informed her that "collection on our allies will not continue."

The senior administration official said that statement was not accurate, but added that some unspecified changes already had been made and more were being considered, including terminating the collection of communications from friendly heads of state. That official also was not authorized to divulge information about the program by name and insisted on anonymity.

Reports based on new leaks from Snowden indicate that the NSA listened in on Merkel and 34 other foreign leaders.

"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 response to the revelations, German officials said Monday that the U.S. could lose access to an important law enforcement tool used to track terrorist money flows.

Other longtime allies have also expressed their displeasure about the U.S. spying on their leaders.

Spain's prosecutor's office said Tuesday it has opened a preliminary inquiry to determine whether a crime was committed by NSA surveillance. French President Francois Hollande said the United States should not be eavesdropping on its allies but that U.S. officials were cooperating with Europe on fixing the problem.

Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo's office on Tuesday confirmed a report in De Standaard that at his most sensitive meetings, the premier is asking government ministers to leave their mobile phones outside the room.

As possible leverage, German authorities cited last week's non-binding 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. A top German official said Monday she believed the Americans were using the information to gather economic intelligence apart from terrorism and said the agreement, known as SWIFT, should be suspended.

European Union officials who are in Washington to meet with lawmakers ahead of White House talks said U.S. surveillance of their people could affect negotiations over a U.S.-Europe trade agreement..
© Copyright 2015
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
S&P 500 index has its best year since 1997
The stock market closed out a record year with more all-time highs on Tuesday, giving U.S. indexes their biggest annual gains in almost two decades.
6:56PM ( 1 year ago )
Colorado readies for 'Green Wednesday' pot sales
Police were adding extra patrols around pot shops in eight Colorado towns that plan to allow recreational sales to anyone over 21 on Jan. 1.
1:52PM ( 1 year ago )
Kerry seeks framework for Mideast peace talks
A senior State Department official says Secretary of State John Kerry will try this week to get Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a framework for negotiating a final peace agreement, yet cautions against raising expectations for Kerry's latest round of shuttle diplomacy.
1:35PM ( 1 year ago )
U.S. News
Ethics laws set to take effect Jan. 1 in Georgia
After dominating much of the legislative session, a set of major ethics reforms is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.
7:04PM ( 1 year ago )
Sex offender held in Hall County for failing to register
A 47-year-old man was booked into the Hall County Jail Tuesday, being held without bond for allegedly failing to register as a sex offender, his second such arrest.
6:09PM ( 1 year ago )
Pharmacy robberies may involve same suspect
Oakwood Police Tuesday afternoon released details in a pharmacy robbery they're investigating, similar to one that happened in the Hall County Tuesday morning.
5:46PM ( 1 year ago )
Local/State News
Feds announce test sites for drone aircraft
The Federal Aviation Administration announced six states on Monday that will develop test sites for drones, a critical next step for the march of the unmanned aircraft into U.S. skies.
2:23PM ( 1 year ago )
Congress letting 55 tax breaks expire at year end
In an almost annual ritual, Congress is letting a package of 55 popular tax breaks expire at the end of the year, creating uncertainty - once again - for millions of individuals and businesses.
2:21PM ( 1 year ago )
Feeling US snub, Saudis strengthen ties elsewhere
Increasingly vocal in its frustration over U.S. policies in the Mideast, Saudi Arabia is strengthening ties elsewhere, seeking out an alignment that will bolster its position after it was pushed to the sidelines this year.
4:34PM ( 1 year ago )
The Latest: UN Security Council strongly condemns 'horrifying' attack in Mali, urges probe
BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — The latest on the attack on a hotel in the Malian capital of Bamako. (All times local):___4:55 a.m.The U.N. Security Council is condemning "the horrifying terrorist attack" at the...
10:58PM ( 4 days ago )
World leaders vow vigorous response to Paris terror spree, but little indication of next steps
ANTALYA, Turkey (AP) — World leaders vowed a vigorous response to the Islamic State group's terror spree in Paris as they opened a two-day meeting in Turkey on Sunday, with President Barack Obama call...
2:14PM ( 1 week ago )
Rash of E. coli cases in Pacific Northwest highlights problem of foodborne illnesses
SEATTLE (AP) — As Chipotle prepares to reopen its restaurants in the Pacific Northwest this week after an E. coli outbreak that sickened about 45 people, health experts say foodborne illnesses are mor...
1:40AM ( 2 weeks ago )
Biden says he will not run for president in 2016, finalizing field of Democratic candidates
Vice President Joe Biden will not run for president in 2016, he said Wednesday, ending a months-long flirtation with a third White House campaign and setting him on a glide path toward the end of his decades-long political career.
1:34PM ( 1 month ago )
UN is next stop for Obama after success with Iran, pope; top issues are IS, Syria, Russia
NEW YORK (AP) — Fresh from successes on Iran and with the pope, President Barack Obama still carried heavy burdens into critical meetings this week at the U.N. General Assembly.They include the threat...
3:31PM ( 1 month ago )