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WASHINGTON -- Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is hammering the National Security Agency over reports itspied on foreign leaders and allies, and revealed Monday that President Barack Obama said he would halt any such eavesdropping.
Saying that she is "totally opposed" to eavesdropping on United States allies and wants a complete review of U.S. intelligence activities, Feinstein, who has been a staunch defender of the agency since Edward Snowden leaked extensive documents about its activities, came down hard on the clandestine outfit.
In an uncharacteristically harsh statement, Feinstein said the new allegations that the agency monitored the phone calls of foreign leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel are simply out of bounds, and suggested the NSA has failed to inform Congress and Obama of its full activities.
“It is my understanding that President Obama was not aware Chancellor Merkel’s communications were being collected since 2002. That is a big problem," Feinstein said. “The White House has informed me that collection on our allies will not continue, which I support. But as far as I’m concerned, Congress needs to know exactly what our intelligence community is doing."
The White House did not have an immediate comment on Feinstein's statement.
The California senator has argued repeatedly that the NSA's mass collection of Americans' phone records is useful and necessary to protect the nation, and that it is carefully monitored by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. But reported spying on foreign leaders -- and failing to explain such activities to elected officials -- is entirely inappropriate, Feinstein said.
“It is abundantly clear that a total review of all intelligence programs is necessary so that members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are fully informed as to what is actually being carried out by the intelligence community," Feinstein said.
“Unlike NSA’s collection of phone records under a court order, it is clear to me that certain surveillance activities have been in effect for more than a decade and that the Senate Intelligence Committee was not satisfactorily informed," Feinstein said.
“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. "I do not believe the United States should be collecting phone calls or emails of friendly presidents and prime ministers. The president should be required to approve any collection of this sort," she added, placing the blame on the previous administration and officials in the intelligence community who did not subsequently divulge the activities that could be likened to espionage friendly fire.
U.S. ambassadors have been called in by outraged allies to explain the actions, and the revelations have sparked a backlash across Europe that could lead to restrictions on surveillance by Uncle Sam, as well as rollbacks of other post-9/11 intelligence activities.