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Senators join circus; NSA official says ‘we’re really screwed now’

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Photo Credit: “The Cable” FP Magazine

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Tensions are brewing in the U.S. Senate, the Obama administration and the intelligence community after conflicting statements were issued Monday over the National Security Agency’s spying of world leaders.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, issued a statement calling for a rare review “into all intelligence collection programs,” saying she was “totally opposed” to surveillance on world leaders, particularly those who are American allies like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, an article from “The Cable Blog” in Foreign Policy Magazine reported.

Her sudden reversal of support of the NSA and its surveillance programs baffled the intelligence community, with one NSA official telling “The Cable,” “We’re really screwed now. You know things are bad when the few friends you’ve got disappear without a trace in the dead of night and leave no forwarding address.”

Another former intelligence agency official told the magazine that Feinstein’s “sudden outrage” raised some questions: “The first question I’d ask is, what have you been doing for oversight? Second, if you’ve been reviewing this all along what has changed your mind?”

Feinstein claimed her committee had not been “satisfactorily informed” over the past decade while the alleged surveillance of world leaders was happening, and that if President Obama was not aware of the spying, that also was “a big problem.”

But, she said in her statement, “The White House has informed me that collection on our allies will not continue, which I support.”

However, Monday evening, BuzzFeed reported that a “senior administration official” told the paper that Feinstein’s statement that the White House wasn’t continuing to collect data on allies was inaccurate.

“While we have made some individual changes, which I cannot detail, we have not made across the board changes in policy like, for example, terminating intelligence collection that might be aimed at all allies,” the official told BuzzFeed.

And then later on Monday night, a statement was released on behalf of the administration seemingly declining to comment on Feinstein’s statement.

“We consult regularly with Chairman Feinstein as a part of our ongoing engagement with the Congress on national security matters,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement reported by Talking Points Memo. “We appreciate her continued leadership on these issues as Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.  I’m not going to go into the details of those private discussions, nor am I going to comment on assertions made in the Senator’s statement today about U.S. foreign intelligence activities.”

According to multiple reports, as of Tuesday morning, Feinstein had not yet commented on the administration official’s rebuttal of her statement, nor Hayden’s response from the White House.

More from Foreign Policy Magazine and Talking Points Memo.

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