WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers, on Sunday offered one of the most vigorous defenses of U.S. surveillance activities in Europe, saying that much of the anger and resentment they have engendered were the result of misunderstandings.
Rogers, R-Mich., said that the National Security Agency's surveillance program in question — particularly in regards to France, but also Germany — had been badly misrepresented in news reports. If the French understood that it was designed to protect them and others from the threat of terror, he said on CNN's State of the Union, "they would be applauding and popping Champagne corks."
The widely reported notion that the NSA had monitored 70 million French phone calls, Rogers said, was "100 percent wrong, and that's why this is so dangerous."
Reporters who had seen one security agency slide provided by Edward Snowden, a former agency contract employee, "misinterpreted some of the acronyms at the bottom of the slide and saw this 70 million phone call figure — this was about a counterterrorism program that had nothing to do with French citizens," Rogers asserted.
He also said that reports of the monitoring of phone calls of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany were incomplete, fragmentary and, therefore, misleading. The most recent report, published in the German news magazine Der Spiegel on Saturday, cited a document — apparently from a NSA database — that indicated Merkel's cellphone was first listed as a target of surveillance in 2002.
The disclosures, Rogers said, did not "necessarily fit with what has actually happened, right? So it's not an exact, correct interpretation of what they're seeing. They're seeing three or four pieces of a 1,000-piece puzzle and trying to come to a conclusion."
In neither the French nor the German case did he offer any elaboration of what, in his view, the NSA was actually doing in France or Germany.
But Rogers went further, suggesting that the Europeans lagged behind the United States not only in intelligence capability, but also in governmental oversight, so that some European officials were applying a standard to the United States that their own spy agencies would fail.
Also Sunday, the NSA issued a statement to deny another German news media report, published in Bild am Sonntag, that said President Barack Obama had been briefed on the surveillance of Merkel in 2010 by Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA and of U.S. Cyber Command. The statement did not shed light on why Merkel, a rare, stalwart supporter in Europe of the Bush administration's plans to invade Iraq, was chosen for surveillance.
The Obama administration has said as little as possible about the reports of the operation against Merkel, seemingly in hopes it will blow over.