NSA Monitored 60 Million Phone Calls in Spain in a Single Month; NSA Chief Insists that Allies Did some of the Spying

Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Mariano Rajoy and Barack Obama (photo: Carolyn Kaster, AP)

Spain has become the latest known victim of National Security Agency (NSA) spying, with more than 60 million phone calls monitored in a single month. But in heated testimony before the House Intelligence Committee yesterday, NSA chief Keith Alexander claimed that it was European intelligence agencies that did some of the spying in their own countries and supplied the NSA with the data.


Like other European newspapers to recently expose controversial NSA surveillance activities, El Mundo reported on Monday that a document provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden showed 60.5 million calls were monitored in Spain between December 10, 2012, and January 8 of this year.


In one day alone, December 11, 2012, the NSA intercepted 3.5 million calls, according to an NSA graphic entitled “Spain – last 30 days,” the newspaper reported.


NSA officials claim they did not monitor the content of the phone calls. Instead, the agency collected the serial and phone numbers of the handsets used, the locations, SIM cards and the duration of the calls.


Emails and other social media were also monitored during the period in question.


News of the surveillance prompted Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, to demand a meeting with U.S. ambassador James Costos to explain why the NSA targeted his country.


Spain joins Germany, France, Mexico and Brazil in learning that the U.S. has spied on their citizens and, in some cases, their leaders, such as the cell phone calls of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and emails belonging to Mexican former president Felipe Calderón.


Last week, Spain rejected a German proposal for the European Union’s 28 member states to sign a “no-spy deal.” It was unclear in the wake of the El Mundo story if Spanish officials would reconsider their position.


Meanwhile, Washington was ablaze this week with outrage, both in opposition to and defense of the wide surveillance net that the NSA has cast across Europe. As a parliamentary delegation from the European Union met with lawmakers to discuss NSA spying on American allies, two U.S. spymasters involved with the global scandal testified yesterday before members of the House Intelligence Committee,.


Director of the NSA, Keith Alexander, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper were both grilled by committee members, even as lawmakers from both parties moved to fast-track various bills designed to put a lid—some tighter than others—on the NSA’s now notorious activities.


“To be perfectly clear, this is not information that we collected on European citizens,” said Alexander, with regard to the latest revelations about vast amounts of phone and email data collected on Europeans and their leaders. “It represents information that we, and our NATO allies, have collected in defense of our countries and in support of military operations.”


Alexander claimed that the leaked Snowden documents have been misinterpreted by the media and that, in fact, vast amounts of this data were actually secretly collected by allied governments from their own citizens. That data was then provided to the NSA for use in its anti-terrorism analyses, he said.


For his part, Clapper defended the NSA’s surveillance of allied leaders’ phones, describing such activity as a “fundamental given” among intelligence services. He said “it is one of the first things I learned in intelligence school in 1963,” adding that U.S. allies “absolutely” conduct similar activity against the U.S.


Not everyone bought it, perhaps most notably Senator Diane Feinstein (D-California), who has been one of the strongest defenders of the NSA’s secret collection of metadata on U.S. citizens. With the recent revelations, she put out a statement to the media saying that she is “totally opposed” to U.S. spying on allies and wants a full review conducted of NSA spying programs.


She also expressed concern over President Obama’s reported lack of knowledge of aspects of those programs. “It is my understanding that President Obama was not aware Chancellor Merkel's communications were being collected since 2002,” Feinstein said. “That is a big problem.”

- Danny Biederman, Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Spain Summons US Ambassador Over Claim NSA Tracked 60m Calls a Month (by Paul Hamilos, The Guardian)

Spain Summons American Ambassador on New Reports of N.S.A. Spying (by Raphael Minder, New York Times)

NSA Chief: Reports U.S. Collected Calls, E-mails from Allies 'Completely False' (by Chelsea J. Carter and Jason Hanna, CNN)

German Chancellor Confronts Obama over Alleged NSA Monitoring of Her Cell Phone (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)   

NSA Monitors the Phones of at least 35 World Leaders (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

NSA Spied on Mexican Government and French Political, Business Networks (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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