By Aruna Viswanatha and Anna Yukhananov
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two Republican congressmen on Sunday defended Washington’s surveillance programs abroad in reaction to protests from allies, after the wide scope of the eavesdropping was revealed this year by former spy agency contractor Edward Snowden.
Mike Rogers, chairman of the House of Representatives intelligence committee, said much of the public information on those efforts, including allegations that the U.S. National Security Agency had spied on millions of French citizens, was misguided.
“They are seeing three or four pieces of a thousand-piece puzzle and trying to come to a conclusion,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Nation” program.
The media was given one slide, which included the word “France” on it, Rogers said, which “started a huge amount of discussion about Americans collecting phone calls in France with French citizens.”
“That is 100 percent wrong,” he said. The slide referred to a counter-terrorism program that had nothing to do with French citizens, he said.
Instead, Rogers said, European authorities don’t have enough oversight of their intelligence services. He suggested that the new revelations were not surprises to European intelligence agencies, but only to the governments for which they work.
Congressman Peter King, chairman of the House subcommittee on counterterrorism and intelligence, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said: “The president should stop apologizing, stop being defensive.
“The reality is the NSA has saved thousands of lives, not just in the United States but also in France and Germany and throughout Europe. The French are some ones to talk; the fact is, they’ve carried out spying operations against the United States, both the government and industry. As far as Germany, that’s where the Hamburg plot began, which led to 9/11. They’ve had dealings with Iran and Iraq, North Korea …”
“We’re not doing this for the fun of it,” King said. “This is to gather valuable intelligence which helps not just us but also helps the Europeans.”
On Saturday, a mixed group of protesters marched on Capitol Hill in Washington to protest the government’s online surveillance programs.
People carried signs reading: “Stop Mass Spying,” “Thank you, Edward Snowden” and “Unplug Big Brother” as they gathered to demonstrate against the online surveillance by the NSA.
Estimates varied on the size of the march, with organizers saying more than 2,000 attended.
The march attracted protesters from both ends of the political spectrum as liberal privacy advocates walked alongside members of the conservative Tea Party movement in opposition to what they say is unlawful government spying on Americans.
The groups have been urging Congress to reform the legal framework supporting the NSA’s secretive online data gathering since Snowden’s disclosure of classified information about the programs that are designed to gather intelligence about potential foreign threats.
The Obama administration and many lawmakers have defended the NSA programs as crucial in protecting U.S. national security and helping thwart past militant plots. They have also said the programs are carefully overseen by Congress and the courts.
“Our representatives in Congress tell us this is not surveillance. They’re wrong,” Snowden said in a statement before Saturday’s rally. Wanted in the United States on espionage charges, he is now in temporary asylum in Russia.
Snowden’s latest disclosures showed the United States may have tapped the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, adding to the growing outrage against U.S. data-gathering practices abroad and prompting a phone call between Merkel and President Barack Obama.