White House press secretary Jay Carney on Monday said President Obama has “full confidence” in the National Security Agency and its director Gen. Keith Alexander after a report claimed the commander in chief was unaware that the agency had monitored the phone calls of numerous world leaders.
Carney told reporters that Obama had “full confidence in Gen. Alexander and the rank and file at the NSA.”
A report in the Wall Street Journal on Monday said Obama had not learned that NSA electronic surveillance programs had intercepted calls of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as early as 2010 until an internal inquiry conducted this past summer.
Carney declined to discuss that report, saying that he would not “get into details of internal discussions.”
The disclosures that the NSA monitored phone traffic from Merkel and others has sparked outrage overseas. Last week Obama and Merkel spoke by phone and White House said the U.S. is not monitoring and will not monitor her calls in the future. But the administration has declined to say if Merkel’s communications were intercepted in the past.
Carney said that the administration understood that new technological advances had broadened the scope of surveillance programs and that the president was committed to reviewing them to better balance security and privacy interests.
“There are communication methods we hadn’t even conceived of ten years ago,” said Carney.
“If we are going to keep our citizens and allies safe, we are going to have to keep ahead of these changes,” he added.
“We need to make sure that we're collecting information not just because we can, but because we should," said Carney.
He added that the administration was pushing ahead with its review of intelligence practices.
“The issues that are part of the review look at how we can better balance our security needs and the security needs of our allies with the real privacy concerns we all share,” he said.
Carney said the review would “be completed by the end of the year.”
The NSA revelations were the latest from former government contractor Edward Snowden, who has leaked a number of classified documents detailing the NSA’s surveillance programs.
Another report said that 60 million French calls were monitored over the course of a month, leading Paris to summon the U.S. ambassador to explain the incident.
Carney defended the NSA’s programs as “legal” and said they were essential to protecting the lives of Americans and the nation’s allies.
Carney said the intelligence community and administration were always “one attack away from assessments about what went wrong with our intelligence capabilities.”
“The gathering occurs for a purpose,” he said.