WASHINGTON, June 12 (RIA Novosti) – The head of the US National Security Agency (NSA) told a congressional committee Wednesday that he knows of “no way” former NSA contractor Edward Snowden could tap into the phone calls and emails of any American.
The testimony of NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander was scheduled on the topic of cyber security long before Snowden purportedly leaked confidential documents last week showing that the NSA was collecting phone records and online information of millions of people in the United States and abroad.
But Alexander’s testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee came under particular scrutiny in a hearing that saw committee head Barbara Mikulski respond to an online accusation by Twitter user @RosieGray that the lawmaker was “trying hard to keep the other senators from asking Gen. Alexander anymore about data mining programs.”
“I want to say to Rosie and to others who might read from Rosie, there is no attempt here to muscle, stifle any senator from asking any line of questioning,” Mikulski said during the hearing.
The brief exchange was an indication of the level of public suspicion about surveillance techniques and a growing pressure on the Obama administration to respond.
One source of outrage was the March testimony from National Intelligence Director James Clapper, who was asked by the Senate Intelligence Committee in March if the NSA collects “any type of data at all on millions of Americans.”
“No, sir,” he responded, adding: “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps, collect, but not wittingly.”
Over the weekend Clapper defended himself, saying he responded in the “most truthful, or least untruthful manner” possible.
Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, who posed the question to Clapper, said in a statement from his office that more public hearings are needed now.
“The American people have the right to expect straight answers from the intelligence leadership to the questions asked by their representatives,” Wyden said.
Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan went further, posting to his Facebook account that it “now appears clear that the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, lied under oath to Congress and the American people.”
“Perjury is a serious crime,” Amash wrote. “Mr. Clapper should resign immediately.”
So far US President Barack Obama has defended the NSA, telling reporters last week that “you can't have 100-percent security and also then have 100-percent privacy and zero inconvenience. We’re going to have to make some choices as a society. There are trade-offs involved.”
The story has made headlines around the world, prompting EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding to write a letter demanding “swift and concrete” answers when she meets with US Attorney General Eric Holder in Ireland on Friday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin weighed in as well.
“At least in Russia, you cannot just go and tap into someone’s phone conversation without a warrant issued by court,” Putin said in an interview Russian state-owned television network RT.
Meanwhile, Snowden, the former CIA employee at the center of the growing scandal, was reportedly in an undisclosed location in China and said Wednesday he would fight extradition to the United States.
“My intention is to ask the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate,” Snowden said, the South China Morning Post reported.