U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) issued a statement on Monday criticizing the recently discovered spying activity conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA) on key world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and has ordered that a complete surveillance review take place.
Feinstein’s opposition may come as a surprise to those familiar with her track record, as she has consistently spoken favorably and shown support for NSA spy tactics. In fact, the senator has been seen as one of the strongest supporters for the recent extension of the FISA Amendments Act, extending the authorization for the NSA’s surveillance activities through the end of 2017.
In a statement released to the press on Monday, Feinstein called for a full review of the NSA’s programs, stating:
It is abundantly clear that a total review of all intelligence programs is necessary so that members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are fully informed as to what is actually being carried out by the intelligence community.
Unlike NSA’s collection of phone records under a court order, it is clear to me that certain surveillance activities have been in effect for more than a decade and that the Senate Intelligence Committee was not satisfactorily informed. Therefore our oversight needs to be strengthened and increased.
With respect to NSA collection of intelligence on leaders of U.S. allies—including France, Spain, Mexico and Germany—let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed.
Unless the United States is engaged in hostilities against a country or there is an emergency need for this type of surveillance, I do not believe the United States should be collecting phone calls or emails of friendly presidents and prime ministers. The president should be required to approve any collection of this sort.
The senator’s statement goes on to offer what may be the first official confirmation of the more than a decades long spying on Angela Merkel’s phone calls. “It is my understanding that President Obama was not aware Chancellor Merkel’s communications were being collected since 2002. That is a big problem,” Feinstein went on to say in her statement. “The White House has informed me that collection on our allies will not continue, which I support.”
While the senator is calling for an investigation to “initiate a major review into all intelligence collection programs,” some have reacted to the news with a sense of confusion. Freedom of the Press director Trevor Timm took to Twitter to express his feelings by saying:
Dianne Feinstein is cool with spying on millions of ordinary citizens, but not people in power—that's unacceptable. https://t.co/OTWjxUc97S
— Trevor Timm (@trevortimm) October 28, 2013
It has also only been a month since Feinstein delivered a strong statement in defense of all NSA surveillance activity to date. During a September 26 hearing on the changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the senator said that in her opinion the “surveillance activities conducted under FISA, and other programs operated by the National Security Agency, are lawful, they are effective, and they are conducted under careful oversight within the NSA, by the Department of Justice and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and by the FISA Court and the Congress.”