ST. GEORGE – A report alleging the National Security Agency spied on the communications of top Israeli officials and snared exchanges with members of Congress in the process has House Republicans demanding answers. Among them are Utah Reps. Chris Stewart and Jason Chaffetz.
The report appeared in The Wall Street Journal earlier this week and alleges the NSA intercepted communications between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during talks related to the Iran nuclear deal, The Associated Press reported.
President Barack Obama announced two years ago that spying by the NSA on friendly heads of state would be curtailed. Yet, the Agency kept tabs on Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials, according to the report, snagging exchanges between the officials and members of Congress along the way.
“The law states that any intercepted communication between a U.S. government official and a foreign target must be destroyed unless the NSA Director grants a waiver,” a statement from Stewart’s office issued Thursday read. “At this time, Congress is aware of no such waiver.”
In the wake of the report’s publication, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told The Associated Press that he’s asked the director of National Intelligence and the head of the National Security Agency to come to Capitol Hill next week to brief lawmakers on the matter.
“We’re going to play this right down the middle and determine whether or not somebody did something wrong,” Nunes said by phone from California to The Associated Press.
Among the Republicans who sit on the House Intelligence Committee is Stewart.
“If the Wall Street Journal report is correct, we’ve got a real problem,” Stewart said in a statement. “The National Security Agency already has a strained relationship with the American people, and breaking our privacy laws only weakens that relationship.”
Chaffetz, who is chairman of the House Oversight Committee, sent a letter to NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers Wednesday asking for information as well.
See the letter here: 20151230-Letter from Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to NSA Director Admiral Michael S. Rogers
“These reports raise questions concerning the processes NSA employees follow in determining whether intercepted communications involved members of Congress and the latitude agency employees have in screening communications with members of Congress for further dissemination within the executive branch,” Chaffetz wrote.
The White House declined to comment on specific intelligence activities carried out by the U.S. But White House officials said the U.S. doesn’t spy overseas unless there’s a specific, validated national security reason to do so, emphasizing that the principle applies both to world leaders and regular citizens.
The U.S. intelligence community kept the relevant oversight committees in Congress fully informed about its activities, officials said.
And aiming to show that the security relationship between the U.S. and Israel remained unharmed, officials noted that a U.S. team had traveled to Israel this month to resume talks toward a new 10-year agreement on U.S. military aid.
“When it comes to Israel, President Obama has said repeatedly that the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct,” said Ned Price, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council. “This message has always been backed by concrete actions.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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