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NSA official: 'We're not big brother'

Thursday - 10/31/2013, 6:53am  ET

merkel2.jpg
The chairwoman of the Christian Democratic Union, CDU, German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives at the Social Democratic Party, SPD, headquarters for coalition talks in Berlin, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013. Following the Sept. 22 national elections Chancellor Merkel and her Christian parties' bloc are negotiating the second week on forming a coalition with the Social Democratic Party. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

WASHINGTON - National Security Agency officials want Americans to understand something.

"We're way too busy, we're moving way to fast and frankly we don't care about and we don't have time to monitor American's activities," said Lonny Anderson, Director of NSA's Technology Directorate in an interview with WTOP several weeks ago.

Responding to the release of a series of documents stolen from the agency by former contractor Edward Snowden, Anderson denied allegations NSA spies on social connections of Americans.

"We're not big brother. We're not watching Americans. Our challenge is the foreign intelligence threats to America," Anderson said.

If the agency were to take a whole series of tools that help address foreign threats to the United States out of the tool kit and say, "you can't use those," Anderson says it would make the mission significantly harder.

A stream of embarrassing press reports dating back to June, based on leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, have heaped significant pressure on the agency. U.S. intelligence leaders say the leaks have also inflicted significant damage on their ability collect information about foreign threats to the U.S.

On several occasions, various media reported that a policy change in 2011 allowed the government to find and map the activity and connections of overseas intelligence targets and people in the U.S. This was done by looking at massive amounts of meta-data such as emails, social media, property records, global positioning information and other sources.

"The NSA is a foreign intelligence agency. NSA's foreign intelligence activities are conducted pursuant to procedures approved by the U.S. Attorney General and the Secretary of Defense, and where applicable, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, to protect the privacy interests of Americans," NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said in a statement.

But, allegations of spying on Americans are not the only problem the U.S. intelligence community faces.

Top European officials, prompted by recent allegations that the U.S. spied on the personal telephone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have been in Washington this week to deliver a message: They're angry about the U.S. spying on them and their leaders.

"Privacy for Europeans is of the utmost importance. It is a fundamental right inscribed in our bill of rights and not by chance," Vice President of the European Commission Viviane Reding told WTOP Tuesday.

She said the genesis of their deep concern emanates from the fact that, "we are coming from dictatorships from the left and the right."

Reding said European leaders want U.S. officials to know that their constituents feel, "the trust has been broken between the U.S. and Europeans." It's about a core belief, she added.

"Our people are extremely sensitive if somebody listens to your phone calls or if somebody reads your emails. That goes to the soul of Europeans," Reding said.

But U.S. officials testifying before a house committee on Tuesday strongly denied the NSA snooped on, or targeted, European citizens.

"The assertions by reporters in France (Le Monde), Spain (El Mundo), and Italy (L'Espresso) that NSA collected tens of millions of phone calls are completely false," said NSA Director General Keith Alexander.

He told the House Intelligence Committee panel that millions of phone records were swept up as part of an allied intelligence program.

"This is not information that we collected on European citizens. It represents information that we and our NATO allies collected." He added some of those records were sent to the U.S. by other countries.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, defended the U.S. collection efforts during a Tuesday hearing saying, "Every nation collects foreign intelligence. That is not unique to the United States."

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