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GOP official defends foreign surveillance

Says reports about NSA program have been incorrect

Representative Mike Rogers said reports of the monitoring of Angela Merkel’s phone calls were incomplete and misleading.

Tim Brakemeier/EPA files

Representative Mike Rogers said reports of the monitoring of Angela Merkel’s phone calls were incomplete and misleading.

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Mike Rogers, offered one of the most vigorous defenses of US surveillance activities in Europe on Sunday, saying that much of the anger and resentment they have engendered were the result of misunderstandings.

Rogers, a Michigan Republican, said the National Security Agency’s surveillance program in question — particularly in regards to France, but also Germany — had been misrepresented in news reports.

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If the French understood that it was designed to protect them and others from the threat of terror, he said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” “they would be applauding and popping champagne corks.”

The widely reported notion that the NSA had monitored 70 million French phone calls, Rogers said, was “100 percent wrong, and that’s why this is so dangerous.”

Reporters who had seen one security agency slide provided by Edward J. Snowden, a former agency contract employee, “misinterpreted some of the acronyms at the bottom of the slide and saw this 70 million phone call figure — this was about a counterterrorism program that had nothing to do with French citizens,” Rogers asserted.

The congressman also said that reports of the monitoring of phone calls of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany were incomplete, fragmentary, and, therefore, misleading.

The most recent report, published in the German news magazine Der Spiegel on Saturday, cited a document — apparently from a NSA database — that indicated Merkel’s cellphone was first listed as a target of surveillance in 2002.

The disclosures, Rogers said, did not “necessarily fit with what has actually happened, right? So it’s not an exact, correct interpretation of what they’re seeing. They’re seeing three or four pieces of a 1,000-piece puzzle and trying to come to a conclusion.”

In neither the French nor the German case did he offer any elaboration of what, in his view, the NSA was actually doing in France or Germany.

But Rogers went further, suggesting that the Europeans lagged behind the United States not only in intelligence capability, but also in governmental oversight, so that some European officials were applying a standard to the United States that their own spy agencies would fail.

“There’s a reason that the president of the United States’ BlackBerry is encrypted: There’s a lot of people that would like to get those conversations,” he said, without elaborating.

Rogers said that while US spy agencies were subject to multiple levels of oversight, “they don’t have that in some of our European capitals, and some of this has been shocking — not to the intelligence services,” but to the governments for which they work.

On Sunday, Germany’s interior minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich, said he was pressing for ‘‘complete information’’ from Washington on the alleged US surveillance of Merkel’s cellphone.

Friedrich told newspaper Bild am Sonntag that he wants ‘‘complete information on all accusations’’ and that ‘‘if the Americans intercepted cellphones in Germany, they broke German law on German soil.’’ He added that wiretapping is a crime and ‘‘those responsible must be held accountable.’’

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