WASHINGTON, D.C. — Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, declined to comment when Breitbart News asked whether he approved of President Obama’s National Security Agency’s (NSA) spying on Congress.
Schiff did recently suggest to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) that so far, there has not been a problem with President Obama’s spy agencies incidentally collecting information on members of Congress.
“From what I can tell, we haven’t had a problem with how incidental collection has been handled concerning lawmakers,” Schiff told WSJ.
On Tuesday, WSJ revealed that as the NSA eavesdropped on Israeli leaders and officials, primarily Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the intelligence agency also listened in on private conversations between U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups.
Citing unnamed interviews with more than two dozen current and former U.S. intelligence and administration officials, the report noted that the NSA spy operations revealed to President Obama that Israeli officials had coordinated messaging with U.S. Jewish groups that expressed disapproval of the Iran nuclear deal, largely brokered by the U.S. in coordination with five other world powers.
“Convinced Mr. Netanyahu would attack Iran without warning the White House, U.S. spy agencies ramped up their surveillance, with the assent of Democratic and Republican lawmakers serving on congressional intelligence committees,” reported WSJ.
Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence panel, refused to specifically comment on allegations that the NSA listened in on communications between lawmakers and Israel and whether he was among the members of Congress who approved of the NSA’s spying on Netanyahu.
Asked whether he was comfortable with the NSA’s spying on Congress, Patrick Boland, a spokesman for Schiff, told Breitbart News that the California Democrat “declines to comment” on that subject.
Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said that his panel is taking the allegations in the WSJ article “seriously” and will investigate whether the NSA broke any laws by spying on Congress.
“The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence conducts, and will continue to conduct, vigorous oversight of intelligence community activities to ensure that they are lawful and appropriate, and that all policies and procedures are followed,” Burr said in a statement first reported by Breitbart News. “Allegations of wrongdoing, whether brought forward by whistleblowers, media reporting, executive branch notification, or through the work of the committee’s professional staff, are always taken seriously by this committee.”
Burr’s counterpart in the House, Devin Nunes, also said his committee will investigate whether the Obama administration broke any laws by snooping on U.S. lawmakers.
“The House Intelligence Committee is looking into allegations in The Wall Street Journal regarding possible Intelligence Community (IC) collection of communications between Israeli government officials and Members of Congress,” Chairman Nunes said in a statement issued Wednesday. “The Committee has requested additional information from the IC to determine which, if any, of these allegations are true, and whether the IC followed all applicable laws, rules, and procedures.”
The office of Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence panel, did not respond to Breitbart News’ requests for comment on whether she was alarmed that the NSA eavesdropped on American lawmakers and whether she was among the lawmakers who assented to the spy agency targeting Netanyahu.
While President Obama made the decision for the NSA to spy on certain allied heads of state, including Netanyahu and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, allies such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande, were shielded from NSA snooping.
However, the administration did permit the NSA to target the protected leaders’ top advisers.
“President Barack Obama’s decision two years ago to limit the National Security Agency’s spying on certain allied heads of state didn’t sit well with some advisers, who worried that critical pieces of information could be missed, according to current and former U.S. officials,” reported WSJ on Thursday.
Yisrael Katz, Israel’s Intelligence and Transport minister, indicated that his country could file a formal protest with the Obama administration if the spying claims are confirmed, according to WSJ.
“Israel does not spy in the U.S. and we expect the same from our great friend. If the reports turn out to be true, Israel must submit an official protest to the U.S. and demand to cease such activity,” Katz said in a statement.