WASHINGTON, D.C. — Richard Burr from North Carolina, Republican chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, told Breitbart News that his panel will investigate whether President Obama’s National Security Agency (NSA) broke the law by eavesdropping on private conversations between American lawmakers and Israel.
“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,” he told Breitbart News via email. “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.”
Meanwhile, Devin Nunes (R-CA), chairman of the House intelligence panel, echoed Sen. Burr in a statement issued Wednesday, saying that his committee will investigate the allegations mentioned in a recent article by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
“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,” stated chairman Nunes. “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 Journal revealed Tuesday that the NSA has targeted private conversations between members of Congress and Israeli officials, namely Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a staunch opponent of the Iran nuclear deal largely brokered by the Obama administration and five other world powers.
“Behind the scenes, the White House decided to keep certain allies under close watch, current and former U.S. officials said,” noted WSJ. “Topping the list was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu… The National Security Agency’s targeting of Israeli leaders and officials also swept up the contents of some of their private conversations with U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups.”
“That raised fears—an ‘Oh-s— moment’… that the executive branch would be accused of spying on Congress,” one senior U.S official told the Journal.
The article also revealed that a bipartisan group of lawmakers sanctioned the NSA snooping on Netanyahu.
“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,” noted the report.
Asked by Breitbart News whether he was among the bipartisan group of lawmakers who endorsed the NSA activities, House Chairman Nunes declined to comment further. Sen. Burr’s office did not immediately respond when asked the same question.
Meanwhile, the office of California Sen. Diane Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence panel did not respond to Breitbart News’ requests for comment. Fellow California lawmaker Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence panel, declined to specifically comment on communications between lawmakers and Israel, noted the Journal.
However, he did tell the Journal that so far there has not been a problem in how the U.S. spy agencies handle the “incidental collection” of information on lawmakers.
“Privately, Mr. Obama maintained the monitoring of Mr. Netanyahu on the grounds that it served a ‘compelling national security purpose,’ according to current and former U.S. officials,” pointed out the Journal.
Israel spied on the United States as well, the report acknowledged.
According to a former intelligence official, the White House allowed the NSA to decide what information to deliver.
NSA rules governing intercepted “were tightened in the early 1990s to require that intelligence agencies inform congressional committees when a lawmaker’s name was revealed to the executive branch in summaries of intercepted communications,” noted the report. “A 2011 NSA directive said direct communications between foreign intelligence targets and members of Congress should be destroyed when they are intercepted. But the NSA director can issue a waiver if he determines the communications contain ‘significant foreign intelligence.’”
The NSA has been granted flexibility when it comes to collecting and disseminating intercepted communications involving members of Congress, “if, for example, foreign ambassadors send messages to their foreign ministries that recount their private meetings or phone calls with members of Congress, current and former officials said,” reported the Journal.
While the Obama administration shielded certain allied leaders from NSA eavesdropping, including French President François Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders, it allowed the NSA to target the countries’ top advisers, WSJ learned from current and former U.S. officials.
“Other allies were excluded from the protected list, including Recep Tayyip Erdogan, president of NATO ally Turkey, which allowed the NSA to spy on their communications at the discretion of top officials,” added WSJ.