WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate Intelligence Committee's chairwoman said on Monday she is "totally opposed" to the collection of intelligence on U.S. allies by the National Security Agency and that oversight of such surveillance must be strengthened.
"Unless the United States is engaged in hostilities against a country or there is an emergency need for this type of surveillance, I do not believe the United States should be collecting phone calls or emails of friendly presidents and prime ministers," Senator Dianne Feinstein said in a statement after reports that the NSA had bugged German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone and eavesdropped on the communications of other foreign leaders.
Feinstein has been a staunch defender of some of the NSA programs leaked to the media by former contractor Edward Snowden, arguing that they play an important role in the fight against global terrorism.
But the California Democrat said the surveillance of foreign leaders was different.
"Unlike NSA's collection of phone records under a court order, it is clear to me that certain surveillance activities have been in effect for more than a decade and that the Senate Intelligence Committee was not satisfactorily informed," she said.
"With respect to NSA collection of intelligence on leaders of U.S. allies - including France, Spain, Mexico and Germany -let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed," Feinstein said.
She said the White House had told her that such collections of information from allies would not continue. But she said the Senate intelligence panel would begin "a major review" into all of the collection programs.
"It is my understanding that President Obama was not aware Chancellor Merkel's communications were being collected since 2002. That is a big problem," Feinstein said.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Christopher Wilson and Eric Walsh)