OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Feinstein calls for ‘total review’ of NSA spying

The Topline: Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Monday issued a harsh statement slamming the National Security Agency for spying on foreign leaders.

Feinstein called for a “total review” of all intelligence collection programs and said it was a “big problem” that President Obama did not know of the intelligence gathering on foreign leaders.

“It is abundantly clear that a total review of all intelligence programs is necessary so that members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are fully informed as to what is actually being carried out by the intelligence community," Feinstein said.

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The statement was particularly harsh coming from Feinstein, who has been one of the staunchest defenders of the NSA amid the uproar over its phone metadata collection programs.

Feinstein has said she is open to making some changes but wants to protect the agency’s core intelligence-gathering methods, saying that classified information shows why they are essential for counterterrorism.

The NSA did not tell Feinstein or her committee about spying on foreign leaders, however.

“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,” Feinstein said. 

Feinstein said that she planned to initiate a major review into all of the intelligence community’s collection methods.

“The White House has informed me that collection on our allies will not continue, which I support,” she said. “But as far as I’m concerned, Congress needs to know exactly what our intelligence community is doing."

Feinstein’s statement came in response to reports that the NSA had spied on German Chancellor Angela Merkel since 2002, and dozens of other foreign leaders.

The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that Obama was not told of the intelligence gathering on world leaders until this summer, when he reportedly ended the practice.

Feinstein said she was “totally opposed” to NSA collection of intelligence on leaders of U.S. allies.

The NSA’s spying on foreign leaders will likely come up again on Tuesday, when NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander and other top intelligence officials are testifying before the House Intelligence Committee.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday that Alexander had the president’s “full confidence.” 

DOD 'examines' role in NSA surveillance: Defense Department officials are looking into possible military intelligence ties into spying allegations by the United States against top allies. 

The Pentagon is "examining all the different dynamics that are now out there," regarding claims of espionage by the National Security Agency against U.S. allies such as Germany and others, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Monday.

That examination is part of a larger White House-led review of intelligence collection on U.S. allies, sparked by recent revelations that NSA officials had monitored the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. 

His comments came during a joint press conference with New Zealand Defense Minister Jonathan Coleman at the Pentagon on Monday. 

For his part, Coleman said the ties between Washington and Wellington would not be affected by the spying allegations. 

"New Zealand is not worried about [the allegations] at all," Coleman told reporters Monday, adding there was nothing being discussed among country's leaders that the U.S. would not be privy to. 

Hagel declined to comment on the specifics of the inquiry into the military's portion of ongoing NSA operations, telling reporters at the Pentagon that the department does not comment publicly on intelligence matters. 

However, any role the Department of Defense would play in the administration review of the NSA surveillance would likely be limited to cyber warfare operations at Cyber Command, which is headed by agency chief Gen. Keith Alexander.

Graham threatens all nominations over Benghazi: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Monday that he would block all nominations in the Senate until the U.S. personnel in Benghazi the night of last year’s terrorist attack were made available to congressional investigators.

It’s unclear whether Graham’s maneuver would be effective — a successful cloture vote can break a hold on nominations or legislation — but Graham’s threat was the latest GOP attempt to compel the Obama administration to make survivors of the Benghazi attack available.

“Where are the #Benghazi survivors? I'm going to block every appointment in the US Senate until they are made available to Congress,” Graham said on Twitter Monday.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said one diplomatic security official who was in Benghazi the night of the attack gave an interview to the House Oversight Committee last month, after the panel’s chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), subpoenaed the State Department.

But she said others were not likely to be made available.

“Our response is that we need to have these officials in place," she said. "That's the only way to strengthen our interests overseas and to be able to represent our diplomatic agenda.”

Asia still tops DOD priorities list, says Hagel: The Obama administration's military shift to Asia still tops the Pentagon's budget blueprint as the department girds for another round of budget cuts under sequestration. 

The planned pivot "remains at the top of the list" of the department's investment strategy for the coming years, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Monday at the Pentagon. 

As Defense Department number crunchers continue work on the Pentagon's fiscal year 2015 spending plan, military and civilian leaders "will protect that [Asia] rebalance in any way we can," Hagel said during a joint press conference with New Zealand Defense Minister Jonathan Coleman.

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta unveiled Obama's Asia-Pacific strategy last January, setting a new direction for the U.S. military as American forces shift focus from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan to the open seas and skies of the Pacific. 

Since then, Hagel has aggressively pushed that plan, making repeated trips to the area to meet with military counterparts and reinforce military cooperation pacts with regional powers. 

On Tuesday, top leaders on the House Armed Services Committee will preview the defense panel's ongoing oversight efforts with the Pentagon on the Asia-Pacific strategy. 

But the massive, across-the-board defense cuts under sequestration have cast a long shadow over those efforts, forcing Pentagon leaders to ratchet down their vision for Asia, according to Hagel. 

Those cuts "will affect all of our plans, in all areas" including the Pacific, Hagel said Monday. 

 

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