Clapper: NSA controversy creating 'erosion of trust' in intelligence community

The firestorm of criticism facing the National Security Agency from Capitol Hill has created "an erosion of trust" within the U.S. intelligence community, according to the community's top official.

The repeated criticism and second-guessing by Congress over the agency's operations has hindered intelligence community leaders from doing their jobs, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told lawmakers on Tuesday.

Clapper and National Security Agency chief Gen. Keith Alexander and other officials testified before the House Intelligence panel on Tuesday on possible changes to the agency's electronic surveillance and eavesdropping programs.

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The House hearing comes a day after news broke that the NSA was conducting espionage operations against key European allies, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Tuesday is the first time both top U.S. intelligence officials have appeared publicly since news of the NSA's European operations was exposed.

"There has been a lot in the media about this situation. Some right. Some wrong," panel ranking member Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) said during the House committee hearing.

A recent report in The Wall Street Journal claimed that European intelligence agencies were the ones responsible for the surveillance operation that ensnared Merkel and other European leaders.

The only role NSA had in the operation is that the agency was granted access to the intelligence gathered during those missions, the Journal reported on Tuesday.

That said, "more needs to be done" on intelligence reform to improve transparency and access to details of the NSA's operations, Ruppersberger told Clapper and Alexander during the House hearing.

In response, Clapper adamantly told the panel that the NSA and the U.S. intelligence community "does not spy indiscriminately on citizens of any country," Clapper said.

"To be sure, we have made mistakes," Clapper said, but added the intelligence community has acted quickly to resolve those mistakes.

"That is what the American people want and that is what the president has asked us to do," he added.

But news of the NSA's European operations, leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, has already drawn harsh criticism from lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Senate Intelligence Committee chief Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) slammed the agency and intelligence community for the efforts to surveil key U.S. allies.

The Senate Intel chairwoman has been a defender of the NSA’s phone surveillance programs, which were initially leaked by Snowden, while saying that some changes can be made.

But after the agency's European operations became public, Feinstein demanded a “total review” of the intelligence community’s spying programs in a statement issued Monday.

“The problem is the Congress has no knowledge, the intelligence committees have no knowledge,” Feinstein added Tuesday.

“And it seems to me that collecting content on allied leaders who are good friends is not something that we should do, without presidential authority," she said.

Her committee is marking up legislation in closed session on the NSA Tuesday.