By Jeremy Herb and Carlo Muñoz - 10/29/13 06:24 PM EDT
The Topline: National Security Agency chief Gen. Keith Alexander vehemently pushed back against allegations of U.S. spying on European allies on Tuesday as lawmakers vowed to rein in the intelligence agency in the wake of those claims.
Testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, Alexander called claims of U.S. bulk collection of data in European countries "completely false."
Appearing alongside Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Alexander told committee members his agency has never launched intelligence operations against European citizens on European soil.
For his part, Clapper adamantly told the panel that the NSA and the U.S. intelligence community "does not spy indiscriminately on citizens of any country.”
"To be sure, we have made mistakes," Clapper said, but added that 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 said.
The repeated criticism and second-guessing by Congress over the agency's operations have created "an erosion of trust" between the intelligence community and Congress, hindering NSA and other agencies from doing their jobs, Clapper said in his testimony Tuesday.
But House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Jan Schakowsky vowed large-scale changes to NSA’s operations in the wake of the most recent disclosures.
During the hearing, Schakowsky laid into the intelligence chiefs over the agency's European operations. "Why did we not know?" the Illinois Democrat pressed Alexander.
"We are the Intelligence Committee and we did not know," she said.
Schakowsky's outrage echoed that of Senate Intelligence Committee chief Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who is calling for a "total review" of all U.S. intelligence operations.
But House Intelligence Committee members Reps. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and Jim Langevin (R-R.I.) warned that congressional overreaction on intelligence oversight would pose a risk to national security priorities.
Feinstein’s panel is marking up surveillance legislation on Tuesday, and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) introduced their own legislation that would end the NSA’s bulk phone collection program.
House Armed Services to pivot to Pacific focus: The House Armed Services Committee announced Tuesday it was planning a series of hearings and closed briefings to ramp up oversight of the Obama administration’s shift to the Asia-Pacific region.
In a press conference with committee leaders from both parties, Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said the panel had planned at least five hearings between now and early 2014 on the military’s Asia-Pacific rebalance.
President Obama announced the pivot to the Pacific in January 2012 as part of a new defense strategy, but Pentagon officials have warned the rebalance is threatened if sequestration remains on the books.
Armed Services leaders want to restore congressional travel: At the press conference on the Asia-Pacific series, House Armed Services Committee leaders said the House’s ban on travel was hampering their ability to properly do the committee’s work.
Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said he had spoken with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) about the ban, which prevented lawmakers from using military aircraft for travel to non-war zones.
“One of the things that we do — the committee’s repercussions from sequestration is we have not been able to travel like we have in the past,” McKeon said. “We get these leaders to meet with us, and we need to be able to go out and meet with them.”
Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.), the top Democrat on the panel, said the travel difficulty went beyond sequestration, when members face political attacks for spending money to travel to places like Australia (where the military is sending Marines).
“About the only acceptable place to go for a member of Congress is a war zone,” Smith said. “At the end of the day, members are like 'screw it.' ”
DOD steps up Kony manhunt: The Pentagon is flooding Uganda with more troops and equipment to kill or capture the infamous warlord Joseph Kony.
U.S. commanders have begun setting up small airbases inside Uganda and moving Air Force CV-22 Ospreys and aircrews to those locations to ferry American special forces and local troops quickly across the country, according to The Washington Post.
The influx of men and material into Uganda will end up doubling the number of American forces on the ground there, representing a dramatic expansion of the quietly escalating war against Kony's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).
“We’re at a new stage in this mission,” Col. Kevin Leahy, commander of the American special forces teams in Uganda, told the Post. “All of the pieces are coming together, and we’re pushing on all fronts," Leahy said.
President Obama deployed U.S. special operations forces to Uganda to hunt Kony and LRA leaders as part of Operation Observant Compass in October 2011.
But as Kony continued to evade capture, Obama ordered U.S. forces to extend their mission in Uganda last April.
The hunt for Kony was bolstered in the United States last year after the 30-minute film “Kony 2012” went viral. The video, produced by the nonprofit group Invisible Children, put the international spotlight back onto the plight of LRA's child soldiers.
In Case You Missed It:
— Lawmakers says NSA operations will change
— Feinstein wants to hire for NSA review
— White House: No decision on ending allied leader spying
— Protestors booted from NSA hearing
— Boehner: NSA imbalanced
— Feinstein stands by labeling Snowden traitor
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