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U.S. Monitored World Leaders as All Nations Do: Clapper

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U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper
U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper listens during a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee in Washington, D.C., on October 29, 2013. Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Oct. 29 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. spies on foreign leaders to understand their intentions and other governments spy on American government officials, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said today.

“Leadership intentions, in whatever form that’s expressed, is kind of a basic tenant of what we collect and analyze,” Clapper told the House intelligence committee. “It’s invaluable for us to know where countries are coming from, what their policies are and how that would impact us across a whole range of issues.”

It’s important to determine “if what they’re saying gels with what’s actually going on,” Clapper said.

Revelations about the extent of data and communications swept up by the National Security Agency since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have complicated U.S. relations with allies, particularly in Europe where the administration is seeking a trans-Atlantic trade agreement. Germany and Brazil are testing support at the United Nations for a resolution expressing deep concern about U.S. spying.

NSA Spying

News reports in France’s Le Monde and Spain’s El Mundo that the National Security Agency collected the communications records of millions of European citizens “are completely false,” NSA Director General Keith Alexander told the committee.

“This is not information that we collected on European citizens,” Alexander said. The reports cite data that the U.S. and North American Treaty Organization allies have collected “in defense of our countries and in support of our military operations,” Alexander said.

U.S. spying objectives are established by the White House and national security policymakers, Clapper said. Intelligence agencies don’t initiate their own operations outside of those parameters, Clapper said.

“We do only what the policymakers writ large have asked us to do,” Clapper said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Strohm in Washington at cstrohm1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net

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