A new report that the National Security Agency spied on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is highlighting the Republican divide on civil liberties and national security.
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that the NSA maintained surveillance of Netanyahu and other U.S. allies, despite a promise from President Barack Obama two years ago that he would end the practice. The paper, citing current and former U.S. officials, also said that communications between members of Congress and Netanyahu may have been collected in the surveillance.
And House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, a California Republican, announced Wednesday his panel would seek more information from intelligence officials as it investigates the allegations.
“The Committee has requested additional information from the IC to determine which, if any, of these allegations are true, and whether the IC followed all applicable laws, rules, and procedures,” Nunes said in a statement.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul was one of the first 2016 candidates to use the report as opportunity to criticize what he sees as excessive surveillance from government, an issue he’s championed throughout his Senate career.
“This is exactly why we need more NSA reform and the debate in Washington right now has been unfortunately going the other way, since the San Bernardino shooting, everyone’s saying ‘Oh we need more surveillance of Americans,’” the presidential hopeful told Fox News’ “Fox and Friends.” “In reality, what we need is more targeted surveillance. I’m not against surveillance, but I am against indiscriminate surveillance.”
Ben Carson slammed the President in a statement, calling it “truly disgraceful” and blaming both Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic 2016 front-runner.
“Instead of focusing on deterring the Iran nuclear threat and fighting against the Mullahs who chant ‘Death to America,’ President Obama has treated Israel, our staunch, democratic ally in the Middle East, as his real enemy,” Carson said. “Not only did he not curtail surveillance on our close friend, he has once again proven himself to be a president that our enemies need not fear and our friends cannot trust.”
He added: “No doubt President Obama’s former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton knew of the administration’s spying efforts on Israel. It is shameful that she participated in undermining the U.S.-Israeli relationship.”
But Sen. Marco Rubio, who has often clashed Paul and other libertarian-minded Republicans on surveillance questions, urged caution before deciding the Obama administration was out of line.
“I want to be very careful, I’m a member of the (Senate) Intelligence Committee, so obviously I want to be very careful about what I say about information of this kind,” Rubio said Wednesday on “Fox and Friends.” “Obviously people read that report they have a right to be concerned about it this morning. They have a right to be concerned about the fact that, while some leaders around the world are no longer being targeted, our strongest ally in the Middle East, Israel, is. These are all concerns and they’re legitimate.”
National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said the Obama administration would “not comment on any specific alleged intelligence activities,” but did reaffirm the council’s support for Israel.
“When it comes to Israel, President Obama has said repeatedly that the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct. This message has always been backed by concrete actions that demonstrate the depth of U.S. support for Israel,” Price said.
Price did not address whether members of Congress were swept up in the eavesdropping.
A spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan said only that “We’ve seen the report and are looking into it.”