The head of the super-secret U.S. National Security Agency says reports that it collected telephone records of millions of European citizens are completely false.
Keith Alexander told a congressional panel Tuesday that European spy agencies shared those records with the NSA. Alexander said the details were used to defend U.S. and European forces in the field and citizens at home.
The NSA chief said European newspapers misinterpreted documents stolen from the NSA by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
Reports that the NSA collected U.S. phone records and monitored communications from 35 world leaders have outraged millions of Americans of all political persuasions.
But Alexander said the NSA's massive worldwide collection of telephone and Internet data stopped 13 terrorist plots in the United States and 25 plots in Europe in recent years.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also appeared before Congress Tuesday, saying that collecting information about foreign leaders is a "basic tenet" of U.S. spying. He said it is necessary to know the policies of foreign leaders and how their intentions might affect the U.S.
When Clapper was asked if U.S. allies also have spied on the United States, he said "absolutely."
Clapper called Snowden's disclosures "extremely damaging to our ability to protect the country." But he said "we do not spy indiscriminately," only for "valid intelligence purposes."
Some U.S. lawmakers have called for new, sharp restrictions on the country's intelligence gathering. A delegation of European Union lawmakers is in Washington to meet with U.S. officials about the spying allegations.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel telephoned President Barack Obama last week to voice her personal protest, saying international friends cannot condone such snooping.