WASHINGTON (AFP) - Europeans should be grateful for US spying operations because they keep them safe, US lawmakers said on Sunday, urging allies to improve their own intelligence and oversight efforts.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers called "disingenuous" foreign governments' outrage over the National Security Agency's large dragnet over communications of several dozen world leaders and ordinary citizens.
And he blamed the news media for getting the story wrong.
"I think the bigger news story here would be... if the United States intelligence services weren't trying to collect information that would protect US interests both (at) home and abroad," the Republican told CNN.
The NSA denied German press reports that President Barack Obama was personally informed since 2002 that US spies were tapping on top ally Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.
And National Security Council spokesman Caitlin Hayden said US intelligence gathering was simply "of the type gathered by all nations." Mr Dick Cheney, the former US vice-president who wielded vast influence on intelligence matters during the George W. Bush administration's "war on terror," said US spying on allies was nothing new.
"It's something that we have been involved in a long time," he told ABC television.
The spying row prompted European leaders late last week to demand a new deal with Washington on intelligence gathering that would maintain an essential alliance while keeping the fight against terrorism on track.
But Representative Peter King, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, said Mr Obama should "stop apologising" about the NSA's phone-tapping scandal, claiming the programmes had saved "thousands" of lives.
"The president should stop apologising and stop being defensive," he told NBC.
"The reality is the NSA has saved thousands of lives, not just in the United States but in France, Germany and throughout Europe." Mr King also suggested the French had conducted similar operations themselves and should therefore tamp down their criticism.
"The French is someone to talk. They carried out operations against the United States, the government and industry," he said.
Mr Rogers said that French citizens would celebrate US phone intercepts in their country if they realized how the practice keeps them safe.
"If the French citizens knew exactly what that was about, they would be applauding and popping champagne corks. It's a good thing. it keeps the French safe. It keeps the US safe. It keeps our European allies safe," he added.
"This whole notion that we're going to go after each other on what is really legitimate protection of nation-state interest, I think is disingenuous." The congressman called for improved intelligence oversight in European capitals, contrasting allies' approaches to the United States, where he stressed the government must first obtain approval from a special court to monitor communications.
"They need to have a better oversight structure in Europe," Mr Rogers said. "I think they would be enlightened to find out what their intelligence services may or may not be doing." The Republican lawmaker said the news media was "100 per cent wrong" in suggesting that the NSA monitored up to 70 million French telephone records in a single month.
"They're seeing three or four pieces of a 1,000-piece puzzle and wanted to come to a conclusion," he added, insisting the records collection was a counterterrorism programme that did not target French citizens.
Rogers also suggested that US leaders failed to foresee the rise of fascism and communism in early 20th century Europe because American spies were not spying extensively on European allies' communications.
"In the 1930s, we had this debate before. We decided we were going to turn off our ability to even listen to friends," he said.
"Look what happened in the 30s, the rise of fascism and communism. We didn't see any of it. It resulted in the death of really tens of millions of people." But the Republican lawmaker stressed that any intelligence activities between allies should remain "respectful" and "accurate," as well as be subjected to proper oversight.