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McCain calls for firings over NSA tapping Merkel's phone

| Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013, 7:18 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain called on National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander to quit over the damage done by revelations that his agency may have tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone.

The disclosures and allegations meant it was time for a “wholesale housecleaning,” including a personal apology to Merkel by President Obama and repercussions for Alexander, McCain said in an interview with the German news magazine Der Spiegel published on Sunday.

“Of course he should resign or be fired,” McCain said when asked whether Alexander should quit. It's “conceivable” that Obama didn't know about the eavesdropping, “but the fact remains that he should have known it. Responsibility always stops at the president's desk,” he added. “Knowing how angry Angela Merkel was, he should have apologized.”

A spokesman for McCain disputed Der Spiegel's reporting, saying the senator wasn't specifically targeting Alexander and that the magazine's translation didn't accurately reflect the senator's comments.

“Senator McCain believes that there needs to be accountability for the Snowden leaks, but he is not calling for the resignation of General Alexander, who is retiring soon,” Brian Rogers, the McCain spokesman, said in an e-mail.

Alexander has said he would step down as NSA director in March, a decision the Obama administration has said preceded the backlash over revelations about NSA surveillance programs. Most of the spying was exposed by Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor who fled to Russia, where he has temporary asylum.

Merkel called Obama last month to demand clarification after Der Spiegel reported that German authorities had enough information to confront the United States over suggestions that the NSA may have tapped Merkel's personal mobile phone. While the revelations risked a rift over broader U.S. surveillance of German citizens, Merkel's government made clear last week that its trans-Atlantic relationship with the United States is paramount and would ride out the spying scandal.

McCain, a former presidential candidate who sits on both the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, said the allegations of phone tapping had overstepped “certain boundaries.”

He proposed that the Obama administration set up a commission to make recommendations on intelligence gathering in the post-Sept. 11, 2001, world, including “credible people here and around the world” such as former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and ex-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“Friends spy on friends, we all know that, but there have to be certain boundaries,” McCain said. “Those boundaries were probably, to some degree, there because we didn't have the capabilities we have now. But when you go to the point where you invade someone's privacy, the leader of certainly Europe, if not one of the foremost leaders in the world, Angela Merkel, then it was a mistake.”

Asked how damaging it would be to U.S.-German relations if Germany were to grant asylum to Snowden, McCain said that Merkel “would never consider such a thing.”

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