US Senator John McCain called on National Security Agency (NSA) 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 US President Barck 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 did not know about the eavesdropping, “but the fact remains that he should have known it. Responsibility always stops at the president’s desk,” McCain added. “Knowing how angry Angela Merkel was, he should have apologized.”
A spokesman for McCain disputed Der Spiegel’s reporting, saying the senator was not specifically targeting Alexander and that the magazine’s translation did not 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,” spokesman Brian Rogers 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 agency’s 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 US over suggestions that the NSA may have tapped Merkel’s personal mobile phone.
While the revelations risked a rift over broader US surveillance of German citizens, Merkel’s government made clear last week that its trans-Atlantic relationship with the US is paramount and would ride out the spying scandal.
McCain, 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.”