Letta quizzes Kerry on US spy claims

(By Paul Virgo)

(ANSA) - Rome, October 23 - Premier Enrico Letta quizzed United States Secretary of State John Kerry about reports Italians were among millions of people to have their phone conversations tapped by the US National Security Agency (NSA) in a meeting in Rome on Wednesday, government sources said.

The issue was raised at the meeting after Le Monde newspaper reported that the NSA tapped calls of foreign nationals, including French and Italians.

This prompted the French government to summon the US ambassador to Paris on Tuesday and Italy's privacy watchdog and intelligence supervisory committee to ask Letta's executive to clarify to what extent Italian citizens were being spied upon.

The Office of the US Director of National Intelligence (DNI) issued a statement that said the Le Monde report contained "inaccurate and misleading information regarding U.S. foreign intelligence activities".

But concerns remain and Letta raised them at a meeting scheduled for talks on the Middle East.

Letta brought up the "need to verify the veracity of the reports" on any "eventual violations of privacy", the government sources said.

The sources added that Kerry was cooperative and that the US had agreed to "review" the issue.

During the conversation, which lasted over an hour, Kerry told Letta that the US wanted to "find the right balance between protection of security and the privacy of our citizens", US embassy sources said.

Interior Minister and Deputy Premier Angelino Alfano, meanwhile, told journalists that Rome would not be shy about getting to the bottom of the affair.

"We have a duty to (provide) clarity to Italian citizens - we must obtain the whole truth and tell the whole truth, without regard for anyone," Alfano said.

A politician for the left-wing SEL party, Claudio Fava, said on Tuesday that a security delegation was told during a trip to the US three weeks ago that Italian communications, like many in France, have been monitored by Americans and that the Italian intelligence services were aware of this.

But Marco Minniti, the undersecretary with the intelligence brief, denied this.

"I feel I can exclude the possibility that the (Italian intelligence) services knew," Minniti told parliament's intelligence supervisory committee Copasir on Wednesday.

Copasir chief Giacomo Stucchi, who went on the trip too, has also denied the Italian government knew of any NSA monitoring of Italian communications.

"In every encounter, we had the confirmation that the (Italian) government did not know about the Prism program. Thus to say that our intelligence services knew, when the government did not, is not correct," Stucchi said.

"In the NSA headquarters, they told us that they gathered information on traffic data, but none in Italy.

"It was said that there are filters and devices to avoid (indiscriminate tapping in cases of allied countries).

"We ask the (Italian) government to clarify if, effectively, the information transmitted (to the Italian delegation) is true with respect to our fellow citizens. This doubt is more than legitimate".

When the first news reports based on documents leaked by ex-NSA consultant Edward Snowden broke in June, Copasir called in the director of the Italian security intelligence agency DIS, Gianpiero Massolo, to explain what he knew about US spying on Italy and Italians.

Massolo denied that any sensitive Italian data was being passed to US intelligence and dismissed the notion that Italian embassies in the US were being spied on.

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