John McCain, the US senator who lost to Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential elections, wants General Keith Alexander, head of the NSA and US Cyber Command, to resign over revelations that US spies bugged the telephone of Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In a strongly worded interview with Der Spiegel McCain blamed "the head of the NSA, the president of the United States, the Congressional Intelligence Committees, all of these contractors we pay that were responsible for performing the background checks. They should resign or be fired."
Gen Alexander is due to retire in the spring.
McCain admitted there had always been a certain amount of eavesdropping on friends, but the Merkel spying should not have happened. He said he thought the NSA had bugged the German chancellor's phone for at least a decade because it could, and in the wake of the September 11 attacks in 2001 the agency had determined that all potential sources of information should be tapped.
What was needed is an independent commission to look at the state of play and define new operating parameters for the agency, he said. Furthermore he called on Obama to apologize properly to Merkel, rather than his comment that the US "is not monitoring and will not monitor" her phone calls.
The NSA is supposed to be overseen by Congress and the judiciary, but McCain said there had "not been sufficient congressional oversight," of the intelligence agency, and whether too many people in the organization had access to too much classified information, citing the cases of whistleblowers Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden.
In the case of Snowden, McCain opined that the fugitive leaker would most likely never return to the US, but if he did he should be prosecuted for breaking his oath to not release information that would harm the US. That said, he expects Snowden to stay under the protection of Russia's President Putin.
"President Vladimir Putin will grant him asylum indefinitely. The Russians know if they send him back that that's a lesson to other people who might defect," said McCain.
"I'm sure that Mr Snowden has told them everything that he possibly knows. If you believe that Mr Snowden didn't give the Russians information that he has, then you believe that pigs can fly." ®