World leaders may be chattering about the National Security Agency's alleged monitoring of their communications, but Chuck Hagel remained tight-lipped today about the widening international brouhaha.
The NSA is supervised by both the Defense Department as well as the Director of National Intelligence, so the Defense Secretary's comments would certainly have some relevance.
At a joint news conference today with New Zealand's Defense Minister Jonathan Coleman, Hagel deflected questions about what he knew about reports that the NSA monitored world leaders, including U.S. allies.
"I don't discuss conversations I've had in National Security Council meetings. I certainly don't discuss publicly conversations we have regarding intelligence," he said bluntly.
"We are examining all the different dynamics that are now out there, and the procedures, and processes," Hagel added. "I think the White House has been very clear on that. I think those who lead our intelligence community have been very clear on that."
The United States values its intelligence partnership with allies, he said.
"We have great respect for our partners, our allies, who cooperate with us and we cooperate with them to try keep the world safe, to try to keep each other safe, to keep our nations safe," Hagel said. "Intelligence is a key part of that. And I think this issue will continue to be explored, but that's all I have to say. "
When pressed further about whether he knew about the program, he responded, "I don't comment on intelligence matters and that's all I've got to say about it."
Coleman brushed aside the question, saying, "New Zealand is not worried at all about this. We don't believe it would be occurring."
"Quite frankly, there'd be nothing that anyone could hear in our private conversations that we wouldn't be prepared to share publicly," Coleman added.
He pointed to a recent cartoon in a Wellington newspaper that seemed to capture any potential concerns about the U.S. spying on New Zealand's leadership. It "showed an analyst potentially listening to the communiques from New Zealand and a big stream of Z's coming out," Coleman noted wryly, drawing chuckles from those in attendance.
"So, you know, I don't think New Zealand's got anything to worry about. And we have high trust in our relationships with the U.S.," Coleman said.