Minister under fire for wrongly blaming US for domestic spying
A Dutch cabinet minister faced calls to quit yesterday after admitting he wrongly told Parliament that 1.8 million telecommunications intercepts had been collected by the US National Security Agency, rather than the Dutch spy service.
His departure would come at a bad time for Prime Minister Mark Rutte's coalition government. It is polling close to the lowest level since taking power in November 2012, and only two weeks ago saw deputy finance minister Frans Weekers resign over a benefits scandal.
Internal Affairs Minister Ronald Plasterk wrote on Monday in a letter to Parliament that it was the Dutch intelligence service, not the NSA, that had collected the so-called metadata.
Plasterk said he had known for more than two months that he had provided incorrect information, but only rectified the error in Monday's letter.
Explaining his error, he said he had sought to counter media reports in Germany and France that 1.8 million Dutch phone calls had been bugged, and had suggested the NSA had done so, which turned out to be wrong.
Plasterk said the Netherlands shared that metadata with the NSA and he defended his decision not to be more forthcoming earlier, saying he wanted to protect "the modus operandi of the state intelligence service".
Several opposition parties have called for Plasterk - a prominent member of the Labour Party, which shares power with the Liberals - to quit. Plasterk was expected to defend his actions later yesterday in a parliamentary debate, during which he may still face a no-confidence vote.