The U.S. says it is considering whether it should be spying on leaders of American allies after reports of surveillance that government officials say President Barack Obama was not aware of until a few months ago, even though it dates to 2002.
One senior Obama administration official said no decisions have been made about the snooping, although the program was being reviewed. But Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she was told by the White House that "collection on our allies will not continue."
Obama told ABC News Monday that he gave U.S. national security agencies policy directions, but that he wanted to make sure that they did not exceed his orders even if their technological capabilities would allow them to do so.
"What we've seen over the last several years is their capacities continue to develop and expand and that's why I'm initiating now a review to make sure that what they're able to do doesn't necessarily mean what they should be doing," said the president.
The Obama administration has been widely condemned in recent weeks for the scope of the surveillance conducted by the clandestine U.S. National Security Agency. It routinely collects data on millions of phone calls and Internet exchanges across the globe as it attempts to thwart terrorist attacks against the U.S.
But the protests against the spying intensified in recent days with the revelation that the U.S. has monitored the personal communications of 35 world leaders, including the cellphone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel since 2002, three years before she took over the Berlin government. The reports on the U.S. spying stem from the continuing leak of documents provided by former national security contractor Edward Snowden, a U.S. fugitive now living in asylum in Russia.
Feinstein, a California Democrat who normally is a supporter of the Obama administration, said her panel "was not satisfactorily informed" about the extent of the U.S. spying. In a statement, she said she was "unequivocally" opposed to spying on the leaders of such U.S. allies as France, Spain, Mexico and Germany.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and other officials are set to testify Tuesday before a congressional panel about the NSA surveillance.
A large delegation of European Union lawmakers is in Washington for a series of meetings with U.S. lawmakers and intelligence officials about the spying allegations.
Germany said it would soon send its intelligence chiefs to Washington to demand answers. Merkel called Obama last week to voice her personal protest, saying that international friends cannot condone such snooping.
German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger suggested severing U.S. access to an important law enforcement tool used to track terrorist money flows. The SWIFT agreement, signed after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, allows the U.S. access to information about the funds transferred through the private, Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, which handles the movement of money between banks worldwide.
Germany is also working with Brazil on a draft U.N. General Assembly resolution to guarantee privacy in electronic communications. U.N. diplomats say it would call for extending the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to Internet activities, but would not mention the United States.
(c) 2012 Federal Information & News Dispatch, Inc.
Original headline: Obama Considers End to Reported Spying on Allied Leaders
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