WASHINGTON — Faced with a flood of revelations about U.S. spying practices, the White House is considering ending eavesdropping on friendly foreign leaders, a senior administration official said.
A final decision has not been made, the official said. The administration is trying to tamp down damage from the months-long spying scandal — including the most recent disclosure that the National Security Agency monitored the communications of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
President Barack Obama said the U.S. government is conducting “a complete review of how our intelligence operates outside the country.” Interviewed on the new television network Fusion on Monday, Obama declined to say when he learned about the spying operations.
“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,” Obama said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called for a “total review of all intelligence programs” following the Merkel allegations. In a statement Monday, the California Democrat said the White House had informed her that “collection on our allies will not continue.”
The administration official said that statement was not accurate, but added that some unspecified changes already had been made and more were being considered, including terminating the collection of communications from friendly heads of state.
The official was not authorized to discuss the review by name and insisted on anonymity.
Lawmakers were set to press for more information about surveillance programs at a House Intelligence Committee hearing Tuesday afternoon.
Reports based on new leaks from former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden indicate that the NSA listened to Merkel and 34 other foreign leaders.
“With respect to NSA collection of intelligence on leaders of U.S. allies — including France, Spain, Mexico and Germany — let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed,” Feinstein said. She added that the U.S. should not be “collecting phone calls or emails of friendly presidents and prime ministers” unless in an emergency with approval of the president.
In response to the revelations, German officials said Monday that the U.S. could lose access to an important law enforcement tool used to track terrorist money flows.
Other longtime allies have also expressed their displeasure about the U.S. spying on their leaders. Spain’s prosecutor’s office said Tuesday it has opened a preliminary inquiry to determine whether a crime was committed by NSA surveillance.
As possible leverage, German authorities cited last week’s non-binding resolution by the European Parliament to suspend a post-9/11 agreement allowing the Americans access to bank transfer data to track the flow of terrorist money.