Amid a growing controversy surrounding reports that the U.S. monitored the personal phone calls of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Obama may order the NSA to end its spying program that targets allied heads of state, though no final decision has been made.
Citing administration and congressional officials, the New York Times reports that the White House told Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who had previously expressed support for the NSA's PRISM program, of their plans on Monday. Feinstein went public with the White House's reported plan, criticizing the spying program and calling for a congressional investigation. From her statement:
“Unless the United States is engaged in hostilities against a country or there is an emergency need for this type of surveillance, I do not believe the United States should be collecting phone calls or emails of friendly presidents and prime ministers. The president should be required to approve any collection of this sort.
“It is my understanding that President Obama was not aware Chancellor Merkel’s communications were being collected since 2002. That is a big problem.
“The White House has informed me that collection on our allies will not continue, which I support. But as far as I’m concerned, Congress needs to know exactly what our intelligence community is doing. To that end, the committee will initiate a major review into all intelligence collection programs.”
The White House quickly released a statement saying that any plans were not definite, and at least one senior administration official said Feinstein's statement was “not accurate.”
But still: That the Obama administration is at least considering an an end to the programs is something, though it's almost certainly not enough to appease Merkel and the at least 34 other heads of states the NSA has monitored.
Meanwhile, current and former intelligence officials are denying reports—including the one apparently read by Feinstein—that the White House only just recently found out about the NSA's targeting of foreign leaders; on Sunday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Obama was not informed of the programs, including the one used to spy on Merkel, until this summer, five years after he took office.
From the Los Angeles Times:
Some U.S. intelligence officials said they were being blamed by the White House for conducting surveillance that was authorized under the law and utilized at the White House.
"People are furious," said a senior intelligence official who would not be identified discussing classified information. "This is officially the White House cutting off the intelligence community."
Any decision to spy on friendly foreign leaders is made with input from the State Department, which considers the political risk, the official said. Any useful intelligence is then given to the president's counter-terrorism advisor, Lisa Monaco, among other White House officials.
[Image via AP]