The United States is understood to have decided to end the NSA’s spying on presidents and prime ministers of allied countries, a practice said to be running for a decade now.
“The White House has informed me that collection on our allies will not continue,” said Senate intelligence committee chairperson Dianne Feinstein in a statement on Monday.
US media reports had indicated that the president ended National Security Agency’s spying on allies after finding about it during an internal review of intelligence gathering past summer.
The White House has said the president didn’t know of the practice, which is said to have started in 2002 to spy on leaders of allied countries as well as others.
Reports based on leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden have said the agency spied on 35 world leaders, one of them was German chancellor Angela Merkel. First reports were about NSA spying on Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, who cancelled her US visit in protest, and Mexico’s Enrique Pena Nieto.
Other allies spied upon — citizens, not leaders — include so for France and Spain, all of whom have reacted angrily, though experts insisted they shouldn’t have. “Remember 9/11 was launched from Europe not Middle East,” former CIA operative Bob Baer has said about NSA’s spying on European allies such as Germany, France and Spain.
But snooping on their leaders seems — Merkel’s cellphone and mail were monitored — to have shocked even people like Feinstein, who has defended most of NSA’s activities.
“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,” she said.
And the fact that the president didn’t know about it was a “big problem”. Feinstein said her committee was initiating a major review of “all intelligence collection” programmes.
Meanwhile, the US Trade Representative said it would be unfortunate if the furor over Washington’s spying on European leaders disrupts negotiations for a transatlantic free-trade zone. The remark came at a time when a senior European official warned that it is “urgent and essential” that US take action to rebuild transatlantic ties after the revelation that it spied on European leaders.