The White House was unaware of National Security Agency surveillance targeting world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and ordered the spy agency to cease some monitoring programs after learning of them, according to a report Sunday in The Wall Street Journal.
The Journal report contradicts a story in the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag that suggests that the president was personally briefed on the operation to monitor Merkel’s phone three years ago.
But according to the Journal’s reporting, President Obama only authorized broad intelligence-gathering priorities. Senior administration officials told the newspaper that individual surveillance levels were made on the agency level.
The report comes as top German intelligence officials were set to travel to Washington this week to ask questions about the alleged surveillance of Merkel.
On Friday, NBC News reported the White House might be open to no-spy agreements with Germany and other close allies outraged over the alleged surveillance of their leaders’ phone and digital communications.
“We are already in diplomatic and intelligence channels talking to the Germans, French, countries around the world — Brazil and Mexico, as well,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told the network. “I think we’ll have a series of bilateral discussions with these countries and look at multilateral discussions as well.”
The U.S. has pre-existing no-spy agreements with Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain.
Obama assured Merkel in a personal phone conversation that the U.S. would not monitor her personal communications in the future.
But some Republicans — including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rodgers (R-Mich.) — said European leaders should not complain about American intelligence operations.
“I would argue by the way, if the French citizens knew exactly what that was about, they would be applauding and popping champagne corks,” Rodgers told CNN.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said the president should not apologize for the spy craft.
The president should stop apologizing, stop being defensive,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “The reality is the NSA has saved thousands of lives, not just in the United States but in France, Germany and throughout Europe. Quite frankly, the NSA has done so much for our country and so much for the president. He’s the commander in chief. He should stand with the NSA.”