The NSA on Wednesday categorically rejected a report in an Italian newsmagazine that it spied on the Vatican ahead of this year's conclave to select a new pope.
“The National Security Agency does not target the Vatican,” NSA spokeswoman Vanee’ Vines said. “Assertions that NSA has targeted the Vatican, published in Italy’s Panorama magazine, are not true.”
The Italian weekly said the spy agency listened in on phone calls to and from the Vatican, including those of then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis. The accusation of the U.S. spying on a world leader is the latest in a string that has angered allies across the world.
The intercepted conversations fell within four categories, according to Panorama: “leadership intentions,” “threats to financial systems,” “foreign policy objectives” and “human rights.” The notoriously secretive Vatican holds sway to varying degrees with about 1.2 billion believers worldwide and has been at the forefront on many foreign policy issues of interest to the United States, notably calling for the creation of a global political authority to manage the world economy and opposing the Iraq War.
A spokesman for the Vatican said he was unaware of the allegations and downplayed the report.
“We have heard nothing of this and are not worried about it,” Federico Lombardi told the Agence France-Presse.
At the same time, European lawmakers are in Washington to investigate revelations from former contractor Edward Snowden that the NSA spied on European leaders and collected Web traffic to and from Europe.
Separately, senior administration officials were scheduled to meet Wednesday with German intelligence officials at the White House to discuss allegations that the National Security Agency tapped Chancellor Angela Merkel's cellphone.