Jose Luis Magana / AP)
Washington— The Obama administration is considering ending spying on allied heads of state, a senior administration official said, as the White House grappled with the fallout from revelations that the U.S. has eavesdropped on German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The official said late Monday that a final decision had not been made and an internal review was still under way.
The revelations about National Security Agency monitoring of Merkel were the latest in a months-long spying scandal that has strained longstanding alliances with some of America’s closest allies. Earlier Monday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called for a “total review of all intelligence programs.”
Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement that 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.
As a result of the spying allegations, German officials said Monday the U.S. could lose access to an important law enforcement tool used to track terrorist money flows. 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.
A top German official said Monday she believed the Americans were using the information obtained from Merkel to gather economic intelligence apart from terrorism and that the agreement known as SWIFT should be suspended.
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.
“It really isn’t enough to be outraged,” German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said Monday. “This would be a signal that something can happen and make clear to the Americans that the (EU’s) policy is changing.”
Feinstein called for a “total review” of all U.S. intelligence programs in response to the allegations — activity the California Democrat said she wasn’t told about.
Feinstein says while the intelligence community has kept her apprised of other issues, like the court orders on telephone record collection, intelligence officials failed to brief her on how they followed foreign leaders.
Her statement follows reports based on new leaks from former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden indicating that the NSA listened to German Chancellor Angela 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 in her statement Monday. She said 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.
European Union officials who are in Washington to meet with lawmakers ahead of White House talks said U.S. surveillance of their people could affect negotiations over a U.S.-Europe trade agreement.
Many officials in Germany and other European governments have made clear, however, that they don’t favor suspending the U.S.-EU trade talks which began last summer because both sides stand to gain so much through the proposed deal, especially against competition from China and other emerging markets.