Obama Unaware as U.S. Spied on World Leaders

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from The Wall Street Journal,

NSA Stopped Surveillance of Merkel, Others After White House Review.

The National Security Agency ended a program used to spy on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a number of other world leaders after an internal Obama administration review started this summer revealed to the White House the existence of the operation, U.S. officials said.

Officials said the internal review turned up NSA monitoring of some 35 world leaders, in the U.S. government’s first public acknowledgment that it tapped the phones of world leaders. European leaders have joined international outrage over revelations of U.S. surveillance of Ms. Merkel’s phone and of NSA’s monitoring of telephone call data in France.

The White House cut off some monitoring programs after learning of them, including the one tracking Ms. Merkel and some other world leaders, a senior U.S. official said. Other programs have been slated for termination but haven’t been phased out completely yet, officials said.

The account suggests President Barack Obama went nearly five years without knowing his own spies were bugging the phones of world leaders. Officials said the NSA has so many eavesdropping operations under way that it wouldn’t have been practical to brief him on all of them.

They added that the president was briefed on and approved of broader intelligence-collection “priorities,” but that those below him make decisions about specific intelligence targets.

The senior U.S. official said that the current practice has been for these types of surveillance decisions to be made at the agency level.

The administration didn’t end all operations involving world leaders following this summer’s revelations because some of the programs are producing intelligence of use to the U.S.

It could not be learned Sunday how many of the eavesdropping operations were stopped, or who is on the list of leaders still under surveillance.

It is unclear how far back the tapping of Ms. Merkel dates. Germany’s Der Spiegel newsweekly, citing NSA documents Mr. Snowden leaked, reported the monitoring dates back to 2002, before she was elected. If so, it is less likely NSA would have had a reason to brief the Obama White House without a specific reason to do so, because it would have been seen as one of many continuing surveillance programs at the agency.

This summer, President Obama launched two reviews—an internal one and an external one. He highlighted them in a speech in August as part of a series of measures being taken to respond to the domestic uproar over NSA’s extensive spying practices in the U.S.

Traditionally the U.S. and four other countries—known as the five eyes—don’t spy on each other. The five eyes are the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The administration reviews are largely focused on countries other than the five eyes, officials said.

Officials involved in the review have met with a wide range of interested parties, including Mr. Obama, lawmakers and privacy groups, said current and former officials, who add that, despite criticism of government coziness, the group plans to take a hard look at the NSA’s practices.

Its members include Richard Clarke, who was a counterterrorism chief for former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush ; former Central Intelligence Agency Deputy Director Michael Morell ; University of Chicago Law School professor Geoffrey Stone ; former White House regulatory official Cass Sunstein ; and former Clinton and Obama administration economic and privacy official Peter Swire.

The group plans to issue an unclassified report. Its deadline for completion is Dec. 15.

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