U.S. officials responded Sunday night to a report that the National Security Agency ended a program used to spy on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other world leaders only after an internal Obama administration review started this summer exposed the operation.
An unnamed senior official told The Wall Street Journal that the White House "cut off some monitoring programs after learning of them, including the one tracking Ms. Merkel and some other world leaders. Other programs have been slated for termination but haven't been phased out completely yet."
The NSC issued a statement late Sunday noting that the administration is reviewing the spy program, but it did not address the specifics of the Journal story.
"Today's world is highly interconnected, and the flow of large amounts of data is unprecedented. That's why the President has directed us to review our surveillance capabilities, including when it comes to our closest foreign partners and allies," Caitlin Hayden, National Security Council spokewoman, said in the statement. "Through this review, led by the White House, the United States is reviewing the way that we gather intelligence to ensure that we properly account for the security concerns of our citizens and allies and the privacy concerns that all people share, and to ensure that our intelligence resources most effectively support our foreign policy and national security objectives."
She added, "The Administration's review is ongoing so I'm not in a position to discuss the details. I am also not going to detail our internal discussions."
According to the Journal, the unnamed officials said the internal review disclosed NSA monitoring of 35 world leaders. The U.S. government has not publically acknowledged the phone tapping, which came to light last week. Last week White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that Obama had assured Merkel that the United States "is not monitoring and will not monitor" the communications of the chancellor.
Germany's interior minister is pressing for "complete information" from Washington on the alleged U.S. surveillance of Merkel's cellphone and any other snooping, The Associated Press reported.
Merkel complained to President Barack Obama on Wednesday after receiving information her phone may have been monitored. German spy chiefs are planning to travel to Washington for talks.
Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich was quoted Sunday as telling newspaper Bild am Sonntag he wants "complete information on all accusations" and that "if the Americans intercepted cellphones in Germany, they broke German law on German soil." He added wiretapping is a crime and "those responsible must be held accountable."
News magazine Der Spiegel, whose research prompted the government's response, reported that a document apparently from an NSA database indicates Merkel's cellphone was first listed as a target in 2002.
With reporting by The Associated Press.