Oct. 28, 2013— -- President Obama today declined to say whether he was aware U.S. intelligence had been monitoring the German chancellor's cellphone as he chatted amiably with her four months ago.
But in an exclusive interview for the launch of ABC News/Univision joint venture Fusion, Obama assured the U.S. people that national security operations are only being used to protect them and are being reassessed to make sure the National Security Agency's growing technical spying prowess is kept under control.
"The national security operations, generally, have one purpose and that is to make sure the American people are safe and that I'm making good decisions," Obama said. "I'm the final user of all the intelligence that they gather. But they're involved in a whole wide range of issues.
"We give them policy direction, but what we've seen over the last several years is their capacities continue to develop and expand, and that's why I'm initiating now a review to make sure that what they're able to do, doesn't necessarily mean what they should be doing," Obama said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said today that no one told the president of the spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"The White House has informed me that collection on our allies will not continue, which I support," the California Democrat said in a statement. "But as far as I'm concerned, Congress needs to know exactly what our intelligence community is doing. To that end, the committee will initiate a major review into all intelligence collection programs."
The president's comments come amid new uproar among U.S. allies. Spain today became the latest country to accuse U.S. intelligence agencies of gathering mega-data on its citizens, joining France, Germany, Brazil and Mexico.
Meanwhile, a European Union delegation traveled to Washington to complain that America has gone too far.
Elmar Brok, German member of the European Parliament and the chairman of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs, said, "it's a question of limits."
"The limit is how can we target only fighting terrorism and not spy on everyone in the citizenship and also the leaders of the allied forces," Brok said. "Therefore, we have to see that the balance, the balance between security and freedom has to be established."
But some outside experts say the reports of spying are not out of the ordinary.
"All great powers engage in espionage," said Jim Lewis, director and senior fellow of the Technology and Public Policy Program for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "All great powers use espionage as a tool to advance their national interest.
"They want to know what the other side is thinking. They want to improve their own military. Maybe they want to get a little advantage in negotiations. This is a common thread and when you look at great powers, people who can afford it, all engage in it in some way."
Obama on Health Care Affordability: 'Less Than Your Cellphone Bill'
In today's exclusive interview, Obama also commented on a new study out tonight by the Department of Health and Human Services that found 46 percent of single young adults (ages 18 to 34), who are uninsured, could obtain health plans through the exchanges for $50 per month.
"Less than your cellphone bill, less than your cable bill," Obama said. "And about 70 percent can get if for less than 100 bucks a month."