US National Security Agency

Obama to order the NSA to stop spying on leaders of US allies

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 October, 2013, 4:19am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 October, 2013, 8:52am

US President Barack Obama is poised to order the National Security Agency to stop eavesdropping on the leaders of its allies, officials said, responding to a deepening diplomatic crisis.

The White House informed the Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of its plans, which grew out of a broader internal review of intelligence-gathering methods, prompted by the leak of NSA documents by a former contractor, Edward Snowden.

Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Monday: "I do not believe the United States should be collecting phone calls or e-mails of friendly presidents and prime ministers."

Feinstein, a stalwart defender of the administration's surveillance policies, said her committee would begin a "major review of all intelligence collection programmes".

The White House said no final decision had been made on the monitoring of friendly foreign leaders. But the move would signal a landmark shift for the NSA, which has collected data on tens of millions of people around the world, from ordinary citizens to heads of state, including the leaders of Brazil and Mexico.

It is also likely to prompt a debate on what constitutes an American ally.

Prohibiting eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone is an easier judgment than collecting intelligence on the military-backed leaders in Egypt.

"We have already made some decisions through this process and expect to make more," said Caitlin Hayden of the National Security Council. The review will be completed in December.

Feinstein said the White House had told her it would cease all intelligence collection in friendly countries.

That statement, senior officials said, was "not accurate", but they said they had made changes and planned more, particularly in the monitoring of government leaders.