The U.S. continued to spy on select leaders of allied nations, a new report cites. | Getty
The article, published Tuesday afternoon, reports that the U.S. continued to spy on select leaders of allied nations despite President Barack Obama’s pledge to curb such surveillance two years ago, and that it was a top priority to maintain spying on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government.
As part of that continued surveillance, the National Security Agency also swept up communication showing Israeli officials trying to turn lawmakers against the international deal that curbed Iran’s nuclear capabilities, the article said.
One senior U.S. official described the discovery of the swept-up communication as an “Oh s— moment” and feared that the executive branch would be accused of spying on Congress.
According to the report, Obama administration officials thought the information it uncovered could potentially counteract Netanyahu’s crusade to stop the nuclear deal. But rather than make a formal request to the NSA for the back-and-forth, an official said, the White House opted to allow the NSA to decide on its own — without leaving a paper trail by submitting a formal request.
“We didn’t say, ‘Do it,’” a senior U.S. official told the newspaper. “We didn’t say, ‘Don’t do it.’”
The report said the NSA removed the names of the lawmakers and personal information, as well as “trash talk” about the White House.
Officials said Obama insisted that keeping tabs on Netanyahu served a “compelling national security purpose.” In a speech, Obama alluded to an exception for certain leaders but didn’t name any specific individuals.
Behind closed doors, the White House agreed on which allied leaders would be exempt from surveillance, such as French President François Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders, the report said. But the administration still allowed the NSA to target their advisers, officials told the Journal, as well as other allies, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The Wall Street Journal conducted interviews with more than two dozen current and former U.S. intelligence officials. Government officials representing Israel, Germany and France all declined to comment to the Journal. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the NSA also declined.