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US weighs ending spying on allied heads

By Agencies in Washington | China Daily | Updated: 2013-10-30 06:59

Faced with a flood of revelations about US spying practices, the White House is considering ending its eavesdropping on friendly foreign leaders, a senior administration official said.

A final decision has not been made, and the move is still under review, the official said. But the fact that it is even being considered underscores the level of concern within the administration over the possible damage from the monthslong spying scandal - including the most recent disclosure that the National Security Agency was monitoring the communications of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

On Monday, Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called for a "total review of all intelligence programs" following the Merkel allegations. The California Democrat said in a statement that the White House had informed her that "collection on our allies will not continue".

The administration official said that statement was not accurate, but added that some unspecified changes already had been made and more were being considered, including terminating the collection of communications from friendly heads of state. The official was not authorized to discuss the review by name and insisted on anonymity.

Reports based on new leaks from former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden indicate that the NSA listened to Merkel and 34 other foreign leaders.

"With respect to NSA collection of intelligence on leaders of US allies - including France, Spain, Mexico and Germany - let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed," Feinstein said. She added that the US should not be "collecting phone calls or e-mails of friendly presidents and prime ministers" unless in an emergency with approval of the president.

The White House said it will seek to keep US intelligence-gathering operations in check and possibly add new restraints for more transparency amid mounting European ire over US snooping on the continent.

"There are a number of efforts underway that are designed to increase transparency, to work with Congress to look at reform to the Patriot Act (and) to look at ways we can increase oversight and increase constraint on the authorities provided by these programs," presidential spokesman Jay Carney said at a news briefing on Monday.

The New York Times, quoting administration and congressional officials, reported on Monday that US President Barack Obama is considering banning eavesdropping on leaders of US allies following the European furor.

EU officials who are in Washington to meet with lawmakers ahead of White House talks said US surveillance of their people could affect negotiations over a US-Europe trade agreement. They said European privacy must be better protected.

Many officials in Germany and other European governments have made clear, however, that they don't favor suspending the US-EU trade talks that began last summer because both sides stand to gain so much through the proposed deal, especially against competition from China and other emerging markets.

As tensions with European allies escalate, the top US intelligence official declassified dozens of pages of top secret documents in an apparent bid to show the NSA was acting legally when it gathered millions of US citizens' phone records.


 US weighs ending spying on allied heads

A man protests outside the Spanish Foreign Ministry during a meeting of US ambassador in Spain with Spain's European secretary of state in Madrid on Monday. Juan Medina / Reuters

(China Daily 10/30/2013 page11)

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