WASHINGTON – The National Security Agency has been snooping on the phone conversations of 35 world leaders, according to the latest leak passed on by NSA squealer Edward Snowden.
A classified document provided by Snowden says the spy agency got its hands on 200 high-powered phone numbers after a U.S. government official handed them over.
The official was not named.
The revelation – which is certain to cause another headache for the White House – is contained in an internal 2006 NSA memo obtained by Britain’s Guardian newspaper titled “Customers Can Help [signals intelligence directorate] Obtain Targetable Phone Numbers.”
The word “customers” appears to refer U.S. government officials.
The memo, whose author’s name was blacked out in the story, cheerfully reports how the useful information got into the hands of the secretive snooping agency.
“S2 welcomes such information!” the memo announces, referring to Systems Intelligence, while raising the possibility that other NSA liaisons “may be willing to share their ‘Rolodexes’ or phone lists with NSA.”
“In one recent case, a US official provided NSA with 200 phone numbers to 35 world leaders,” it states, before noting there had been “little reportable intelligence from these particular numbers.”
But it added that the digits “have provided lead information to other numbers that have subsequently been tasked.”
The Obama administration has faced a a series of diplomatic flare-ups as a result of Snowden’s disclosures that the U.S. has spied on the leaders of Germany, Brazil, and Mexico.
Snowden, a former NSA contractor, has been living in Russia since making off with troves of NSA data this summer.
On Thursday, after reports that the NSA had accessed her cell phone, German Chancellor Angela Merkel fumed that “spying among friends is never acceptable, no matter in what situation.”
Merkel phoned President Obama Wednesday to discuss the situation, and the German Foreign ministry summoned the U.S. ambassador in Berlin to discuss it.
“Now we have to discuss what sort of data protection do we need and what sort of transparency is there,” said Merkel – who grew up in East Germany, where the notorious Stasi spied on inhabitants.
Germany is a key U.S. ally, and its economy is the main engine of Europe.
The Snowden-provided memo dates from President George W. Bush’s second term, but the fallout is squarely in Obama’s lap.
White House press secretary Jay Carney was questioned repeatedly Thursday about whether the U.S. had targeted Merkel’s phone — after Carney said Obama assured Merkel the U.S. “is not monitoring and will not monitor” Merkel’s communications.
Pressed on whether this had happened in the past, Carney dodged: “We are not going to comment publicly on every specified, alleged intelligence activity. We have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations.”
Carney said the U.S. has diplomatic channels that it uses “in order to discuss these issues.”
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cancelled a planned DC visit and state dinner that had been set for this month after revelations about NSA snooping in her country.
An NSA spokeswoman wouldn’t respond directly when asked whether the White House or State Department as a matter of policy encouraged officials to turn over world leader phone numbers.
Filed underAngela Merkel, Edward Snowden, Government, NSA, Security, Spying, State Department, Washington, White House