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Monday Oct 28, 2013

US says NSA spying on world leaders stopped

WASHINGTON: The National Security Agency spied on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders, US officials acknowledged, but most of the spying has stopped.

The halt to the phone tapping on about 35 world leaders came after the existence of such surveillance appeared in an internal Obama administration review that was started over the summer, the officials told The Wall Street Journal.

The White House called off some monitoring programs after learning of them, including the one tracking Merkel and some other world leaders, a senior US official told the newspaper.

Other programs scheduled to end are still going on because they haven't been phased out completely, the officials said.

The account -- the administration's first public acknowledgement it tapped world leaders' phones -- suggests President Barack Obama went nearly five years without knowing the spying was going on, the Journal said.

The NSA said in a statement Sunday NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander "did not discuss with President Obama in 2010 an alleged foreign intelligence operation involving German Chancellor Merkel, nor has he ever discussed alleged operations involving Chancellor Merkel. News reports claiming otherwise are not true."

The German newspaper Bild am Sonntag reported Obama was personally briefed by Alexander about the operation to target Merkel's phone. It said Obama allowed the spying to continue.

The NSA did not say in its statement whether anyone else had briefed Obama on the spying.

Officials told the Journal the NSA has so many eavesdropping operations it was impractical to brief Obama on all of them.

Obama knew about and approved broader intelligence-collection "priorities," but didn't decide about specific intelligence targets, the officials said.

"These decisions are made at NSA," the senior US official told the Journal. "The president doesn't sign off on this stuff." That protocol is now under review, the official said.

The Journal said it couldn't determine Sunday how many eavesdropping operations were stopped or which leaders were still under surveillance.

The British newspaper The Guardian reported last week 35 world leaders were under surveillance. It cited a document leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in its report.