Skip to main content

Obama wasn't aware of the NSA's wiretaps on world leaders, says White House review

Obama wasn't aware of the NSA's wiretaps on world leaders, says White House review

Share this story

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.


A White House review claims that Barack Obama was unaware the National Security Agency was monitoring the communications of 35 world leadersThe Wall Street Journal reports that the White House cut off a number of phone-taps once it was made aware of the extent of the surveillance program, but that some remain in place because they are "providing intelligence of use to the US." Others are slated to be terminated soon.

The NSA had too many wiretaps to tell Obama about all of them

The review — initiated this summer — suggests that President Obama spent five years in office unaware that the NSA was spying on world leaders because the Agency's operations were too numerous for him to be informed about them all. The Wall Street Journal reports a senior US official as saying that "these decisions are made at NSA," and "the president doesn't sign off on this stuff." The WSJ also says that this protocol is now under review.

This claim corroborates President Obama's proclamation that he was unaware the NSA was bugging German chancellor Angela Merkel's phone. But German paper Bild am Sonntag reports the opposite, stating that not only was Obama aware of Merkel's phone-tap, but that he authorized it himself. NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines called the story "false."

'Bild am Sonntag' reports that Obama authorized Merkel's phone-tap himself

The White House review — commissioned by the president in August — is ongoing, but so are the leaks of NSA documents that began in June. The latest, reported by Spain's El Mundo newspaper, suggests that the NSA logged more than 60 million phone calls in Spain during a single month in 2012, after the agency had previously denied collecting French call records. The BBC says the agency collected locations and the numbers involved, but not call content. Japan's Kyodo news agency also says that the NSA contacted it with the intention of wiretapping Asian fiber-optic cables to spy on regional communications traffic.

More revelations are expected as journalist Glenn Greenwald continues to report on the information leaked by Edward Snowden. Greenwald recently partnered with European newspapers to expose the NSA's covert actions in their home countries, and will be working with billionaire eBay co-founder Pierre Omidyar on a new journalistic venture in the near future.