Oct. 24 (Bloomberg) -- As U.S. allies demand clarification about National Security Agency surveillance programs, the Guardian newspaper reported that a government official gave the agency phone numbers of 35 world leaders for tracking.
A classified memo leaked by fugitive former contractor Edward Snowden discloses that the NSA sought telephone numbers from officials at the White House and the defense and state departments so they could be added to surveillance systems, the Guardian reported.
The memo dated October 2006 -- during the administration of President George W. Bush -- didn’t name the world leaders or the U.S. official who provided the numbers, according to the U.K.- based newspaper.
The Guardian report was published amid rising tension between the U.S. and its allies over revelations about NSA collection of communication data. A series of disclosures this week detailed allegations of U.S. surveillance of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s private mobile phone, of former Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s e-mail while in office, and of the collection of data on ordinary French citizens. Last month, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff canceled a state visit to Washington after revelations that the NSA had monitored her e-mail and telephone exchanges with top aides.
President Barack Obama’s administration is trying to contain the fallout from the revelations.
“We have diplomatic relations and channels that we use in order to discuss these issues that have clearly caused some tension in our relationships with other nations around the world,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said today, addressing questions about Merkel’s reaction.
Merkel said today eavesdropping on allies is unacceptable, and her government summoned the U.S. ambassador to the Foreign Ministry in Berlin to discuss the issue. Obama spoke with Merkel by telephone yesterday.
“‘Spying among friends is not done,’’ Merkel told reporters before a European Union summit in Brussels, her first public reaction to yesterday’s report in Der Spiegel magazine that her mobile phone had been bugged. ‘‘We need trust between allies and partners, and this trust must be re-established.’’
U.S. officials are warning foreign intelligence agencies that Snowden may have obtained documents detailing their cooperation with the American government, the Washington Post reported today on its website. Some of the agencies are in countries that aren’t publicly allied with the U.S., the newspaper reported, citing unidentified U.S. officials.
Carney said the Obama administration is reviewing surveillance policies and repeated that the U.S. ‘‘is not and will not monitor the chancellor’s communications.” He refused to answer a question about whether the U.S. had spied on Merkel in the past.
He also suggested that such surveillance wasn’t unique to the U.S.
“We have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations,” he said.
The Guardian report said the classified document it obtained showed that the NSA encouraged senior officials in government to share contact information they had so that phone numbers of foreign politicians could be entered into its system.
One unidentified official turned over 200 numbers, including those of 35 world leaders, according to the newspaper. While most were available through public sources, 43 were previously unknown telephone numbers, the Guardian said. The leaders were not named in the memo, according to the newspaper.
The memo also said the eavesdropping provided little intelligence, the Guardian said.
Carney said the U.S. doesn’t expect the controversy over surveillance will imperil talks on a trans-Atlantic trade agreement that Obama is seeking.
Neither Merkel nor any of the other 27 EU leaders entering the EU summit echoed a call by European Parliament President Martin Schulz to suspend EU-U.S. trade talks.
“There has to be a moment where we interrupt,” Schulz said on his way into the summit a few minutes after Merkel. “When I go into a negotiation and fear that the other side, a friendly democracy, has conducted espionage to find out what I’ll say in the negotiations, then we’re not at the same level anymore.”
Fredrik Erixon, director of the European Centre for International Political Economy in Brussels, said the fallout “isn’t going to seriously affect the EU-U.S. trade talks because most of the EU governments, especially Germany’s, are keen for a trade deal.”