U.S. officials say the Obama administration is weighing whether to order the National Security Agency to stop spying on leaders of American allies.
California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, issued a statement Monday saying she was informed by the White House that "collection on our allies will not continue." However, administration officials later stressed that a final decision on the matter has not been made.
Caitlin Hayden, a spokesperson for President Barack Obama's National Security Council, issued a statement hours later saying the administration has "already made some decisions through this process," but refused to discuss Feinstein's statement.
The Obama administration has come under fire in recent weeks, both at home and abroad, over allegations that it has monitored the personal communications of 35 world leaders, including the cellphone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Feinstein has called for a "total review'' of all U.S. intelligence programs in response to the allegations, adding that her committee was not "satisfactorily informed" by the NSA.
National Intelligence director James Clapper is expected to face questions about the growing scandal when he testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.
Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents earlier this year purporting to show sweeping U.S. surveillance of Internet searches and telephone records of U.S. citizens and world leaders. The revelations have sparked outrage globally.
A leading U.S. newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, reported on Monday that Obama went nearly five years without knowing that his own spies were bugging the phones of Chancellor Merkel and the other world leaders, and that the program has now ended.
The newspaper, citing anonymous U.S. officials, said the president learned of the snooping after ordering an internal review a few months ago. The White House said it is not monitoring Merkel's mobile phones and will not do so in the future, but it has declined comment on whether the NSA spied on her devices in the past.
A large delegation of European Union lawmakers is in Washington for a series of meetings with U.S. lawmakers and intelligence officials about the allegations.
Germany says it will soon send its intelligence chiefs to Washington to demand answers about the spying. Merkel called Obama last week to voice her personal protest, saying that international friends cannot condone such snooping.
German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger suggested severing U.S. access to an important law enforcement tool used to track terrorist money flows. The SWIFT agreement, signed after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, allows the U.S. access to funds transferred through the private, Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, which handles the movement of money between banks worldwide.
Germany is also working with Brazil on a draft U.N. General Assembly resolution to guarantee privacy in electronic communications. U.N. diplomats say it would call for extending the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to online activities but would not mention the United States.