A leading U.S. newspaper says U.S. President Barack Obama went nearly five years without knowing that his own spies were bugging the phones of world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and that the program has now ended.
The Wall Street Journal, in a report Monday citing anonymous U.S. officials, says President Obama learned of the snooping after ordering an internal review a few months ago.
The newspaper account says the review uncovered the U.S. National Security Agency had tapped the phones of 35 world leaders, and that the NSA ended most of the program after the White House learned of the operation.
Officials said the NSA has so many eavesdropping operations under way that it would not have been practical to brief the president on all of them.
However, the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag quoted an unnamed official of the NSA as saying President Obama received an NSA briefing in 2010, informing him that U.S. spies were monitoring Chancellor Merkel's mobile communications.
The NSA has since denied the president ever discussed alleged operations involving Chancellor Merkel.
Germany is sending intelligence officials to Washington to discuss the allegations of U.S. spying on German mobile phones, including one used by Chancellor Merkel.
Bild am Sonntag quoted Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich Sunday as saying the allegations have "shaken" Berlin's trust in Washington, a longtime ally.
Friedrich told the newspaper that "if the Americans intercepted mobile phone communications in Germany, they broke German law" and said that would be an "unacceptable violation of German sovereignty."
Ms. Merkel complained about the alleged NSA surveillance of her communications in a phone call to Mr. Obama on Wednesday. Her office said she told Mr. Obama that if such practices occurred, they represent a "grave breach of trust."
The White House said it is not monitoring Ms. Merkel's mobile phones and will not do so in future. But, it did not comment on whether the NSA spied on her devices in the past.
In a separate report, German weekly Der Spiegel said the NSA may have been bugging Ms. Merkel's mobile phone as early as 2002 when she served as opposition leader. She took office as chancellor in 2005.
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.
Germany is 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 Internet activities, but would not mention the United States.