The National Security Agency denies that it informed the White House about the agency's surveillance on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but news reports quoting intelligence officials say the Obama administration approved the surveillance.
Reports that the NSA tapped Merkel's mobile phone calls led the chancellor and other European leaders to increase scrutiny of U.S. intelligence gathering. In response the Obama administration is considering constraints on the NSA ahead of a meeting on Wednesday at the White House between a delegation of European Parliament members and Karen Donfried, the senior director for European affairs for the National Security Council.
German newspaper Bild am Sonntag cited unnamed intelligence officials on Sunday who claim that Army Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA director, briefed President Barack Obama in 2010 that Merkel's phone was tapped and that the president allowed it to continue.
The NSA on Sunday denied that it informed the White House about the surveillance and the White House declined to comment on the reports Sunday when asked by the Guardian.
Current and former U.S. intelligence officials also told the Los Angeles Times on Monday that both the White House and the State Department approved the NSA's surveillance of foreign leaders including Merkel.
Messages left for the White House and the NSA were not returned.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said during a press briefing on Oct. 23 that Obama assured Merkel on a phone call that "the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of the chancellor." Carney said he did not have an answer to a press question about whether the NSA has monitored Merkel's calls in the past.
When an intelligence agency is monitoring the communications of a foreign official it is standard protocol to inform policymakers who may be in touch with that person, if only as a courtesy, says Bob Baer, who was a secret case officer for the Central Intelligence Agency between 1976 and 1997.
"You simply cannot expose the U.S. to diplomatic risk like this without telling the White House," Baer says.