30 Oct 2013

New claims US spied on Vatican as it picked new Pope

US intelligence services allegedly monitored Pope Benedict and other Vatican officials’ phone calls, according to the Italian magazine Panorama.

The publication has claimed that communications to and from the Vatican were among the 46 million calls intercepted by the US National Security Agency (NSA).

The NSA is alleged to have spied on cardinals before the March 2013 conclave to elect a new pope – including Cardinal Bergoglio who went on to become Pope Francis.

German anger

Angela Merkel wants the US to agree a “no spying” deal with Germany and France by the end of the year – to stop espionage against two of Washington’s closest EU allies.

“I can confirm that the two top aides from the chancellery are in Washington for talks today,” said German government spokesman Steffen Seibert.

“As you see we are in a process of intense contact with our US partners on the intelligence and political levels, and this process of contact and investigation will take more time.”

No denial

The US Congress is now weighing new legislative proposals that could limit some of the NSA’s more expansive electronic intelligence collection programmes.

The White House did not deny reports that the National Security Agency (NSA) had monitored the chancellor’s phone but claimed no surveillance is currently taking place.

The visit is one of a series of trips by high-ranking European Union officials this week after revelations of the scale of the surveillance triggered outrage across Europe.

China has announced it will step up its security after the reports of widespread US spying.

“Like many other countries, we have been paying close attention to these reports,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying stated.

“China is concerned about the continued revelations of eavesdropping and surveillance and is paying attention to how the situation develops.”

“We will take the necessary steps to resolutely maintain the security of our own information”.

The Chinese government is often accused by the US of hacking into computer networks overseas, targeting companies and government departments.

China denies the accusations, claiming it is one of the world’s biggest victims of hacking.

NSA defence

The head of the NSA, General Keith Alexander, defended his beleaguered organisation on Tuesday, saying it acts within the law to stop militant attacks and denying reports that the NSA collects data on millions of telephone calls in Europe.

He claimed the information was not on European citizens but instead was gathered with Nato allies to support military operations.

Elmar Brok, a German MP, told German newspapers Bild that his meeting with the US officials produced “no breakthroughs”.

“Our talks showed that the Americans recognise the immense political damage caused by this affair and are open to more transparency,” he said.

On Monday David Cameron told the Commons Britain should be proud of the intelligence services and emphasised the levels of scrutiny imposed to ensure activity stayed within the law.