The National Security Agency is denying a report that it eavesdropped on Vatican phone calls when it was considering a successor for Pope Benedict XVI.
Before the Italian magazine, Panorama, published the report, it issued a press release that read "NSA had tapped the pope," according to Reuters. The eavesdropping was on calls from inside and outside the Vatican and reportedly spanned a few weeks from December 10, 2012 to January 8, 2013.
The calls were reportedly categorized in four groups: leadership intentions, threats to the financial system, foreign policy objectives and human rights. The magazine did not cite any sources in its report.
A cardinal from Argentina told the magazine it is "feared" that the calls were tapped until the election of Pope Francis. But a Vatican spokesman told the magazine he is unaware of the report and has no concerns about it.
Vanee' Vines, an NSA spokeswoman, denied the report.
"The National Security Agency does not target the Vatican," she said in an email to The Los Angeles Times. "Assertions that NSA has targeted the Vatican, published in Italy's Panorama magazine, are not true."
The NSA’s post-Sept. 11 surveillance programs are coming under increased criticism at home and abroad, capped by recent revelations that the NSA monitored German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cellphone and those of up to 34 other world leaders. Those reports relied on documents provided by former NSA analyst Edward Snowden.
Congressional leaders who have been staunch supporters of the NSA programs are now saying it is time for a close examination. The White House said Tuesday that President Barack Obama had ordered a full review of the programs and was considering changes.
National Intelligence Director James Clapper defended the secret surveillance that sweeps up phone records and emails of millions of Americans as vital to protecting against terrorists.