Asked about the reports of eavesdropping on world leaders, Obama said in a television interview that the U.S. government is conducting "a complete review of how our intelligence operates outside the country." Obama declined to discuss specifics or say when he learned about the spying operations.
"What we've seen over the last several years is their capacities continue to develop and expand, and that's why I'm initiating now a review to make sure that what they're able to do doesn't necessarily mean what they should be doing," he said Monday on the new TV network Fusion.
A second U.S. official said Obama did not know the NSA was monitoring Merkel's communications until after his visit to Germany in June. The official said information about the surveillance of foreign leaders emerged in the course of the White House's broader review of spying programs, triggered by media reports based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter by name and insisted on anonymity.
The White House says the United States isn't currently listening to Merkel's conversations and won't do so in the future.
On Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner said there should be a thorough review of intelligence gathering, bearing in mind the responsibility to keep Americans safe from terrorism and the nation's obligations to allies.
"We have to find the right balance here," said Boehner, R-Ohio. "And clearly, we're imbalanced."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called for a "total review of all intelligence programs" following the Merkel allegations. In a statement, the California Democrat said the White House had informed her that "collection on our allies will not continue."
The senior administration official said that statement was not accurate, but added that some unspecified changes already had been made and more were being considered, including terminating the collection of communications from friendly heads of state. That official also was not authorized to divulge information about the program by name and insisted on anonymity.