ROME — A spokeswoman for the National Security Agency denied reports from a leading Italian news magazine that U.S. spies may have listened in on conversations from inside the Vatican leading up to the March conclave that elected Pope Francis.
The newsweekly Panorama had reported in its Oct. 31 editions that the NSA tapped phones in the Santa Marta guesthouse where cardinals stayed before the conclave, as well as the cell phones of several cardinals, including Jorge Bergoglio, who became Pope Francis. The Panorama article did not identify its sources.
Panorama said the Vatican calls were part of a wider sweep of 46 million Italian phone calls in late 2012 and early 2013. Those related to the Vatican were reportedly categorized in one of four sections: leadership, financial system threats, foreign policy objectives, and human rights issues.
But in an email to the Los Angeles Times, NSA spokeswoman Vanee’ Vines strongly denied the magazine’s claims: “Assertions that NSA has targeted the Vatican, published in Italy’s Panorama magazine, are not true,” Vines said.
Denials of spy activity are not automatic with the NSA, which has admitted to monitoring phone calls of up to 34 world leaders, with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper referring to the programs as “unremarkable” and “necessary.”
Asked about the Panorama story Wednesday, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi issued a short statement, saying, “We have heard nothing of this and are not worried.” The press office declined to elaborate on Thursday.
Eric J. Lyman writes for Religion News Service.