US monitors Israeli PM's phone conversations

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The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has eavesdropped communications between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

The United States captured phone conversations of top Israeli officials, including Netanyahu's private conversations, as it believed the intercepted information could be valuable to counter Netanyahu's campaign against the U.S. nuclear deal with Iran, according to the report.

The United States has been pursuing a nuclear arms agreement with Iran at the time without telling its regional friend, while Netanyahu prepared for possible strikes against an Iranian nuclear facility in 2011 and 2012, the report said.

By 2013, though the U.S. intelligence agencies determined Netanyahu was not going to strike Iran, it had another reason to keep watch, for the White House wanted to know if Israel had learned of the secret negotiations with Iran.

After Israel's lobbying campaign against the deal went into full swing on Capitol Hill, it did no take long for administration and intelligence officials to realize the NSA was sweeping up their conversation content.

U.S. President Barack Obama maintained the monitoring of Netanyahu on the grounds that it served a "compelling national security purpose," the paper reports.

After the revelations of the agency's spying operations in 2013 by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Obama announced he would curb such eavesdropping in January 2014.

Such allied leaders as French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel were shielded from NSA snooping, but the leaders' top advisers were permitted to be monitored, and the leaders names applied to eavesdropping were kept secret.

The NSA had spent decades placing electronic implants in networks around the world to collect phone calls, text messages and emails. Following Snowden's exposal, the Obama administration decided to shut off the NSA's monitoring of phone numbers and email addresses of certain allied leaders, a move that could be reversed by Obama and his successor, said the paper.

On the other hand, the executive branch could be accused of spying on Congress, the report cited a senior U.S. official as saying, as the White House let the NSA decide what to share and what to withhold.

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