Calling the allegations a “black eye” for the country, Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul said Thursday that President Obama should come clean about whether United States has been spying on Pope Francis.
“If we’re targeting religious leaders around the world and collecting their data, that’s a real problem,” Paul told The Daily Caller.
“And really right now, it’s giving us a black eye around the world that it turns out we spy on people’s personal phones around the world, including the chancellor of Germany,” Paul said. “So I don’t think this is a good thing for the diplomatic relations for the country, particularly if we’re doing this on a religious leader.”
The Italian magazine, Panorama, reported that the National Security Agency may have intercepted phone calls before and after the Pope’s election.
On Thursday, Paul introduced a resolution in the Senate that states that, “President Obama should directly address the serious allegation whether his administration monitored the calls of Pope Francis or the conclave selecting the Pope.”
NSA officials are denying the report. “The National Security Agency does not target the Vatican,” Vanee’ Vines, an NSA spokeswoman, said Thursday. “Assertions that NSA has targeted the Vatican, published in Italy’s Panorama magazine, are not true.”
But speaking by phone Thursday, Paul expressed skepticism about the denial. “Basically, I’m concerned that they would just basically define it as not being spying when they are collecting data,” he said. “I think it’s a pretty important question.”
Paul referenced how Obama administration officials in the past have said they aren’t conducting surveillance on Americans even though they were “collecting the hell out of all your data.”
“It really should cause some difficult questioned from the media,” Paul elaborated. “For example, if I were in the media, I would be asking the NSA, ‘What do you mean you’re not spying on the Pope? Does that mean you collected no data?”
As for why he would like President Obama to address the allegations, Paul said: “Particularly when there’s confusion about whether the president has any idea what’s going on in surveillance around the world — he says he doesn’t know what’s going on with our spying on our allies — I think he needs to look into this a bit.”
Asked when he thinks spying on foreign leaders is acceptable, Paul said: “I think spying on our allies is probably not something that does good to our relations with allies.”
“It’s one thing to acknowledge that there’s some surveillance going on around the world, but there’s absolutely no justification I can think of to spy on a religious leader,” Paul said. “I think this should unite everyone. And I think really it should cause an outcry.”