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Rome - United States security services denied an Italian magazine report suggesting that they had spied on the Vatican, possibly even listening in to Pope Francis before his election to the papacy.
“The National Security Agency does not target the Vatican. Assertions that NSA has targeted the Vatican, published in Italy's Panorama magazine, are not true,” National Security Agency spokeswoman Vanee Vines said in a statement late Wednesday.
Panorama, a weekly owned by the family of former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, claimed that the NSA's surveillance on European partners stretched to tracking the phones of Roman Catholic bishops and cardinals.
Without naming sources, it said snooping activities went on from December 10, 2012, to January 8, 2013, but added there were “fears” that they continued until March 12, the day the conclave to elect Pope Francis started.
The Rome guesthouse where the Argentine-born pontiff stayed while he was still a cardinal was among the surveillance targets, the magazine alleged.
“Therefore there is the suspicion that also the conversations of the future pontiff could have been monitored,” Panorama concluded.
The magazine said US security services classified Vatican telephone traffic according to four categories: leadership intentions; threats to financial system; foreign policy objectives; human rights.
Some intercepted calls, Panorama reported, may have referred to the appointment in February of German lawyer Ernst von Freyberg as the new president of the Vatican's scandal-tainted in-house bank, the Institute of Religious Works (IOR).
The Vatican's spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, was unfazed by the allegations.
“We are not aware of anything on this subject and in any case we are not worried at all about it,” he told journalists on Wednesday, after Panorama published a preview of its published story on its website.