WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama Thursday said he had never poked and probed to find out the origin of US intelligence on key allies like Germany, following a furor over claims US spies eavesdropped on foreign leaders.
In an interview with NBC News, Obama gave his most detailed response yet to reports that the National Security Agency listened in on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cellphone "Let me put it this way. As much as any president, when I am presented intelligence, particularly if it pertains to allies like Germany - I'm not poking and probing about where we get certain information," Obama said.
"If we're talking about, you know, other states that pose a threat to the United States, then not only am I interested in the information, but also how we obtained it, because that's very relevant."
Obama, who has ordered several probes into NSA activities which have outraged US allies, said that new technologies had enabled a wider intelligence sweep than ever before and that it was important for Washington to recalibrate its espionage goals and capabilities.
The White House has denied that Obama knew US spies were tapping the phone of Merkel, who has become a key personal and political friend of the US leader.
But its evasive comment that its spy agencies are not and will not listen in on her communications left the clear implication that Washington had indeed eavesdropped on her phone in the past.
Germany reacted with outrage and demanded an apology, and also a new agreement with Washington that its leaders will not be targeted by US agents.