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Report: Obama Didn't Know About NSA's Spying Operation on World Leaders

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"The president doesn't sign off on this stuff."

President Barack Obama smiles while speaking at Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in Brooklyn borough of New York, Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, where he highlighted the importance of education in providing skills for American workers in a global economy. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

President Barack Obama was unaware of the National Security Agency's spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other world leaders until the operation was discovered through an internal administration review, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The review, which began this summer, uncovered the NSA's monitoring of 35 world leaders, including Merkel's cell phone, officials told the Journal. The White House ended some of the programs -- such as the one tracking Merkel -- after learning of them, the newspaper said. Not all of the programs have been terminated completely.

The Journal report would appear to confirm why White House press secretary Jay Carney was so choosy with his words regarding the accusations of U.S. spying on Merkel.

“The United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of the chancellor,” Carney said last week.

German Media React To NSA Eavesdropping Scandal The charge that the National Security Agency eavesdropped on German Chancellor Angel Merkel has caused a furor among political leaders across Europe. (Getty Images/Sean Gallup)

Many were quick to note the omission of the words "has not monitored."

As for Obama being in the dark about such eavesdropping for five years, the Journal reported officials said it would not have been practical for them to brief him on all of these operations. The newspaper said an account from officials suggests Obama was unaware of these activities.

Here's more from the Journal's report regarding the president's knowledge and how such operations are signed off upon:

They added that the president was briefed on and approved of broader intelligence-collection "priorities," but that those below him make decisions about specific intelligence targets.

The senior U.S. official said that the current practice has been for these types of surveillance decisions to be made at the agency level. "These decisions are made at NSA," the official said. "The president doesn't sign off on this stuff." That protocol now is under review, the official added.

NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said NSA based its operations on priorities set across the U.S. government. "The agency's activities stem from the National Intelligence Priorities Framework, which guides prioritization for the operation, planning and programming of U.S. intelligence analysis and collection," she said.

Activists Demonstrate Against NSA's Surveillance Tactics A protester marches with a piece of tape covering his mouth during the "Stop Watching Us" rally protesting surveillance by the National Security Agency in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Oct. 26, 2013. (Getty Images/Allison Shelley)

The German newspaper Der Spiegel on Sunday charged that Obama approved the monitoring of Merkel's phone, which the NSA told The Wall Street Journal was false.

On Monday, Spain joined the ranks of countries accusing the NSA of tapping its phone lines, with a Spanish newspaper publishing a document showing that the NSA spied on more than 60 million phone calls in Spain in one month alone.

El Mundo reported that a document provided by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden shows that the NSA monitored the phone calls from Dec. 10, 2012, until Jan. 8, 2013, but not their content.

Read more about the review of NSA actions currently taking place that could lead to recommendations and changes going forward in The Wall Street Journal's full report.

In the meantime, German and French leaders said Friday they want the Obama administration agree to limits that could put an end to alleged American eavesdropping.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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