Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) will send President Obama a letter Friday demanding a more thorough explanation for the National Security Agency’s alleged targeting of the future Pope Francis.
“I don’t see any advantage to spying on a religious leader and I think it’s inexcusable,” Paul told TheBlaze Thursday in a phone interview. “I think the president needs to explain this.”
The NSA reportedly monitored all phone calls to and from then-Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s residence in Rome during the Vatican conclave, Italian weekly news magazine Panorama reported.
Several cardinals and bishops were also reportedly monitored during the secretive election where Francis was chosen to succeed Pope Benedict XVI.
The NSA has denied it spied on the Vatican, but Paul believes tough questions still need to be asked.
“The NSA is denying it,” he said, “But I don’t think they’re denying that they collected any data. They’re denying that they spied on the Pope. You have to be careful when government officials talk to you because a couple months ago, you know, the White House and the NSA said, ‘We’re not spying on any Americans.’”
“What they did was find a clever way to say, ‘Collecting data is not spying,’” he continued. “I think the more specific question we need to ask the NSA and the president about this recent story about the Vatican is, ‘Did you collect any data on the then-archbishop who became the pope?’”
Paul believes the NSA and White House officials cannot “categorically deny" they collected data on Francis and other Catholic leaders.
The Kentucky senator also said the rationale for the alleged spying on Francis likely stems from the government’s desire to collect “data on everyone on the planet” regardless of whether or not they’ve been accused of a crime.
“I think they have so much data, they overwhelm themselves,” he told TheBlaze, adding that the volume of collected information might be the reason why Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston marathon bombers, were able to slip past detection despite multiple warnings from international intelligence agencies.
“We’re overwhelming ourselves with data on people who are not terrorists and maybe to the point that when we do get tips on suspicious people – the Russians told us about these boys – we didn’t follow-up,” he said. “Everybody is overwhelmed with too much data.”
Paul added that there’s little to be gained from targeting someone like Pope Francis.
“There’s no national interest in looking into religious leader’s personal calls and their activities, their whereabouts, where they go,” he said. “There’s really no reason why you’d want to do surveillance on a religious figure.”
“I don’t know if the NSA targeted the Pope,” he said, “but they hold all the cards and all the information and I think some tough questions need to be asked the president and his administration.”
He concluded by saying that there are times when surveillance is appropriate – but the NSA doesn’t seem to know when that is.
“Spying on terrorists? I’m for that. I’m just not for spying on innocent Americans who haven’t even been accused of a crime,” he said.
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This post has been updated.