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Report: NSA spied on pope

“Data-gate” is the name the Vatican has unofficially given to allegations breaking in Rome that the NSA intercepted telephone conversations of Pope Benedict XVI and of Pope Francis when he was still Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires.

The weekly news Italian news magazine Panorama disclosed the allegations are scheduled to be published as a lead article Thursday.

The magazine reports suspicions that among the Vatican telephone calls intercepted by the NSA were conversations March 12 involving bishops and cardinals participating in the papal conclave. The Catholic leaders were staying at the Domus Internationalis Paulus VI, the hotel residence established by the Vatican for visiting clergy, where Bergoglio resided prior to being selected as pope.

The NSA issued a statement insisting it “does not target the Vatican.”

“Assertions that NSA has targeted the Vatican, published in Italy’s Panorama magazine, are not true,” the agency said.

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The Panorama article reported suspicion the NSA monitoring of Bergoglio may date back to 2005. The article noted that U.S. State Department cables leaked by Wikileaks indicated Bergoglio was first placed under U.S. intelligence in 2005 when the U.S. Vatican Embassy reported to Washington that he was considered one of 16 candidates to succeed Pope John Paul II.

The Panorama article alleges that among the NSA intercepts were telephone conversations of Pope Benedict XVI in the last few weeks of his papacy.

Panorama charged the NSA intercepted the incoming and outgoing telephone calls of Pope Benedict XVI and other Vatican officials concerning one of Benedict’s last official acts, the selection of Ernst von Freyberg, a German aristocrat and industrialist, to head the Vatican Bank, which was announced Feb. 15.

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Panorama reported the information obtained by the NSA intercepts were divided into four categories: “information intentions,” “threats to the financial system,” “foreign policy objectives” and “human rights.”

The magazine also suggested the NSA intercepted communications regarding the 2012 “Vatileaks” scandal involving Paolo Gabriel, Pope Benedict’s butler, who was caught stealing related to corruption within the Catholic Church.

Panorama charges the NSA spying was conducted from the annex of the U.S. Embassy in Rome, in via Sallustiana 49, a facility that supposedly houses a highly classified information collection service staffed by a nucleus of technical experts from the NSA and the CIA.