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NSA says nope to spying on pope

The agency says in a statement that a report in an Italian magazine that it "has targeted" the Vatican is false.

Luca Zennaro/AFP/Getty Images

The US National Security Agency issued a statement late Wednesday saying that a report in an Italian news magazine that the agency has targeted the Vatican is false.

"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," the NSA Public Affairs Office said in an e-mailed statement.

According to Religion News Service, Panorama reported that the NSA surveilled cardinals right up until they met to choose a new pope and that the eavesdropping may have included the new pope himself, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio.

Panorama reported that the Santa Marta guesthouse in the Vatican, which housed Bergoglio and the rest of the College of Cardinals, had its phones tapped and that "recorded communications from the Vatican were categorized in one of four sections: leadership, financial system threats, foreign policy objectives, and human rights issues."

Religion News Service reported that a Vatican representative told the outlet, "We have heard nothing of this and are not worried," and it suggested that, in any case, the Vatican had novel means of foiling any high-tech surveillance:

The Vatican remains a highly secretive institution, with many operations conducted through time-honored means that would make spying difficult -- communicating with instructions written on paper, often in Latin.

The vote to select the new pope was conducted on paper ballots that were burned after each round of voting, and for the last two conclaves the Sistine Chapel was swept for listening devices and cardinals were required to leave electronic devices outside.