If there’s one guy you’d think the NSA would leave alone, it’s the Pope. Especially Pope Francis I, a man so humble he drives a junker. But, according to the Italian magazine Panorama, the NSA was snooping on him. Or are they?
First of all, pretty much everybody involved in this story needs to be taken with a grain of salt. The Italian media is not exactly a bastion of ethics, and Panorama is known to put sensationalism before accuracy. Meanwhile, the NSA has rather vehemently denied the charges, but come on, why would they admit it if it were true?
That said, the story is this: Amid the 46 million Italian phone calls the NSA collected records on, it focused special attention on the popes and cardinals. According to Panorama, the communications collected were about the next Pope, who’d run the Vatican’s disaster area of a bank, foreign policy objectives, and human rights.
Is it credible the NSA would do this? Yep, absolutely. The Pope is an influential person in world politics, especially in developing nations fairly close to United States borders, so the US has a strong interest in finding out how the head of the Catholic Church is going to break on various issues. But it’s more likely that they want to collect information on the Institute For the Works of Religion, AKA the Vatican bank.
The Institute For The Works of Religion is basically a rolling scandal trainwreck. It’s been sued by Holocaust survivors for hiding Nazi gold, it’s had ties to the Mafia, it’s been accused of money-laundering, and on and on and on. Basically if there’s a criminal ring operating across international lines, it’s going to try and use the Vatican bank. Considering that criminals tend to sell terrorists things we don’t want them to have, the NSA is likely watching the Vatican bank.
That said, the NSA has both higher priorities, and the US has better-situated intelligence assets when it comes to the Vatican; in fact, the US Embassy to the Vatican called Francis eventually becoming Pope waaaay back in 2005. And the Vatican itself is not exactly a place where privacy is respected.
In short, we’re pretty sure the NSA was not, in fact, spying on the Pope. They were probably spying on the bank the Pope has to deal with as part of his job. Whether that’s a good thing is an exercise best left to the reader.
(Image courtesy of the Argentinian Government)