US-Germany row over spying deepens

BERLIN: Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff asked the US ambassador for a meeting on Thursday to discuss the latest reports of alleged American spying on Germany and told him that German law must be adhered to, the German government said.


Chief of Staff Peter Altmaier invited Ambassador John B. Emerson to the chancellery, the government said, a move that formally fell short of summoning the ambassador.

It came after WikiLeaks published a list of German phone numbers on Wednesday that it claimed showed the US National Security Agency eavesdropped on senior German officials besides Ms Merkel.

Mr Altmaier “made clear that abiding by German law is indispensable” and that any violations would be pursued, Ms Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said in a statement.

“Beyond that, the cooperation between German and American intelligence services that is essential for the security of our citizens is burdened by such repeated incidents,” Mr Seibert added.

He said that the latest report is being evaluated by German authorities.

Reports two years ago that the chancellor’s cellphone was monitored by the NSA caused diplomatic friction between Berlin and Washington. The latest list, which was partially redacted, reportedly contained phone and fax numbers used by the German economy and finance ministries, among others.

WikiLeaks also published two documents it claimed were summaries of conversations intercepted, one involving Ms Merkel and a second involving a senior aide, concerning the Greek debt crisis.

Some in Germany have taken the latest documents as proof that the US is also conducting economic espionage of allied nations.

Speaking to German daily Bild, the country’s finance minister chided the US for its apparent eavesdropping practices, but said his ministry used secure means of communication for sensitive conversations.

Wolfgang Schauble was quoted as saying on Thursday that he considered the US and its intelligence agencies to be less of a problem than those of other major powers.

German-US relations were badly strained after fugitive US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden in 2013 revealed widespread US foreign surveillance, although a probe into the alleged tapping of Ms Merkel’s mobile phone was dropped last month due to lack of proof.

The federal prosecutor’s office said on Thursday, however, that it was considering reopening an investigation into NSA activities in Germany in light of the new evidence.

While Mr Snowden alleged US spying on many European governments, his disclosures triggered particular anger in Germany where bitterness lingers over mass state spying on citizens by the Stasi secret police in former communist East Germany where the chancellor grew up.

Ms Merkel herself phoned US President Barack Obama over the 2013 revelations and in public told Germany’s traditional post-war ally and Nato partner that “spying between friends just isn’t on”.

Washington appeared to confirm that her phone had been tapped when US officials said it would not be a target in the future.

The US government has been keen to push past an unpleasant chapter in relations with Europe’s top economy to focus on trouble spots such as Ukraine, Iran and Greece, as well as the mooted TTIP transatlantic trade pact.

However resentment in Germany over the spying has festered, with media coverage of the issue unabated and a parliamentary probe ongoing.