US ambassador to Germany summoned in Merkel mobile row

 

Steve Evans in Berlin: "The response in the morning papers has been blistering"

Germany has summoned the US ambassador in Berlin over claims that the US monitored German Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle will meet US envoy John Emerson later in what is seen as an unusual step between close allies.

Mrs Merkel has demanded a "complete explanation" of the claims, which are threatening to overshadow an EU summit.

She discussed the issue with US President Barack Obama on Wednesday.

President Obama told Mrs Merkel the US was not monitoring her calls and would not in future, the White House said.

However, it left open the question of whether calls had been listened to in the past.

Start Quote

It offends because Angela Merkel governs by her mobile phone - she is often seen to be checking it or even sending texts at political rallies”

End Quote

On Monday, France summoned the US ambassador over reports in Le Monde newspaper that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had spied on millions of French phone calls. A day later, Le Monde reported that the NSA had spied on French diplomats in Washington and at the UN.

French President Francois Hollande had already called for the issue to be put on the agenda of the summit, where EU leaders are due to discuss Europe's digital economy, economic recovery and immigration.

Other leaders are also likely to want further clarification from Washington over the activities of its NSA in Europe, says BBC Europe Editor Gavin Hewitt.

'Completely unacceptable'

"It's really not on for friends to spy on each other," said Chancellor Merkel as she arrived at the EU summit in Brussels.

The German government has not said how it received the tip about the alleged US spying. But news magazine Der Spiegel, which has published stories based on material from former CIA contractor Edward Snowden, said the information had come from its investigations.

Press review

  • Germany's Berliner Zeitung regrets that "only now does the government appear to really understand what it is happening"
  • France's Le Figaro says the German government's reaction is "a warning shot directed at the United States"
  • The New York Times fears that there is mounting damage to "core American relationships"

State-monitoring of phone calls has a particular resonance in Germany - Mrs Merkel herself grew up in East Germany, where phone-tapping was pervasive.

Earlier, her spokesman said the German leader "views such practices... as completely unacceptable" and had demanded a "complete and comprehensive explanation".

"Among close friends and partners, as the Federal Republic of Germany and the US have been for decades, there should be no such monitoring of the communications of a head of government," said Steffen Seibert in a statement.

Gunther Krichbaum, the chairman of the European affairs committee in Germany's Bundestag, told the BBC that "if it turns out to be true this... is a real scandal".

Mr Krichbaum said he was convinced that he and his colleagues would "not go ahead" with negotiations over a major trade treaty with the US before finding out what had happened.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the US "is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of the chancellor".

He said the US was reviewing the way it gathered intelligence, to ensure that "we properly balance the security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share".

German ministers' phones have reportedly been protected using technology from security firm Secusmart since 2009. Secusmart said in March that German government officials would be issued with new, highly-secured technology made for Blackberry mobile phones.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said President Obama had "assured" Chancellor Merkel the US was not monitoring her phone

A German IT expert told the BBC that security services for many countries could have intercepted the chancellor's calls before she had full encryption.

A number of US allies have expressed anger over the Snowden-based spying allegations.

Veteran French European Commissioner Michel Barnier told the BBC on Thursday that "enough is enough", and that confidence in the US had been shaken.

Mr Barnier, the commissioner for internal market and services, said Europe must not be naive but develop its own strategic digital tools, such as a "European data cloud", independent of American oversight.

'No business as usual'

Germany's press echoed a sense of outrage, with a front-page commentary Sueddeutscher Zeitung - one of the country's most respected papers - referring to the "biggest possible affront".

German Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere said it would not be possible to go back to business as usual. This is more than a tiff which will blow over easily, the BBC's Stephen Evans reports from Berlin.

In July, German media carried comments by Mr Snowden suggesting the US NSA worked closely with Germany and other Western states on a "no questions asked" basis, monitoring German internet traffic, emails and phone calls.

"They [the NSA] are in bed with the Germans, just like with most other Western states," Mr Snowden was quoted as saying by Der Spiegel - though Mrs Merkel denied any knowledge of the collaboration.

President Obama had assured Chancellor Merkel in June that German citizens were not being routinely spied upon. At the time, she was criticised by her political opponents for not being more sceptical.

A Der Spiegel report in September that the US NSA had cracked the security codes the protect data on iPhones, Blackberries and Android devices led to demonstrations in Berlin.

 

Comments

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  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 674.

    Germany should give Mr Snowden asylum and a couple of million marks, the Germans would love him. sending more money to make bombs and spies means they cannot afford to get the garbage removed in chicago, spending public money on health is considered socialism, spending billions of the public purse on bombs and spies is not, it is a welfare state for corporate interest, same all over.

  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 673.

    President Bush got it right when he said "you're either with us or you're against us."Europe is clearly against the US.Releasing terrorists in Germany because we don't divulge how we caught them, UK breaking its promise by releasing Megrahi after he was convicted, France and Germany trying to block the invasion of Iraq.Europe's no good to us. Not just ingratitude Europe sides with the enemy.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 672.

    I mean really really, there is nothing new or surprising , and this spying and evesdropping business ( on foes and friends alike) has been going on since the invention of telex, telephone, and will continue and evolve with the age of internet. I don't think that Obama should take all the blames of this policy, as he is not alone in making the policy, and this practice is not bound to USA only.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 671.

    Can Germany/France give assurance that it never engage in spying on any foreign country or its diplomats & politicians (Presidents, Prime Ministers included)? Keep in mind that many countries (USA included) may have proof to show otherwise.

    BTW, US can challenge any country to spy on its president & others if anyone (Germany/France included) is capable of- not very probable or diplomatic though.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 670.

    @656BDV

    While I get that that they are monitoring the real fact remains that it has been going on for years. Its called espinoage and us britains have been doing it since who knows when so question remains who cares?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 669.

    #659 I think that Indonesia ACTUALLY tried invading Borneo and would have succeeded if not for Britain
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indonesia%E2%80%93Malaysia_confrontation
    given that Borneo clearly doesn't want to be part of Indonesia then damned right I think it was O.K to intervene.

    As it happened the US kept out of that one. It was Harold MacMillan defended Borneo not JFK

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 668.

    Spying on allies, their children shooting their teachers, government in impasse over policy, unbelievable debt , what next? Reads like the Fall of the Roman Empire.

    I hope other economies divest themselves of US$ before the USA implodes and takes us with them.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 667.

    So, after 2 low level employees (Bradley Manning & Edward Snowden) managed to steal hundreds of thousands of classified documents does anyone still believe that the US security services are capable of maintaining a cover up over 9/11?

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 666.

    Well, if she has nothing to hide, where's the harm?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 665.

    651. sieuarlu
    Losing its grip? It can monitor everything that goes on anywhere and strike any time, any place within a matter of minutes. Is that losing a grip on power or godlike power?
    ///////////
    You are sounding a bit hysterical, as if on the verge of finally waking up and being forced to smell your sub-standard Starbucks coffee.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 664.

    Saga 630

    Often quoted, but that is the very justification given by the National Socialists

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 663.

    651.sieuarlu

    If you encrypt properly the US government won't be able to decipher it. That is why they had to use strong arm tactics against Lavabit since they couldn't hack into it.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 662.

    Of course it happens and has been doing so since the beginning of time. I just don't like the attitude of the USA when they get all self-righteous when things backfire on them. There is no moral high ground in this. things will be smoothed over until the next time....

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 661.

    If the American government want to charge Edward Snowden with acts of espionage - then who is going to charge the American government with acts of espionage?
    If one is guilty, how can the other be innocent?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 660.

    @ 651. sieuarlu :
    Is that losing a grip on power or godlike power?
    /////////
    Godlike power? They've never looked so vulnerable mate. They are there for the taking and we all know it. It's over, it's not going to be pretty, deal with it.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 659.

    620
    Peter thinks it is ok for the US govt to use their unwitting citizens to spy on Borneo. Well the citizen in question did not .So this means that the US was there under false pretenses of giving aid. You want to have aid denied to those who need it, you want to neutralise the best motivations in US society, all for the ridiculous proven to be mad domino theory?

    Fascism beckons my friend

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 658.

    "The United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of the chancellor" is very likely true since this will have been done elsewhere.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 657.

    Don't worry more. You will get another news that the spouses of gov. Workers also were spied! Even 1st lady also! Hahaha... Useless Fox Usa

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 656.

    @634JamesRomford
    "Question? Who cares? CIA MI5 KGB(or FSB) and all the other national Intelligence services spy on people and have done for years. This is not news this is tripe seriously people who cares?"

    What IS news is the sheer scale and indiscriminate nature of this spying, along with the theft of commercial /state secrets.
    You really SHOULD care as ALL communications are being monitored.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 655.

    It doesn't matter if you elect a good guy as President. The all powerful trio of the FBI, CIA, NSA still do their own thing.

    They have become too big, too powerful and too rich. Obama needs to cut them down to size. Who can listen to 70 million French phone calls and learn anything useful?

    Spying on your allies is despicable. Come on Obama, let the spies loose on your enemies, not your friends.

 

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