German Chancellor Merkel surveilled by NSA since 2002?
BERLIN — The United States may have bugged Angela Merkel's phone for more than 10 years, according to a news report on Saturday that said President Obama told the German leader that he would have stopped it had he known about it.
Germany's outrage over reports of bugging Merkel's phone by the National Security Agency prompted it to summon the U.S. ambassador last week for the first time in living memory, an unprecedented post-war diplomatic rift.
Der Spiegel said Merkel's mobile telephone had been listed by the NSA's Special Collection Service since 2002 — marked as “GE Chancellor Merkel” — and was still on the list weeks before Obama visited Berlin in June.
In an SCS document cited by the magazine, the agency said it had a “not legally registered spying branch” in the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, the exposure of which would lead to “grave damage for the relations of the United States to another government.”
From there, NSA and CIA staff were tapping communication in Berlin's government district with high-tech surveillance.
Quoting a secret document from 2010, Der Spiegel said such branches existed in about 80 locations around the world, including Paris, Madrid, Rome, Prague, Geneva and Frankfurt.
The magazine said it is not clear whether the SCS had recorded conversations or just connection data.
Obama apologized to Merkel when she called him on Wednesday to seek clarification on the issue, Der Spiegel wrote, citing a source in Merkel's office.
Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung also said Obama had told Merkel that he had not known of the bugging.
Merkel's spokesman and the White House declined to comment.
“We're not going to comment on the details of our diplomatic discussions,” said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council at the White House.
The rift over U.S. surveillance activities first emerged this year with reports that Washington had bugged European Union offices and had tapped a half billion phone calls, emails and text messages in Germany in a typical month.
But it appeared close to resolution when Merkel's government said in August — just weeks before a parliamentary election — the United States had given sufficient assurances they were upholding German law.
Germany will send intelligence chiefs to Washington this week to seek answers on the allegations related to Merkel's phone.
Obama ordered a review of surveillance programs when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents that raised alarm in the United States and abroad.
Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morrell said in a television interview to be broadcast on Sunday that Snowden's leaks are “the most serious compromise of classified information in the history of the U.S. intelligence community.”
Morrell told CBS' “60 Minutes” that the most damaging leaked document was the so-called Black Budget, detailing where the United States spends its money on intelligence efforts.
Snowden has put Americans at greater risk “because terrorists learn from leaks, and they will be more careful,” Morrell said, and the country will not get the intelligence it would have gotten otherwise.
The Washington Post reported on Friday that U.S. officials are warning some foreign intelligence services that documents obtained by Snowden detail their secret cooperation with Washington.