German Chancellor Angela Merkel called President Obama on Wednesday with concerns that the United States has spied on her cell phone based on information received by the German government. Merkel’s spokesman said that the chancellor told the president that “she views such practices, if the indications are confirmed … as completely unacceptable.” Merkel also asked for more details from the U.S. about its surveillance in Germany.
White House press secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday said the president reassured Merkel that the U.S. “is not and will not monitor the communications of the chancellor.” This, however, does not cover the past. Carney said the U.S. is reviewing the way it gathers intelligence from its allies, acknowledging the concerns many leaders have about the program. “As we said in the past, we gather for an intelligence just like the agencies, similar agencies of other countries,” Carney told reporters at the daily press briefing.
But even the suspicion is a remarkably quick turnaround for Germany’s Merkel.
Not long before these revelations, Merkel told the Associated Press that while surprised by the scope of the U.S. intelligence-gathering apparatus, Germany is still dependent on it for national security. The AP reports: “It was thanks to ‘tips from American sources,’ she said, that security services foiled an Islamic terror plot in 2007 that targeted U.S. soldiers and citizens in Germany.” But Merkel has not criticized the American programs outright.
This is in a long string of revelations (or accusations) of the United States spying on its allies. Aside from Germany, there are reports that the U.S. has accessed the email of Mexican president Felipe Calderon. French news sources have reported that the U.S. has collected more than 70 million emails from within its borders. It’s also alleged that the U.S. spied on French diplomats at the United Nations. In the early days of the Snowden leaks, The Guardian published a story saying that delegates to the 2009 G-20 summit in London, had their “computers monitored and their phone calls intercepted.” Though that spying stemmed from the British authorities, The Guardian reported that the NSA would “attempt to eavesdrop on the Russian leader, Dmitry Medvedev, as his phone calls passed through satellite links to Moscow.”
Obama spoke with French President Francois Hollande on Monday after Le Monde reported that the U.S. had monitored phone calls of French nationals. The White House said that while some of the reports “distorted our activities,” many brought up “legitimate questions” about the spying programs.
Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, launched a major condemnation of the NSA spying program at the U.N. General Assembly in September, saying that “without the right to privacy, there is no real freedom of speech or freedom of opinion, so there is no actual democracy.” Rousseff herself is reported to have been the target of NSA information collection within Brazil.
Passions over the NSA spying scandal may be waning within the U.S., but they’re still just heating up in the rest of the world.
Update (2:45 p.m.): Here’s the full readout of the call between Merkel and Obama from the White House. Notice it still doesn’t make it clear whether or not the U.S. monitored Merkel’s communications in the past.
“Today, President Obama and Chancellor Merkel spoke by telephone regarding allegations that the U.S. National Security Agency intercepted the communications of the German Chancellor. The President assured the Chancellor that the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of Chancellor Merkel.
The United States greatly values our close cooperation with Germany on a broad range of shared security challenges. As the President has said, the United States is reviewing the way that we gather intelligence to ensure that we properly balance the security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share.
Both leaders agreed to intensify further the cooperation between our intelligence services with the goal of protecting the security of both countries and of our partners, as well as protecting the privacy of our citizens.”