Germany Is Now Added to the List of ‘Friends and Allies’ That Have NSA Questions

Chancellor Angela Merkel called President Obama on Wednesday following reports the U.S. spied on her mobile phone.

President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G20 summit on September 6 in St. Petersburg, Russia.
National Journal
Brian Resnick, Matt Vasilogambros and Matt Berman
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Brian Resnick and Matt Vasilogambros and Matt Berman
Oct. 23, 2013, 10:16 a.m.

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.”

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