Germany Asks for Answers From U.S. Over Spying Accusations


This time, the Germans were more polite about wanting a word with the United States ambassador over accusations of American spying on top members of the government here.

But the invitation — a more decorous form than a summons — that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff sent on Thursday to Ambassador John B. Emerson nonetheless signaled another recent low in German-American relations. And it showed how difficult it has proved to be for the two close allies to shake off years of scandal over snooping.

The German news media said, citing unidentified government officials, that the chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, issued the invitation in response to what the officials called a fresh “crisis” in the relationship.

Later, the German government confirmed that Mr. Altmaier had “received the U.S. Ambassador for a conversation,” and made clear that German law had to be observed and “established violations are pursued.”

The statement from Steffen Seibert, a government spokesman, made clear the Germans’ annoyance at the latest reported snooping. “Such repeated incidents harm the cooperation between German and American intelligence agencies which is indispensable for the security of our citizens,” he said.

Beginning last year, the government had strengthened counterintelligence measures, the statement said. The latest reports only confirm that the government was fully justified in doing so, Mr. Seibert added.

Revelations by the antisecrecy group WikiLeaks in 2010, and especially by Edward J. Snowden in 2013, suggesting that the United States spied extensively on its European allies have reverberated in Berlin more than in other capitals.

In part, that is because the Germans well remember how Nazi and Communist former regimes spied on their citizens. But it is also because Germany’s intelligence agencies are subject to parliamentary scrutiny that often results in information leaking to the news media. Intelligence officials complain that this hampers them, while other Germans argue for even more openness about what Germany and its allies are up to.

The latest round erupted this week when German and French news outlets published documents made public by WikiLeaks. The documents included what was said to be a summary of conversation Ms. Merkel had in October 2011 with an unidentified personal adviser about the debt crisis in Greece; a document from the chancellor’s senior adviser on European affairs; and a list of 69 telephone numbers that were said to belong to members of the German government or their aides.

If the documents are genuine, they would seem to indicate that American spying on German officials had gone on for decades; some of the phone numbers appeared to date to the days before reunification when the West German government was based in Bonn.

Public outrage in Germany has been particularly strong since evidence emerged in October 2013 that the National Security Agency was eavesdropping on Ms. Merkel’s cellphone. That prompted the Germans to summon Mr. Emerson, who had been in Berlin only a few weeks, to the Foreign Ministry.

The Federal Republic of Germany, so dependent on its American allies for security and so reliant on American help to recover after World War II, had never done that before, and did not even have an established diplomatic protocol for going about it.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Alison Smale and Melissa Eddy