New reports have revealed that the U.S. National Security Agency has been tapping a wide range of senior German officials for decades, at least as far back as 1990 when Helmut Kohl was in power.
The new documents reveal that phone lines of some of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s closest aides as well as officials in the government administrations of her predecessors have been monitored for decades, according to new WikiLeaks reports that were made public Wednesday night.
The new list features more than 125 government phone numbers that date back to 1990, including those of senior officials within the government of Mr. Kohl, who was chancellor from 1990 to 1998 and Gerhard Schröder, who was in power from 1998 to 2005.
Berlin is a hot spot for foreign intelligence services, not just for the American one. Patrick Sensburg, CDU lawmaker
“This information shows to what extent spying took place,” said Patrick Sensburg, chairman of a parliamentary inquiry on NSA activity.
The new revelations make Berlin more aware of spying attacks from other countries as well, he said.
“Berlin is a hot spot for foreign intelligence services, not just for the American one.”
News that the NSA was tapping into phone conversations, including Ms. Merkel's cell phone, broke for the first time in October 2013. Only one week ago, Ms. Merkel’s chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, whose number is also included on the new list, met with the ambassador to the United States, John B. Emerson to discuss a new wave of spying revelations.
A U.S. embassy spokesperson declined to comment on specific intelligence issues, but added that relations between Germany and the United States were still functional.
“We affirm our strong bilateral relationship with Germany and common priorities. We work closely on virtually all global challenges, such as climate change, trade, Russia’s destabilizing activities in Ukraine, and fighting ISIS,” the spokesperson said. She declined to be named in line with protocol.
Mr. Altmaier’s office declined to comment on the latest news this morning.
A government spokesperson also made no comment on the revelations. Ms. Merkel is currently in the Balkans on a three-day official visit to Serbia and Bosnia.
The new list of phone numbers that were bugged includes some that are still active to this day, including the extensions of Ms. Merkel’s assistant, Beate Baumann and Ronald Pofalla, who is also a member of Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrat party and was chief of staff at the chancellery from 2009 to 2013.
Other top aides whose phones were listened to include Klaus-Dieter Fritsche, a senior official at the chancellery, and Volker Kauder, leader of the CDU parliamentary group.
Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks co-founder who released the latest information said the United States is more interested in the overall economic and political strategy of European countries rather than specific people.
“There is a strategic nature to the U.S. interception (…) it is about understanding the politics and economy of Germany and what Germany wants to do in the world,” said Mr. Assange in an interview with German public broadcaster ARD.
“And the same thing with France. Because ultimately, the United States is a big player and it wants to manage the world in the interest of the big companies and other organized groups that back it,” he said, referring to recent revelations in June that the NSA was also listening in to phone conversations with top French government officials, including the country's last three presidents.
The oldest number that appears on the new list belongs to an aide and confidante of former chancellor Kohl, Johannes Ludewig. The documents also include minutes of conversations involving Ms. Merkel and other senior aides in the years from 2009 and 2011.
The new revelations put Ms. Merkel under pressure to respond to the spying and address the issue with U.S. president Barack Obama. The United States is still considered one of Germany's closest allies.
“The latest revelations are very embarrassing for the chancellery and Ms. Merkel,” said Konstantin von Notz, deputy group chairman of the Greens, the second main opposition party in parliament. “This has been known since Edward Snowden in 2013, but instead of discussing the issue, they tried to play it down,” he said.
"These weekly revelations show listening in between friends has long been a reality. At the same time, it's increasingly obvious how naive, helpless and dishonest the government's behavior has been regarding the NSA scandal," Green party politician Katrin Göring-Eckardt said. "The government can't put off a proper investigation any longer. We also need a reform of our secret services and better supervision of these services, in parliament and in the federal chancellery."
At the time, Ms. Merkel asked the American president to explain the spying attacks and labelled them “unacceptable,” according to her spokesperson, Steffen Seibert in 2013.