US tracked Merkel's phone for more than a decade

This is hugely embarrassing for the Obama administration. Hacking the personal cell phone calls of the leader of a friendly nation from 2002-2013 probably got us a lot of juicy gossip but not much in the way of useful intelligence. It is highly unlikely that Chancellor Merkel would have used that phone for any calls involving German national security or any sensitive foreign policy matters.

But this is also a blow to German intelligence and Merkel herself. Germans may wonder how it's possible the NSA was able to track the personal phone calls of their leader for so many years without German security services being aware of it.

Needless to say, the Germans are incensed.


The United States may have bugged Angela Merkel's phone for more than 10 years, according to a news report on Saturday that also said President Barack Obama told the German leader he would have stopped it happening had he known about it.

Germany's outrage over reports of bugging of Merkel's phone by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) prompted it to summon the U.S. ambassador this 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 (SCS) since 2002 - marked as "GE Chancellor Merkel" - and was still on the list weeks before Obama visited Berlin in June.

n 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 the 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 was 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 he had not known of the bugging.

Merkel's spokesman and the White House declined 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 earlier this year after reports that Washington had bugged European Union offices and had tapped half a billion phone calls, emails and text messages in Germany in a typical month.

But it appeared close to resolution after Merkel's government said in August - just weeks before a parliamentary election - the United States had given sufficient assurances they were upholding German law.

Let's make something clear. Getting caught spying on friends is far worse than the act itself. The hypocrisy of the Europeans in weeping about our surveillance should be placed in context.

Take a walk down Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, D.C. - what they call "embassy row" where dozens of embassies are located. If you happen to examine the buildings closely, you will note all sorts of electronic stuff sticking out the walls and on the roof - antennas, satellite dish's, cameras, etc. Some of that is for security. A lot of it is signals intelligence apparatus.

None of it is so that they can pick up home broadcasts of their country's World Cup qualifiers.

To believe that the rest of the world wouldn't kill for NSA's capabilities is to believe in Santa Claus. To believe that even our friends don't try their best to intercept communications from US government officials is bizarrely naive. They'd be crazy not to.

The only rule is don't get caught. Unfortunately for US diplomacy, Edward Snowden happened. And we'll be paying that price for years.