German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich has demanded answers from the US on its alleged tapping of Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone and other privacy violations. Media report that targeting began in 2002.
On Sunday, Germany announced that if allegations were confirmed that the US National Security Agency had tapped Merkel's cell phone on German soil then criminal charges should follow.
Hans-Peter Friedrich (pictured above) who remains interior minister in Germany's postelection caretaker government told the mass circulation Bild am Sonntag (BAMS) newspaper that "eavesdropping is a criminal offense."
"If the Americans tapped mobile phones in Germany, they have broken German law on German soil," Friedrich said, adding that "those responsible must be held accountable."
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, another German Sunday newspaper, reported that Obama had told Merkel when they conferred by phone last Wednesday that he had been unaware of any spying against her. The paper did not cite its sources.
'Merkel' on NSA snippet?
The Sunday issue of BAMS displayed a supposed NSA text snippet dated 2002 that the news magazine Spiegel said was among documents from the US whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The snippet contains a listing "Subscriber GE Chancellor Merkel."
Spiegel had earlier reported that Merkel had still been under surveillance weeks before Obama visited Berlin last June.
BAMS reported that the NSA had also eavesdropped on her predecessor Gerhard Schröder. His Social Democrat-led coalition had refused to include German troops in the invasion of Iraq launched by former US President George W. Bush in 2003.
BAMS also published a map showing the close proximity of the US embassy in Berlin to Merkel's chancellery. It claimed that NSA specialists were located on the fourth four of the embassy, next to Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate.
The newspaper reported that the NSA had targeted not only the cell phone supplied by her conservative Christian Democrat Union (CDU) party but also her encrypted official device.
Friedrich wants 'answers'
Ahead of a visit to Washington next week by a high-ranking German government delegation, Friedrich said the United States must give "gapless answers" on where and to which extent it had electronically eavesdropped on the state and citizens.
"The trust in the alliance partner USA is shaken" said Friedrich, who is an allied Bavarian member of Merkel's previous center-right coalition.
In July, German opposition parties accused Friedrich of returning "empty-handed" from a trip to Washington without answers on US intelligence gathering in Europe and Germany.
Friedrich, instead, said US surveillance had foiled 45 potential terrorist attacks around the world, including five in Germany. The NSA had "strictly focused" only on terrorism and weapons proliferation, Friedrich said in July.
Snowden as witness?
Thomas Oppermann, a senior figure in Germany's opposition Social Democrats, who are involved in coalition talks with Merkel on forming Germany's next government, has called for a parliamentary committee of inquiry.
Oppermann told BAMS that only clarification through an inquiry sought by "all four factions in the Bundestag" could restore "badly shaken trust" in safeguards intended to protect the private sphere.
"Snowden's data seem to be credible while the US government in this matter has apparently lied to us," Oppermann told BAMS. "Snowden could therefore be a valuable witness."
The opposition Green new co-leader Simone Peter said that Merkel, herself, should be questioned at such an inquiry, given that several months ago her chancellery chief had declared the scandal ended.
In Brussels at the outset of an EU summit on Thursday, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the right to privacy was a "very serious matter," especially in view of "spying on peoples' lives every day" in the former East Germany.
The spying row prompted EU leaders led by Germany and France to call for a new deal with Washington on intelligence gathering that would maintain trans-Atlantic links while tackling terrorism in the wake of attacks from al Qaeda since 2001.
ipj/mz (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)