The US has denied that Barack Obama was aware of his government's spying on Chancellor Angela Merkel. The statement came after an earlier German media report saying the president was informed of the operation in 2010.
National Security Agency (NSA) spokeswoman Valerie Vines denied on Sunday that President Obama had been told about the agency's spying on Merkel. The German newspaper Bild am Sonntag (BAMS) had earlier reported that NSA chief Keith Alexander had personally told Obama about the eavesdropping.
"Obama did not halt the operation but rather let it continue," the newspaper quoted an unnamed high-ranking NSA official as saying.
Alexander "did not discuss with President Obama in 2010 an alleged foreign intelligence operation involving German Chancellor Angela Merkel, nor has he ever discussed alleged operations involving Chancellor Merkel," Vines said in Washington.
"News reports claiming otherwise are not true," she added.
Germany's Spiegel magazine on Saturday published a report, citing secret documents provided by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, that Merkel's phone had been on a list of targets for monitoring as far back as 2002, and that she was still under surveillance just weeks before Obama visited Berlin in June.
The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that the NSA ended the program involving Merkel after a White House review uncovered the operation this summer. The program also involved 35 other world leaders, some of whom are still being monitored, the newspaper said in its report, citing US officials.
'Merkel' on NSA snippet?
The Sunday issue of BAMS displayed a supposed NSA text snippet dated 2002 that Spiegel said was among documents from Snowden.
The snippet contains a listing "Subscriber GE Chancellor Merkel."
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 floor 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 party but also her encrypted official device.
Interior minister wants answers
On Sunday, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said if the allegations that Merkel's cell phone was tapped on German soil then criminal charges should follow. Friedrich told BAMS 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."
Ahead of a visit to Washington next week by a high-ranking German government delegation, Friedrich said the US must give "gapless answers" on where and to what extent it had eavesdropped on the state and citizens.
"The trust in the alliance partner USA is shaken" said Friedrich.
dr,ipj/lw (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)