Report: NSA Kept Tabs on Merkel’s Phone Since 2002

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 26 2013 4:12 PM

Report: NSA Kept Tabs on Merkel’s Phone Since 2002

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Protesters march through downtown Washington D.C. during the Stop Watching Us Rally protesting surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency, on October 26

Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images

An already complicated diplomatic situation got a bit trickier for the White House Saturday after Germany’s Der Spiegel reported that the National Security Agency may have bugged Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone as early as 2002. President Barack Obama reportedly told Merkel that he had no idea about the spying on her phone and he would have ordered it stopped had he known, according to Der Spiegel and another German daily, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Der Spiegel hasn’t published the story in English and Google translate doesn’t quite cut it for such a delicate issue, but Reuters publishes a summary of what’s in the story. The magazine saw an NSA Special Collection Service document that claimed the agency had a “not legally registered spying branch” in the U.S. embassy in Berlin. And U.S. authorities seemed to be well aware that if their ally Germany were to find out about the spying post it wouldn’t be very happy. But it was hardly a unique situation considering there were about 80 of these branches across the world. The one thing that is not clear from the documents Der Spiegel saw is whether the NSA officials actually listened in on Merkel’s communication or whether they used the information to build networks of contacts.

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Meanwhile, Germany said it will be sending senior intelligence officials to Washington to try to figure out exactly what was done when, reports the Guardian. "We are talking to the Americans to clear things up as quickly as possible. A high-level delegation will travel for talks with the White House and National Security Agency to push forward the investigation into the recent allegations,” a German government spokesman said. Germany and Brazil are apparently working together on a U.N. resolution that would call for protecting the privacy of electronic communications.

Meanwhile, in Washington, thousands got together to protest NSA surveillance, saying lawmakers need to keep closer tabs on the agency, reports USA Today. The protesters carried signs that read "Thank you, Edward Snowden" and "No NSA mass spying," among others.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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