German Spy Agency “Accidentally” Records Clinton, Kerry Phone Calls

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Aug. 16 2014 2:22 PM

German Spy Agency “Accidentally” Records Clinton, Kerry Phone Calls

159975266-secretary-of-state-hillary-clinton-and-sen-john-kerry
The two victims of Germany's eavesdropping.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

What goes around comes around? Germany has spent much of the last year complaining about the U.S. spying on allies that came to light thanks to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. But it turns out the German secret service did some spying of its own. The German Foreign Intelligence Agency recorded at least one phone conversation by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and another one by his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, according to German media. Der Spiegel published the details of the Kerry call on Saturday, a day after German media reported that BND officials tapped a call made by Clinton and did not immediately delete the file, reports Reuters. Kerry was recorded in 2013, when he was in the Middle East, while Clinton was recorded in 2012, during a phone conversation with former U.N. head Kofi Annan. Both officials were recorded while on U.S. government jets and while flying over conflict areas.

German officials emphasized that, as opposed to the NSA program, these recordings were made accidentally and not as part of a larger plan, although they also acknowledged there were other instances in which foreign officials were recorded. How does one record calls accidentally? Well it appears U.S. officials use frequencies that are favored by terrorist groups in northern Africa and the Middle East, the BND said, according to McClatchy. The BND ordered an official to delete Clinton’s recording, but the man charged with doing that is the same one who has been charged with selling secret documents to the United States. The man—known only as Markus R—ended up selling the transcript of Clinton's conversation to his American contacts.

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Despite the supposedly accidental nature of the recordings, German members of the opposition seized on the news to criticize Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government. "It is incredible that after one year of intense discussion about the NSA affair we learn for the first time that our own intelligence agency has been actively spying on allied nations," the co-leader of the Green party, Simone Peter said, according to Deutsche Welle.

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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