Reports suggest the NSA may have been bugging German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone for more than ten years, as her government pushes for “complete information” from the US.
Germany’s Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich warned on Sunday that if the US had been bugging German phones then they “broke German law on German soil” and said “those responsible must be held accountable”.
The emergence of reports that the US surveillance agency had been bugging Ms Merkel’s phone has created a sudden diplomatic rift in US/German relations.
Read more from Technology Producer Geoff White: So how did the NSA eavesdrop on Angela Merkel's mobile calls?
Ms Merkel telephoned US President Barack Obama on Wednesday to seek clarification on the issue. It is understood that Mr Obama apologised and said he had not been aware of the bugging.
Germany also summoned the US ambassador for the first time in living memory over the issue, and will send intelligence chiefs to Washington next week to seek answers.
German news magazine Der Spiegel said on Saturday that Ms Merkel had been listed by the NSA’s Special Collection Service (SCS) from 2002, and said she was still on the list weeks before Mr Obama visited Berlin in June.
In an SCS document cited by the magazine, the agency said it had a “not legally registered spying branch” in the US embassy in Berlin, the exposure of which would lead to “grave damage for the relations of the United States to another government”.
I work on assumption that 6+ countries tap my phone. Increasingly rare that diplomats say anything sensitive on calls.
— Tom Fletcher (@HMATomFletcher) October 24, 2013
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 latest revelations, originally triggered by leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, have fuelled anger against the US once again.
At Capitol Hill in Washington DC demonstrators gathered carrying placards with slogans such as “read the constitution, not my email” and “thank you Edward Snowden” (see video, above).
The NSA programme that analyses US phone records has made requests to carry out electronic surveillance nearly 20,000 times over the past decade – virtually all requests have been approved.
It was also reported last week that the NSA had collected 70.3m French-based telephone and electronic message records in a 30-day period.
The rift over US surveillance activities was widened 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.