Leaders in Germany, a major European power and an ally of the United States, changed their usually friendly tune this week after learning the National Security Agency may have tapped into Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone.
On Thursday, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle planned to meet with U.S. Ambassador John Emerson to demand answers about the allegations. “We can’t simply return to business as usual,” if the allegations are true, said German Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière, according to the website of German newsmagazine Der Spiegel. “The Americans are and remain our closest friends, but this is completely unacceptable.”
The possibility that NSA eavesdroppers have zeroed in on Merkel’s mobile—not simply swept up some of her calls while investigating another foreign target—was prompted by Der Spiegel’s research. After Merkel heard the allegation, she had a direct phone conversation with U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday. According to White House spokesman Jay Carney, Obama assured her “the United States is not monitoring, and will not monitor, the communications of the chancellor.” However, his statement left open the question of whether the NSA had tapped Merkel’s calls in the past.
Merkel’s spokesman said such an action would be a “grave breach of trust” between the two nations. One official from Merkel’s party told a German radio program that political leaders there across party lines were “outraged” at the news.
The sudden strain in relations between Germany and the United States highlights the continuing diplomatic fallout following this summer’s leak of U.S. national security documents by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Although Merkel questioned Obama about NSA surveillance a few months ago, she dismissed any suggestion the United States had intercepted her calls, saying she knew of “no case where I was listened to.”
Earlier this week, French newspaper Le Monde alleged the NSA had captured 70 million phone call recordings of French citizens, prompting anger in the country. James Clapper, the director of U.S. national intelligence, denies the claim.