(Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
After German media alleged President Obama was personally briefed about the monitoring of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone conversations and that the surveillance may have lasted for 10 years, the National Security Agency (NSA) on Sunday backed Obama's claim that he wasn't aware of it.
"General Alexander did not discuss with President Obama in 2010 an alleged foreign intelligence operation involving German Chancellor Merkel, nor has he ever discussed alleged operations involving Chancellor Merkel. News reports claiming otherwise are not true," the NSA said in a statement Sunday.
On Saturday, German tabloid Bild am Sonntag said Gen. Alexander, head of the NSA and the United States Cyber Command, briefed Obama about bugging of Merkel's phone in 2010 and that the U.S president allowed it to continue.
The tabloid added that the NSA also spied on Merkel's predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, because he refused to support the Iraq War, and that the surveillance carried on after Merkel took office in 2005.
Obama told Merkel on phone last Wednesday that he wasn't aware that her phone had been tapped, according to German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung. Susan E. Rice, Obama's national security adviser, also told her German counterpart last week that the president did not know about the monitoring of Merkel's phone, according to The New York Times.
German magazine Der Spiegel reported on Saturday that the NSA's Special Collection Service (SCS) had Merkel's mobile phone on its list, marked as "GE Chancellor Merkel," from as early as 2002, under President George W. Bush, until weeks before Obama's Berlin visit in June.
The magazine also said a secret 2010 document shows that the NSA ran a "not legally registered spying branch" in the U.S. embassy in Berlin. The U.S. agency had similar branches in about 80 locations worldwide, it added.
On Friday, leaders of European Union nations warned in a common statement that U.S. spying on their governments could jeopardize their joint fight against terrorism.
Intelligence gathering is a vital element in the fight against terrorism, the leaders stressed in the statement signed at an EU summit in Brussels. "This applies to relations between European countries as well as to relations with the USA," they said. "A lack of trust could prejudice the necessary cooperation in the field of intelligence gathering."
Germany and France also demanded that the United States sign a "code of conduct" with EU countries to check American intelligence services from spying on them, according to The Telegraph.
Merkel "views such practices, if proven true, as completely unacceptable and condemns them unequivocally," said a recent statement by her spokesman. "Between close friends and partners, as Germany and the U.S. have been for decades, there should not be such monitoring of the communications of a government leader. This would be a grave breach of trust. Such practices should be immediately stopped."
Last Thursday, former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden sent a statement to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), saying, "We've learned that the U.S. intelligence community secretly built a system of pervasive surveillance. Today, no telephone in America makes a call without leaving a record with the NSA. Today, no internet transaction enters or leaves America without passing through the NSA's hands. Our representatives in Congress tell us this is not surveillance. They're wrong."