While Germany was publicly fuming about the revelation in 2013 that the NSA was listening in on Angela Merkel’s cell phone conversations, it was secretly tapping those of top-level U.S. and U.K. diplomats. The Sunday Times (of London) reports:
The Bundesnachrichten- dienst, or BND, Germany’s equivalent of MI6, placed Baroness Ashton of Upholland under electronic surveillance when she was the EU’s high representative on foreign affairs and security.
It also tried to tap the mobile and office phones of John Kerry, the secretary of state, according to Der Spiegel magazine.
However, the attempt to listen in to Kerry’s mobile conversations failed because a bungling spy used an African country code by mistake. His other phones, including one at the American State Department, were successfully tapped.
At the time of the 2013 NSA scandal, Merkel was adamant that “spying on friends is not acceptable” and was said to be “livid.” Her spokesman pulled no punches:
Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, made plain that Merkel upbraided Obama unusually sharply and also voiced exasperation at the slowness of the Americans to respond to detailed questions on the NSA scandal since the Snowden revelations first appeared in the Guardian in June.
Merkel told Obama that “she unmistakably disapproves of and views as completely unacceptable such practices, if the indications are authenticated,” Seifert said. “This would be a serious breach of confidence. Such practices have to be halted immediately.”
And the rest of the German commentariat erupted in a furor that lasted for months and seriously affected transatlantic relations. Meanwhile, in the same year (though the timing is unclear from initial reports), the BND was quietly asked to wind down the surveillance of Ashton—but won’t comment on the rest of the program.
There’s definitely a chuckle to be had here—perhaps with a side of schadenfreude aimed at whoever has to address these revelations on behalf of the Chancellor. But its a dark world out there—for which reason, spying, even on allies, is the order of things. Angela Merkel seems to understand that, it turns out. Perhaps she would be good enough to explain it to her public.