US denies Obama knew of Merkel spying
October 28, 2013, 2:28 pm TWN
The imbroglio over the tapping of Angela Merkel's phone deepened Sunday, after a US denial that President Barack Obama was personally informed for years of electronic surveillance against the German chancellor.
As a sense of betrayal spread in European capitals about spying activities conducted against world leaders and ordinary citizens, German media reports said tapping of Merkel's phone may have begun as early as 2002.
Bild am Sonntag newspaper quoted US intelligence sources as saying that America's National Security Agency chief General Keith Alexander had briefed Obama on the operation against Merkel in 2010.
"Obama did not halt the operation but rather let it continue," the newspaper quoted a high-ranking NSA official as saying.
News weekly Der Spiegel reported that leaked NSA documents showed Merkel's phone had appeared on a list of spying targets for over a decade, and was still under surveillance weeks before Obama visited Berlin in June.
But NSA spokeswoman Vanee' Vines, in Washington, flatly denied the claims.
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," Vines said.
"News reports claiming otherwise are not true," she added.
The allegations, derived from documents acquired from US fugitive defense contractor Edward Snowden, have stoked global outrage that American spy agencies were responsible for broad snooping into the communications of several dozen world leaders and likely millions of ordinary people.
A poll for Der Spiegel found that 60 percent of Germans believe the scandal has damaged bilateral ties.
European leaders have since called for a new deal with Washington on intelligence gathering that would maintain an essential alliance while keeping the fight against terrorism on track.
Germany is to send its own spy chiefs to Washington to demand answers.
Swiss President Ueli Maurer warned the revelations risked "undermining confidence between states."
"We don't know if we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg or if other governments are acting in the same ruthless manner," he told the Schweiz am Sonntag weekly.