President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have exchanged some pretty awkward phone calls in recent years.
In 2013, Edward Snowden’s released documents revealed that the N.S.A. had been listening in on Ms. Merkel’s personal cell phone conversations for a little over a decade. And last summer, before the wound between Germany and the US was fully healed, Ms. Merkel’s government expelled the C.I.A. station chief from Germany after finding evidence that American spies were recruiting German officials.
“We want this cooperation based on partnership,” Merkel told the public broadcaster ZDF in an interview. “But we have different ideas, and part of this is that we don’t spy on each other.”
Merkel's stance has repeatedly been that espionage against a close ally is unacceptable.
But a recent leak has turned the tables: A German intelligence agency is being accused of spying on the FBI, along with a series of other US firms, a UN health agency, and the International Criminal Court, according to a report released by the respected German public radio station RBB-Inforadio.
Facts surrounding the release are unclear. The radio station provided no source for its report. Der Spiegel, another respected Germany weekly, however, reported a similar story over the weekend, writing that the German counterpart to the CIA, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), was spying on officials in the United States, Britain, France, Switzerland, Greece, and other European countries.
According to Der Spiegel, the list extended to NGOs, including the Red Cross and the International Criminal Court. The information was obtained “from sources.”
“The facts behind these various press reports will be comprehensively investigated and of course the chancellery is involved in this investigation,” Christiane Wirtz, a German government spokeswoman, told reporters in Berlin.
Earlier this year, the BND came under fire after the news was revealed that it had assisted the NSA in spying on certain European institutions by monitoring email and telephone traffic.
Germany and the United States have been longtime allies in the years following the Cold War. The nations drew closer together after the September 11 attacks in a strengthened effort to counter global terrorism. Germany provided troops in Afghanistan. During the Iraq war, the BND helped the NSA create a spying station in Bavaria – on the condition that German spies would operate it. But the past few years have felt the strain from intelligence services following the NSA leaks.
Merkel has yet to confirm whether the facts of the recent BND leak are correct. But if it's confirmed, she and Obama might be having yet another phone call – and soon.