Chancellor Angela Merkel’s communication system is “absolutely safe,” despite allegations that the U.S. intelligence services spied on her mobile phone, the German government said Friday.
The Chancellor normally conducts sensitive conversations over the fixed network in an encrypted form, the German government spokesman Georg Streiter said.
If necessary, Ms Merkel carries out such calls on a specially protected mobile phone, he said.
The mounting revelations about the digital surveillance activities of the National Security Agency (NSA) — arising from fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden — steadily strained U.S. relations with European allies.
Mr Streiter said the chiefs of Germany’s intelligence services would travel to Washington soon for talks with NSA officials at the White House about the claims that first emerged this week in the German weekly Der Spiegel that one of Ms Merkel’s non-government issued mobiles was monitored.
But he did not provide any details on when the group would travel, saying the trip would be arranged at “relatively short notice.” “It’s about confidence,” Mr Streiter said, echoing remarks made by Ms Merkel. “When confidence is shaken then confidence needs to be restored.” The allegations came as Ms Merkel attempts to build a new so-called grand coalition between her conservative Christian Democrats and their Bavarian-based associate party the Christian Social Union (CSU) and the main opposition Social Democrats (SPD).
Ms Merkel was forced to defend the head of her office and her key intelligence adviser Ronald Pofalla following criticism from the SPD about his declaration several months ago that the scandal surrounding U.S. international surveillance had ended.
“There can be no doubt about that,” Mr Streiter said when asked whether Ms Merkel continued to back her chief of staff.
CSU leader Horst Seehofer also called Friday for data protection to be included in the coalition talks.
French President Francois Hollande and Ms Merkel are to seek a clarification by the end of the year on the activities of the U.S. surveillance authorities it was announced in the early hours of Friday at a European Union leaders’ summit in Brussels.
“The intelligence service problems need to be solved not between state-to-state level, but between security services,” said Lithuanian Prime Minister Dalia Grybauskaite, whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency.
“We need to find ... a very good balance between data protection for our citizens — to give them guarantees and assurances that their data is protected — and to have a balance between international security,” Grybauskaite said.
In the meantime, Germany said it has no evidence that U.S. intelligence agencies have penetrated the security system for government telephone calls.
“In this regard, there is no evidence of any corresponding attacks,” an Interior Ministry spokesman told Friday’s briefing in Berlin.
He added, however, that conversations were only secure if both parties were using similarly encrypted phones.
IANS report adds:
In a new revelation, whistle-blower and ex-National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden has said the U.S. intelligence agency monitored the phone calls of 35 world leaders after the contacts were provided by an official in a U.S. government department.
The leaked document notes that one unnamed U.S. official handed over 200 phone numbers, including those of the 35 world leaders, none of whom is named, to the NSA, the Guardian reported.
The numbers provided by the government official were immediately “tasked” for monitoring by the NSA.
The confidential memo reveals that the NSA encourages senior officials of the government to share their contacts so that the agency could add the phone numbers of leading foreign politicians to their surveillance systems.
The revelation came just after German chancellor Angela Merkel Wednesday accused the U.S. of tapping her mobile phone, which could potentially further damage diplomatic relations between the US and its allies.
The NSA memo obtained by the newspaper suggests that such surveillance was not isolated, as the agency routinely monitors the phone numbers of world leaders.
The memo, dated October 2006, was issued to staff in the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate (SID), and was titled ‘Customers Can Help SID Obtain Targetable Phone Numbers’
The memo gave an example of how data collected from the U.S. officials who mixed with world leaders and politicians could help agency surveillance.
“In one recent case,” the memo notes, “a U.S. official provided NSA with 200 phone numbers of 35 world leaders ... Despite the fact that the majority is probably available via open source, the PCs (intelligence production centres) have noted 43 previously unknown phone numbers. These numbers plus several others have been tasked,” the leaked memo stated.