Berlin, Oct. 24: Leaders and citizens in Germany, one of America’s closest allies, simmered with barely contained fury today over reports that American intelligence had tapped into Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone, the latest diplomatic fallout from the documents harvested by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden.
In an unusual move between staunch allies, Germany summoned the US ambassador over the claims. Merkel herself angrily demanded assurances from President Obama that her cellphone was not the target of an American intelligence tap as soon as suspicions surfaced yesterday.
Washington hastily pledged that her calls were not being monitored and would not be in future but conspicuously said nothing about the past. While the chancellor kept quiet before heading to Brussels for a European summit, one of her closest allies, defence minister Thomas de Maizière, gave full voice to the shock expressed by politicians and citizens.
“If that is true, what we hear, then that would be really bad,” De Maizière told ARD, Germany’s leading state television channel. America is Germany’s best friend, he noted, adding: “It really can’t work like this.” He suggested that there would be consequences. “We can’t simply go back to business as usual,” he said.
Katrin Göring-Eckardt, the leader of the Greens, shared the indignation, noting that America is a close ally but that normal business could not be conducted “if we go about suspecting one another”. Her consternation was mixed with an element of “we told you so”.
That was also a strong strand in online comments pouring into German media websites. Merkel’s angry call to Obama was the second time in 48 hours — after a similar furore in France prompted Obama to call President François Hollande — that the President found himself on the phone with a close European ally to argue that continuing revelations of invasive intelligence gathering should not undermine decades of hard-won trans-Atlantic trust.