The NSA has stepped up its surveillance of senior German government officials since being ordered by Barack Obama to halt its spying on chancellor Angela Merkel, Bild am Sonntag reported yesterday.
Revelations last year about mass US surveillance in Germany, in particular of Merkel’s mobile phone, shocked Germans and sparked the most serious dispute between the transatlantic allies in a decade.
Bild am Sonntag said its information stemmed from a high-ranking NSA employee in Germany and that those being spied on included Thomas de Maiziere, the interior minister and a close confidant of Merkel.
“We have had the order not to miss out on any information now that we are no longer able to monitor the chancellor’s communication directly,” it quoted the NSA employee as saying.
A spokesman for the interior ministry said it would not comment on the “allegations of unnamed individuals”.
To calm the uproar over US surveillance abroad, President Barack Obama in January banned US eavesdropping on the leaders of close friends and allies of Washington.
Germans are especially sensitive about snooping due to their experiences in the Nazi era and in Communist East Germany, when the Stasi secret police built up a massive surveillance network.
Berlin has been pushing, so far in vain, for a “no-spy” deal with Washington. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the foreign minister, is due to visit the US on Thursday but has doubts such a deal would have much effect.
Bild am Sonntag quoted a security adviser to Obama, Caitlin Hayden, as saying: “The United States has made clear it gathers intelligence in exactly the same way as any other states.”
The paper said the NSA was monitoring 320 people in Germany — mostly politicians but also business leaders.
Steinmeier said he was hopeful the US has understood that surveillance of political partners “can have a political price”.
He was quoted as saying in an interview with Der Spiegel yesterday that the task of overcoming differences over US surveillance activities “should not be underestimated”.
He added his voice to growing scepticism over a hoped-for “no-spy” accord with the US, saying: “I doubt that a ‘no-spy’ agreement will get us much further.”
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