BRITAIN’S GCHQ eavesdropped regularly on calls from German chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone, according to reports in a German magazine today.
Weeks after it was revealed that America’s NSA routinely hacked into Ms Merkel’s mobile phone comes the revelation that Britain – along with Russia, China and North Korea – were listening into the conversations of the world’s most powerful woman.
“With so many people hacking in at once it is a surprise the mobile didn’t explode in her hand,” one government official told a radio phone-in show in Germany yesterday.
The claims are made in Focus magazine by security correspondent Josef Hufelschulte, regarded as reliable as he was the target of German intelligence hacking of his phone a decade ago when spies wanted to trace the source of his stories.
Last week Berlin announced it was stepping up security for high-ranking politicians with special anti-bugging devices in mobile and landline telephones.
It is understood this was announced because officials knew of the free-for-all listening-in that was taking place on the chancellor’s phone among the world’s top espionage services.
The British Embassy in Berlin was revealed in the documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to be the base for GCHQ snooping in Berlin. In their article, Focus reveals that Germany has identified 120 diplomats registered at the Russian Embassy in Berlin to be spies, 60 of them tasked specifically with recruiting informers across Germany.
In the past year overseas agents – including British ones – have allegedly tried to recruit more than 100 German politicians, military officers, civil servants, business managers and scientists to trade information deemed useful.
“These are the ones that did the honourable thing and reported the approaches made to them by spooks from another country,” said a government source.
“How many hundreds more sold out for cash or sex or some other commodity they wanted is anyone’s guess.”
The phone tapping claims will further strain relations between Berlin and London, as British diplomats work hard to gloss over the effects of the embassy spying operation in the German capital.
A spokeswoman from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said last night: “As part of a long-standing policy, we neither confirm or deny anything that concerns intelligence issues.”
Following the phone-tapping reports, a German politician has called on British spy chiefs to hand over information they gathered on him using the “spy station” at the UK embassy in Berlin.
Hans-Christian Stroebele is pushing for Britain to face action for breaking European laws claiming that the UK has allowed fibre optic cables in England to be used to transmit data from Germany to the United States.