Bild newspaper in Germany – which also reported surveillance on the phone of her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder, who opposed the war in Iraq – called US denials of eavesdropping “diplomatic lies” as new documents from the National Security Agency in Washington suggest the bugging against both politicians went on for ten years.
Bild quoted a secret intelligence source saying the president was informed in 2010 about the operation against Mrs Merkel by NSA boss Keith Alexander and he sanctioned it.
“Obama did not stop the action but rather furthered it,” said the Bild informant. “The reason for the action? Obama wanted to know exactly who this woman was.”
German handling of the eurozone crisis and its refusal to get involved militarily in Libya increased White House suspicions about who it was dealing with in Europe, it added.
It was also claimed that as well as listening into the Nokia supplied to her by the CDU conservative party, the electronic specialists of the NSA also cracked her secure personal mobile only last summer – receiving both text messages and overhearing calls from that device too – even though it was supposed to have been made bug-proof by German intelligence.
German media said there was little doubt that “Handy-gate” – the name given to the scandal, from the German word Handy for mobile phone – was launched from the American embassy in Berlin.
According to German newspapers, 18 NSA specialists are currently stationed in Berlin, working from a soundproofed, bombproof room on the fourth floor of the ultra secure embassy that is less than two miles from the chancellor’s office.
According to media reports it was former president George W Bush, who instigated the surveillance against the socialist premier Mr Schroeder.
“Where do the Germans stand, can we trust Schroeder?” was allegedly the question, according to Bild, asked in the White House when Mr Bush sanctioned the hacking of his phone.
He apparently was particularly disturbed about the closeness of the relationship that Mr Schroeder had with Vladimir Putin – a friendship which led to Schroeder gaining a lucrative post with Russian energy giant Gazprom when he left office.
“Schroeder knew that he had greatly angered America with his opposition to the Iraq war,” said Bild.
“In his inner circle he made no secret of his conviction that he was being bugged by the American secret services.”
German politicians together with spy chiefs are scheduled to fly to the US this week for talks with their counterparts about the snooping programme. “High-ranking government representatives will go to the United States in order to push forward discussions with the White House and the NSA on the allegations raised recently,” said Georg Streiter, the chancellor’s deputy spokesman.
The row has prompted European leaders to demand a new deal with Washington on intelligence gathering. The 28 leaders also warn that while Europe and the US share a “close relationship”, it must “be based on respect and trust”.