BERLIN — The German government said Wednesday that it had received information that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone was under surveillance by US intelligence services and that she had called President Obama to make clear that such practices — if confirmed — are unacceptable.
Steffen Seibert, the chancellor’s spokesman, quoted her as telling Obama: “Between close friends and partners, which the Federal Republic of Germany and the United States of America have been for decades, there should be no such surveillance of the communications of a head of government.”
He further quoted her as telling him: “That would be a grave breach of trust. Such practices must cease immediately.”
It was the second time in three days that allegations of US government surveillance threatened to cloud relations between Washington and close European allies. The consternation in Berlin followed a furor in France over reports in the Le Monde newspaper that US intelligence had collected data on 70 million communications by ordinary French people in a 30-day period late last year and into January.
The White House issued a statement confirming that Obama and Merkel had spoken “regarding allegations that the US National Security Agency intercepted the communications of the German chancellor. The president assured the chancellor that the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of Chancellor Merkel.”
The statement did not address whether those communications had been intercepted in the past.
Also Wednesday, James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence in the United States, disputed details of Le Monde’s reports as misleading.
‘There should be no such surveillance of the communications of a head of government.’
The vehement French criticism of the United States — Ambassador Charles H. Rivkin was summoned Monday to the French foreign ministry — followed on unhappiness expressed by Germany in June and since then by Brazil and Mexico, about having been targeted by the National Security Agency’s surveillance program. Brazil’s president, Dilma Roussef, canceled a visit to the United States over the issue.
Like earlier allegations of massive surveillance in Germany, the disclosures in France were based on documents provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former NSA contractor who has been charged in the United States with espionage and theft. His leaks of NSA materials have pointed an uncomfortable spotlight on the scope of US spying at home and abroad. Snowden, who was granted asylum in Russia, has been both denounced as a traitor and lauded as a hero for exposing the perils of government spying on private citizens in the digital age.
The statement from Seibert did not make clear what information the German government had received. Der Spiegel news magazine said on its website that it had made an inquiry to the government in the course of routine research, and said that inquiry had triggered the reaction. “Apparently, after an examination by the Federal Intelligence Service and the Federal Office for Security in Information Technology, the government found sufficient plausible grounds to confront the US government,” the magazine said.
In France, President François Hollande expressed “extreme reprobation” following the revelations of surveillance of French citizens. The White House official said Obama called Hollande on Monday and acknowledged that some of the reports had raised “legitimate questions for our friends and allies.”