BERLIN — Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden is interested in testifying in a German inquiry into US spying, a German lawmaker said Friday, a day after meeting with the leaker in Moscow. But questions remained about how and where that would be possible.
The suggestion came the same day that Germany’s top security official said he was open to making it possible to take testimony from Snowden about allegations that the NSA monitored Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone for more than 10 years. Snowden has been living in Russia, which granted him temporary asylum for a year after the United States revoked his passport.
Secretary of State John Kerry’s remark that some NSA surveillance ‘‘reached too far’’ was the first time a high-ranking Obama administration official acknowledged that US snooping abroad might be seen as overzealous.
After launching into a vigorous defense of surveillance as an effective counterterror tool, Kerry acknowledged to a video conference on open government in London that ‘‘in some cases, I acknowledge to you, as has the president, that some of these actions have reached too far, and we are going to make sure that does not happen in the future.’’
‘‘There is no question that the president and I and others in government have actually learned of some things that had been happening, in many ways, on an automatic pilot because the technology is there,’’ Kerry said, responding to a question about government transparency.
Kerry was responding to questions from European allies about reports in the past two weeks that the NSA had collected data on tens of millions of Europe-based phone calls and had monitored the cellphones of 35 world leaders, including that of Merkel.
Snowden’s apparent interest in going to Germany — if the country could give him assurances it would grant him shelter and not send him on to the United States — puts Merkel into a tight spot. German voters are furious with the US government over the spying revelations, and allowing Snowden into Germany would be a popular move. But the Obama administration has made clear that it is willing to go to great lengths to retrieve Snowden — including, said Bolivian President Evo Morales this summer, forcing the leader of a sovereign country to make an emergency landing because of suspicions that Snowden was on his jet.
Some German officials voiced discomfort Friday at being trapped between the two sides.
‘‘If there were the possibility to hear Snowden as a witness — without bringing him into danger and completely ruining the German-USA relationship — we should use it,’’ said Thomas Oppermann, a Social Democrat who heads the parliamentary intelligence oversight committee, on Twitter.
German lawmakers appeared split about how best to proceed, although many seemed interested in hearing from Snowden even if he does not step foot in Berlin.
‘‘If Mr. Snowden is willing to talk with German officials, we will find ways to make this conversation possible,’’ German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told Die Zeit newspaper.
Friedrich also said if US diplomats were found to have been complicit in spying on Germany, they should be expelled.
In a letter that Snowden gave German lawmaker Hans-Christian Stroebele on Thursday, Snowden wrote that he was interested in speaking out further about what he sees as instances of overreaching by the US intelligence establishment, but that the US government had forced him into ‘‘exile.’’
In the letter, which was addressed ‘‘to whom it may concern’’ but which Stroebele said was intended for Merkel and Germany’s chief prosecutor, Snowden wrote that ‘‘I look forward to speaking with you in your country when the situation is resolved’’ — a reference to the dropping of felony charges against him in the United States.