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United States

Spiegel: NSA may have spied on Merkel for a decade

The US may have bugged Angela Merkel's phone for a decade. Spiegel has reported that US President Barack Obama told the German leader he would have stopped it from happening had he known about it.

On Saturday, Spiegel reported that the NSA's Special Collection Service (SCS) had listed Merkel's mobile telephone since 2002, beginning under the Bush administration, and that it had remained on the list weeks before Obama visited Berlin in June.

The German magazine also reported that NSA and CIA staff had tapped government communications with high-tech surveillance from the US Embassy in Berlin.

Spiegel cited a SCS document saying the agency had a "not legally registered spying branch" in the Berlin embassy, the exposure of which would lead to "grave damage for the relations of the United States to another government."

Quoting a secret 2010 document, Spiegel reported that such branches existed in about 80 locations worldwide, including Paris, Madrid, Rome, Prague, Geneva and Frankfurt. The magazine reported that it remained unclear whether the SCS had recorded conversations or just connection data. On Friday, Germany announced that experts considered Merkel's state-related calls safe given that she normally uses encrypted phones.

A breach of trust

Merkel telephoned US President Barack Obama on Wednesday saying that such spying would be a "breach of trust" between international partners.

"Spying between friends, that's just not done," Merkel said.

Obama apologized to Merkel when she called Wednesday to seek clarification, Spiegel reported. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung reported that Obama told Merkel he had not known of the bugging. Merkel's spokesman and the White House declined to speak on the issue.

"We're not going to comment on the details of our diplomatic discussions," said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council at the White House.

Germany summoned the US ambassador this week for the first time in living memory, an unprecedented postwar diplomatic rift. The dispute over US surveillance activities first emerged earlier this year after reports that Washington had bugged European Union offices and had tapped half a billion phone calls, emails and text messages in Germany in a typical month.

In August, Merkel's government announced weeks before parliamentary elections that the US had given assurances that spies had upheld German law. Now, Germany will send intelligence chiefs to Washington next week to seek answers on the allegations around Merkel's phone.

'Denial of service'

On Saturday, the NSA claimed an erroneous update caused a website outage. After a blackout Friday, the site reappeared eight hours later. A spokesman for the agency rejected speculation on social networks that hackers might have staged a "denial of service" attack.

"NSA.gov was not accessible for several hours tonight because of an internal error that occurred during a scheduled update," he said.

Disclosures from Edward Snowden published internationally have prompted Brazil and Germany to begin drafting a UN General Assembly resolution. The vote would demand that excessive spying and invasions of privacy be ended following complaints from world leaders such as Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff over tapping of their communications, allegedly by the NSA.

Meanwhile, several hundred people gathered in Washington protest US surveillance and call for a legislation limiting the NSA's snooping capabilities. Demonstrators held signs reading "Thank You Edward Snowden!" and "Stop Mass Spying" as they marched near the US Capitol building.

mkg, dr/ch (Reuters, AFP, dpa)