Since documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA had spied on the German government, including targeting the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, politicians in Berlin have made dramatic shows of denouncing the United States. They’ve invited Snowden to speak to German parliament and most recently, made a very public show of kicking the CIA station chief out of the American embassy in Germany.
Turns out, when it comes to spying, German hands aren’t so clean after all.
The German magazine Der Spiegel claims the BND -- the German foreign intelligence collection agency -- intercepted calls made by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his predecessor Hillary Clinton. The magazine reported that the German’s intercepted a call made by Kerry to the Middle East sometime in 2013. It also reported that the BND had intercepted a call between Clinton and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan a year prior.
Snowden isn’t likely to be the source of these new allegations; the magazine cited anonymous sources, and in the past, has freely used Snowden’s name when information he provided was used. But the source of the leak doesn’t matter. After nearly a year of repeatedly blasting Washington for spying on an ally, Germany was found to do the same thing.
The difference is that the BND wasn’t targeting Kerry and Clinton, while the NSA was directly targeting German politicians. It intercepted their calls as part of Middle East surveillance, including spying on Turkey. Plus, the BND reportedly destroyed the tapes immediately after it determined who was speaking on them.
Neither American nor German officials have yet to comment on the report. But Merkel has long said that there is no need for allies to spy on other allies.
“We are not living in the Cold War any more and are exposed to different threats. We should concentrate on what is essential," Merkel said last month.
The problem for the chancellor is that Turkey is a member of NATO. Germany is a member of NATO, too. This means that like the United States, Germany was spying on its ally.
Germany has every reason to spy on Turkey. Germany has a large Turkish population, the majority of whom who are Muslim. Many are disenfranchised with the German government, and in the past, German authorities have rounded up Turkish immigrants and immigrants of Turkish descent in terror stings.
Berlin has been so sanctimonious about spying over the last year that the irony of the revelation is likely to sting among German politicians and the intelligentsia. Their constant condemnation of the United States -- often in very strong terms -- has pushed relations to lows not see since the Cold War.
This incident also shows how complicated the spy game is, despite the post-Snowden notion that it’s black and white. Setting aside the NSA’s targeting of Americans, numerous incidents have shown that the collection of intelligence on foreign nations is a common practice. The NSA is not some international bogeyman after all.
It remains to be seen if Merkel make an apology call to Obama, as Obama did when the extent of NSA spying revelations was revealed. Whatever the case, someone out there will be trying to listen.
Top Reads from The Fiscal Times