JUNE 4, 2014
Germany Begins Inquiry of U.S. in Surveillance Case
By ALISON SMALE
BERLIN -- Germany's federal prosecutor announced Wednesday that he had begun a formal investigation of what he called "unknown" members of American intelligence agencies on suspicion that they had eavesdropped on one of Chancellor Angela Merkel's cellphones.
Anger at the National Security Agency and the British intelligence services has simmered and occasionally erupted full force since the magazine Der Spiegel and other Western news media outlets published material last June from Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor, suggesting that millions of Germans' data and phone calls had been monitored.
By October, Der Spiegel uncovered evidence that Ms. Merkel's cellphone was among those tapped. The German government, stung by the behavior of its most powerful ally, angrily demanded an explanation. The White House swiftly assured the chancellor that she is not and will not be under that kind of surveillance, but pointedly omitted saying anything about the past.
Public anger and political pressure have only increased since. American and German officials have failed to find a way to reconcile their need to combat terrorism with the Berlin government's demand that secret services observe German law -- which is strict on privacy matters -- when operating in Germany.
The federal prosecutor, Harald Range, had been investigating the issue for months and came under strong pressure from members of Parliament and news media commentators in recent days after Sueddeutsche Zeitung, a respected newspaper, and one of Germany's state broadcasters reported that he would not formally investigate the eavesdropping on Ms. Merkel's phone.
Asked about this at a news conference at his Karlsruhe headquarters, Mr. Range said, "I don't know who made these predictions," emphasizing that he took the official inquiry seriously but not commenting further.
In announcing his formal inquiry into the matter, Mr. Range's office stated that "extensive preliminary investigations have established sufficient factual evidence of possible surveillance of a mobile telephone of Chancellor Angela Merkel by unknown members of the U.S. secret services." The next step will be to question witnesses and examine documents, the statement said.
As for the broader allegations of mass eavesdropping on German citizens by American and British intelligence services, Mr. Range told reporters that his office had unearthed no evidence to justify a formal inquiry, though he said the investigation would continue.
He said he had sought more information from Mr. Snowden through Mr. Snowden's German lawyer, but had received no response.
There was no immediate comment on the new inquiry from the United States Embassy in Berlin, which is said to have been the base for listening to Ms. Merkel's phone.
Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, told reporters traveling with President Obama in Europe that "the best way to address the concerns that Germany has had about N.S.A.'s activities is through a direct dialogue with us."
The whole issue of government snooping on citizens is especially fraught in Germany, where the Nazi and Communist past remains vivid in the popular consciousness. Ms. Merkel was raised in the Communist East, lending extra force to Berlin's ire.
The failure to reach any accord to regulate the activity of American intelligence services in Germany has clouded the relationship with the United States just as both countries try to forge ahead with complex American-European negotiations on a new trade pact that is cast by all sides as vital to future prosperity.
The German intelligence agencies have clearly been irked to have to acknowledge that they are dependent on intelligence from the better-equipped, more powerful Americans in combating terrorism and thus in no position to insist on restricting American practices.
At the same time, German politicians have come under strong public pressure to be seen to be protecting privacy and the individual freedoms that many Germans, particularly older politicians, feel that they learned from the Americans after World War II. Parliament has set up a committee to investigate what is known here as "the N.S.A. affair."