2013 10 28 NYT Data Suggests Push to Spy on Merkel Dates to ’02 – NYTimes.com


Data Suggests Push to Spy on Merkel Dates to ’02

BERLIN — New details about the monitoring of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone by the National Security Agency further stoked the German government’s anger on Sunday and raised two questions: Why did the United States target her as early as 2002, and why did it take five years for the Obama administration to put a halt to the surveillance?

The latest round of recriminations came after Der Spiegel, the German newsmagazine, published details from what it described as an entry from an N.S.A. database, apparently from the trove of documents downloaded by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor who is now in temporary asylum in Moscow.

The database entry, according to Der Spiegel and outside experts, seemed to indicate that the request to monitor her cellphone began in 2002. But the document refers to her as “chancellor,” a position she has held only since late 2005. That seems to suggest the database entry had been updated.

The authenticity of the document could not be independently confirmed. But the German intelligence services believe it to be real, and in conversations between Susan E. Rice, the national security adviser, and her German counterpart, Ms. Rice made no effort to question the evidence, even while declining to confirm that Ms. Merkel’s cellphone was ever monitored, according to both American and German officials.

Der Spiegel also reported that the monitoring operation was run from the United States Embassy in the heart of Berlin, right by the Brandenburg Gate where President Obama spoke during a visit here last June. He also spoke about a mile from the gate during a now-famous campaign appearance in 2008. On his latest trip, with the Snowden documents already leaking out, he promised a full review of American spying on its allies.

The administration has seemed uncertain about how to handle the reports concerning Ms. Merkel, who has enjoyed a close rapport with Mr. Obama and has provided critical intelligence on Al Qaeda and on Iran’s nuclear program. Last week the White House stuck to carefully scripted talking points, saying Ms. Merkel was not currently being monitored and would not be in the future, but refused to say anything about the past.

That changed on Sunday, when the N.S.A. issued a statement to deny another German news media report, published in Bild am Sonntag, that said Mr. Obama had been briefed on the surveillance of Ms. Merkel in 2010 by Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of the N.S.A. and of the United States Cyber Command. The report contradicted assurances given privately to the German authorities by Ms. Rice that Mr. Obama was unaware of any such operation.

The N.S.A. statement said that “General Alexander did not discuss with President Obama in 2010 an alleged foreign intelligence operation involving German Chancellor Merkel, nor has he ever discussed alleged operations involving Chancellor Merkel. News reports claiming otherwise are not true.”

The N.S.A. statement did not question the validity of the database entry indicating when surveillance began, back when Ms. Merkel was the leader of the Christian Democratic Party. Nor did it shed light on why Ms. Merkel, a rare stalwart supporter in Europe of the Bush administration’s plans to invade Iraq, was chosen for surveillance.

On Sunday evening a senior administration official said of the spying on allies that the White House believed that “it’s not that the N.S.A. or the intelligence community were going rogue or operating out of bounds.” But the official added that two reviews of N.S.A. practices ordered by Mr. Obama are “to ensure that the intelligence community is getting the appropriate guidance from policy makers.”

The Obama administration has said as little as possible about the reports of the operation against Ms. Merkel, seemingly in hopes it will blow over. But the recent disclosures appear to have raised many new questions, including several that White House officials, saying they could not discuss classified intelligence matters, have been trying to deflect.

First among them is why Mr. Obama, by White House and N.S.A. accounts, was not made aware of the surveillance of a close ally. American officials have said that while the president approves major operations for the intelligence agencies, he does not get involved in the selection of targets. “I think this just wasn’t on the White House radar,” said one administration official familiar with internal discussions of the subject.

Alison Smale and Melissa Eddy reported from Berlin, and David E. Sanger from Washington. Brian Knowlton contributed reporting from Washington.


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