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​No spying on friends: NSA bugs Merkel aides instead of chancellor

Published time: February 24, 2014 07:30
Edited time: February 24, 2014 14:53

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (C) lines up with fellow parliamentarians to cast their votes after a debate about deputy allowances and graft at the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, in Berlin (Reuters / Thomas Peter)

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In the wake of President Obama's promise to stop spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the US intelligence has switched its attention to her top government officials, a German newspaper reported.

Washington's relations with Germany were strained last year after revelations that the US National Security Agency (NSA) was conducting mass surveillance in Germany and even tapped the mobile phone of Chancellor Merkel.

Facing the German outrage, President Barack Obama pledged that the US would stop spying on the leader of the European country, which is among the closest and most powerful allies of America.

After the promise was made, the NSA has stepped up surveillance of senior German officials, German newspaper Bild am Sonntag (BamS) reported on Sunday.

"We have had the order not to miss out on any information now that we are no longer able to monitor the chancellor's communication directly," it quoted a top NSA employee in Germany as saying.

BamS said the NSA had 297 employees stationed in Germany and was surveying 320 key individuals, most of them German decision-makers involved in politics and business.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere is of particular interest to the US, the report said, because he is a close aide of Merkel, who seeks his advice on many issues and was rumored to be promoting his candidacy for the post of NATO secretary-general.

A spokesman for the German Interior Ministry told the newspaper it would not comment on the "allegations of unnamed individuals."

Privacy issues are a very sensitive area in Germany, which holds the memory of invasive state surveillance practices by the Nazi government and later by the Communist government in the former East Germany.

Part of the outrage in Germany was caused by the allegation that US intelligence is using its surveillance capabilities not only to provide national security, but also to gain business advantage for American companies over their foreign competitors.

Berlin has been pushing for a ‘no-spying deal’ with the US for months, but so far with little success. Germany is also advocating the creation of a European computer network which would allow communication traffic not to pass through US-based servers and thus avoid the NSA tapping.