NSA Spying Scandal SPIEGEL Stands Behind Merkel Cell Phone Spying Report

In 2013, SPIEGEL reported on the tapping of chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone by the NSA. Now the case is back in the news following the German federal prosecutor's efforts to publicly undermine SPIEGEL's credibility.

By Rüdiger Ditz

German Federal Prosecutor Range: a false impression on SPIEGEL reporting
DPA

German Federal Prosecutor Range: a false impression on SPIEGEL reporting


In June, German Federal Prosecutor Harald Range opened an official investigation into allegations the NSA spied on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone. So far, though, he hasn't made much progress.

The US signals intelligence agency has ignored all questions submitted by Range's investigative authority. And Germany's own foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), hasn't provided any further assistance.

SPIEGEL first drew the German government's attention to the actions in the autumn of 2013 when it reported on information from an NSA database entry about the tapping of Merkel's phone. "That's why I asked the reporters at SPIEGEL to answer questions about the document or to provide it to us. But the newsmagazine, citing the right of the press to refuse to give evidence, did not comply", the federal prosecutor said during his annual press conference in Karlsruhe on Thursday. He seemed frustrated.

In his statement, Range insinuated that "the document that has been perceived by the public as proof of the actual tapping of the mobile telephone is not actually an authentic NSA order for signals intelligence." He also claimed it didn't come from an NSA database. "A SPIEGEL editor produced it himself, stating it was based on an NSA document which had been seen."

There is a risk that Range's statement could be viewed as some kind of finding in his investigation and create the false impression that SPIEGEL somehow concocted its own documents. At least, this is what some press reports about Range's press conference seemed to suggest.

SPIEGEL has never claimed that it presented an original document to the German government. SPIEGEL has consistently stated that its journalists viewed the contents of an NSA document and reported on the details contained therein. The magazine has made this clear throughout its reporting on the issue.

When SPIEGEL approached Merkel's office about the findings of its research for a response, all the details provided by its reporters originated from information included in that specific entry in the database of NSA documents. SPIEGEL did not add anything to this information. SPIEGEL also explicitly noted to the chancellor's office that what it was submitting was a transcription and not the original document.

"When asked by a journalist during the press conference if the document in question was a fake, the federal prosecutor explicitly denied this," Range's spokesperson clarified this week. While conducting research into the NSA in June 2013, several SPIEGEL reporters came across information indicating that the intelligence agency had conducted surveillance of the German chancellor's mobile phone.

The reporters then conducted further investigation into the suspected activities together with encryption expert and freelance journalist Jacob Appelbaum. An entry in an internal NSA database logging targets includes the chancellor's mobile telephone number as well as her name. SPIEGEL attempted to verify the information and subsequently made the decision to request a statement from Merkel herself.

On Oct. 17, 2013, SPIEGEL Berlin bureau chief Nikolaus Blome and reporter Jörg Schindler met with Steffen Seibert, Merkel's official spokesman. They presented him with a letter detailing the information obtained about spying on Merkel's mobile phone. The two made clear to Seibert that the paper was a copy of the details from an NSA database entry SPIEGEL had viewed. Seibert also understood it to be such.

After that, the Chancellery ordered the BND and the Federal Office for Information Security to review the issue. At the same time, Merkel's foreign policy advisor Christoph Heusgen contacted US National Security Advisor Susan Rice. Initially, the Americans stonewalled.

One week later, Merkel herself complained directly to US President Barack Obama about the wiretapping. At the very least, he was unable to deny that eavesdropping against the chancellor had happened in the past. One day later, at an EU summit in Brussels, the chancellor didn't hide her indignation. "Spying among friends? That's just not done," she said.

The transcription SPIEGEL reporters gave to Merkel's spokesman would later be published, allegedly as the original document, in other media. The weekly Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung published it on Oct. 27, 2013; and, one day later, it appeared in the mass-circulation Bild newspaper. Last Thursday, it also appeared on the IT news website Golem.de.

SPIEGEL itself has never published the transcription it made of the document.

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Inglenda2 12/13/2014
1. Thanks to publishers like the Spiegel, we might stand a chance
It is very unlikely that an order for spying, by the NSA, could ever be obtained without the help of a whistleblower, who thereby would risk his/her life. Whether in the world of the political Mafia, administration or just simple management, orders are given without leaving a defined line of accountability, should things go wrong. The USA has far too much experience in cloaking over the truth, to be caught out by normal journalists, however skilful they may be. The case of mishandled prisoners in CIA camps shows just how difficult it is to place the blame on those really responsible. The former president of the USA said quite openly, that he had told his secret services to use every means possible, to fight terrorism. This at the time, would have been understood by any ordinary person, to mean every legal means. To others this was a clear instruction to use torture. We cannot blame America alone, for such deviations from honesty within the top executive establishments. This art of hammering persons, considered to be of lesser value, can be observed in every day life. For example, the directors, regional- or district managers, are all able to wash their hands clean, when a branch-manager is given the task of creating a situation, in which a member of the staff would voluntarily wish to leave the place of employment. No written order is given and so cannot be found. It is unlikely that a few capable Spiegel correspondents, will change a great deal within the practices which can be noticed in Germany, (including those of the judiciary) but we must be thankful for the efforts made.
laurance.marvin 12/13/2014
2. Wire Tapping, NSA & White House
This whole situation of unseen wire tapping of many different government officials in Europe, South America and other countries by the NSA on behest of the White House...is now a game of dont ask- dont tell. That is to say even when the these spy agencies are caught with hands in the "cookie jar"....red handed. Denial is the official policy in all corners of the White House. This is shameful at best. Also there is pressure put on writers not to publish or republish reports as I did with the written permission of SPIEGEL Online a few months back. So much so that a publisher threatened me ! And then they yielded to pressure and my column was terminated ! So it takes real guts to stand up to Govt pressure. So Der Spiegel & Spiegel Online needs to stand strong.
vasily 12/13/2014
3. welcome to the truthtellers
The BND is nothing more than a CIA glove puppet its masters are in Washington.
birchwood 12/14/2014
4. History
The History of Germany goes back thousands of years, yet Germany is an occupied Country in many ways today, and unable to be Germany.
Bert 12/15/2014
5.
Ha! At first I've thought that everything I've seen at this blog https://www.cyberguerrilla.org/blog/?p=21626 is only horseshit. But now it seems to me that just because of this cosy deal between Frau Merkel and her American colleagues "the official investigation into allegations the NSA spied on German Chancellor mobile phone" as well as the case towards it has been dismissed in the absence of evidence!
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