Reacting to allegations that yet another close ally might be spying on its leaders from an embassy in Berlin, Germany's Foreign Ministry invited Britain's ambassador to a meeting on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the allegations. The invitation had been requested by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
During the meeting, the head of the ministry's European affairs department informed the ambassador that "eavesdropping on communications inside the offices of a diplomatic mission would violate international law," a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said. The ministry did not provide addition details about the meeting.
The revelations about further alleged spying have rocked the political establishment in Berlin this week. The London-based Independent newspaper revealed Monday that British intelligence had established a "secret listening post" in the British Embassy like the one recently revealed by SPIEGEL to be in the US Embassy on the same large block. The British post, like the American one, is located near the German parliament, the Reichstag, and was disclosed in the trove of data leaked by American intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Annoyance in Berlin
Tuesday's developments come one week after the Foreign Ministry ordered the US ambassador to discuss revelations in the NSA scandal that the American intelligence agency had been monitoring Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone communications for years. Since then, the ministry has been particularly sensitive to new developments in the affair. The latest report is unlikely to have the same impact as those of spying on Merkel and, indeed, an invitation for a meeting at the Foreign Ministry does not have the kind of strong diplomatic associations that being ordered to appear does. It will nevertheless send the message to officials in London that politicians in Berlin are annoyed.
According to the Independent, the British eavesdropping equipment is likely housed on embassy grounds in a white cylindrical, tent-like structure that has been there since the embassy opened in 2000. The equipment is reportedly able to intercept mobile phone and Wi-Fi signals as well as "long-distance communications across the German capital," presumably including in the Reichstag and Merkel's nearby Chancellery.
The so-called "concealed collection system," the paper continues, is operated by a small staff whose "true mission is not known by the majority of the diplomatic staff at the facility." Likewise, given the location of the equipment, the paper posits that it is unlikely that the operation did not intercept information from Chancellor Merkel.
The revelation has the potential to cause another deep rift between Germany and a close ally. The news that the United States was spying on Merkel's cellphone prompted angry reactions from German leaders, including a furious phone call from Merkel to US President Barack Obama, and discussions about sanctions and new anti-spying rules directed against the Americans. When contacted by the British newspaper, representatives from both the GCHQ, the British spying agency, and the government of Prime Minister David Cameron declined to comment.
German politicians across the political spectrum have responded to these fresh allegations with fresh anger and demands that Berlin increase its counterespionage activities.
Wolfgang Bosbach, a parliamentarian with the Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), told Berlin daily Tagesspiegel that "the latest developments show that we need to sign a 'no-spy' agreement with the United Kingdom, as well," adding, "such full-blown spying is completely inacceptable and must be dealt with."
Hans-Peter Uhl, a parliamentarian with the Christian Social Union (CSU), the CDU's Bavarian sister party, was more restrained, emphasizing to Tagesspiegel that Germany "should have the goal of developing techniques to protect our data."
Meanwhile, Thomas Oppermann, the Social Democratic chairman of the Bundestag's parliamentary control committee, which has monitoring oversight for intelligence activities in the Germany, said, "As sad as this may be, in the future we will have to assume that we are being spied on by our own friends. Trust is good, but checks are better."
Jan Albrecht, a member of the European Parliament with the environmentalist Green Party who specializes in civil rights and data protection, told the Independent: "This is hardly in the spirit of European cooperation. We are not enemies."