Germany’s top justice official said there must be “consequences” if evidence arises that U.S. agents conducted mass surveillance or tapped Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone amid reports of a possible probe.
German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said the standard for any official investigation would be whether such spying by the National Security Agency violates German law. He didn’t confirm reports of an investigation by the federal prosecutor, who briefed lawmakers and plans to hold a press conference today.
“If there are indications that German law has been broken, then investigators have to take action,” Maas told Deutschlandfunk radio. “That’s the case with the chancellor’s mobile phone just as much as with mass surveillance of other data.”
A German federal investigation into NSA activity could widen a rift between the governments in Berlin and the U.S that opened last October amid reports that signals-intelligence agents had hacked Merkel’s mobile phone. A parliamentary investigation into mass surveillance, disclosed in documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden to the media last year, is already under way in Berlin.
While the U.S. has pledged that its agents aren’t listening in to Merkel’s phone currently or in the future, the chancellor, who visited President Barack Obama in Washington last month, said she and the president still had “differences of opinion” on the scale of U.S. surveillance and intelligence cooperations.
Federal Prosecutor Harald Range has determined that there’s sufficient evidence to start an investigation into unknown persons accused of tapping Merkel’s mobile phone, Der Spiegel magazine reported. A separate preliminary probe into mass surveillance hasn’t yet led to an official probe.
The prosecutor’s office in Karlsruhe didn’t immediately respond to request to confirm the report. Range, who began looking into U.S. and British intelligence activity last year, will brief reporters at 3 p.m. local time in Karlsruhe.
The disclosure last year that Merkel’s phone had been tapped prompted a fallout in relations with Obama and the German leader called for trust to be restored. German officials’ efforts to sign a so-called no-spy treaty have so far been rebuffed by officials in Washington.
Der Spiegel cited Snowden-leaked documents in October to report that U.S. authorities obtained Merkel’s cell number in 2002, when she was opposition leader. The surveillance was being carried out by an NSA “Special Collection Service” from within the U.S. Embassy adjacent to Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, Spiegel reported.
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