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Germany Asks U.S. to Explain Alleged Surveillance of Europeans

Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Barack Obama
Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, where the Stasi secret police snooped on citizens, discussed the program known as Prism with President Barack Obama during his visit to Berlin in June. Photographer: Michele Tantussi/Bloomberg

July 1 (Bloomberg) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is asking the U.S. ambassador for explanations after a magazine reported that the National Security Agency spied on European diplomats, her chief spokesman said.

“We aren’t in the Cold War anymore,” Steffen Seibert, the spokesman, said at a news conference in Berlin today. “If it’s true that diplomatic missions have been spied on, it would be absolutely unacceptable for us.” Germany’s Foreign Ministry “invited” the U.S. ambassador in Berlin to discuss the matter with a senior official today, spokesman Martin Schaefer said.

Both officials were reacting to a report by Der Spiegel that the NSA set up electronic surveillance of European Union diplomatic mission buildings in Washington and New York, infiltrated computer networks and described the 28-nation bloc as a “target.” The German magazine cited classified documents in the possession of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Snowden’s disclosure of alleged secret NSA programs to collect U.S. and international data have triggered concern and outrage in Germany and other European countries. Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, where the Stasi secret police snooped on citizens, discussed the program known as Prism with President Barack Obama during his visit to Berlin in June. She may raise it with Obama again soon, Seibert said.

While ties between Merkel and Obama are close and the German government “warns against calls” to adjust relations with the U.S., data gathering to combat terrorism must be balanced with Europeans’ privacy rights, Seibert said.

Two U.S. officials familiar with American electronic espionage programs declined to comment on the allegations. Speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, both said that multinational institutions are routine targets for both technological and human intelligence by virtually all nations that are members of them.

The officials said that any such U.S. efforts are far from unique, though they allowed that in many instances American programs are more extensive and ambitious than those of most other countries except China, France, Israel, the U.K. and Iran.

To contact the reporters on this story: Tony Czuczka in Berlin at aczuczka@bloomberg.net; Rainer Buergin in Berlin at rbuergin1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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