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Spy Probe Sought by German Lawmakers Amid Merkel Phone Hacking

Oct. 28 (Bloomberg) -- German lawmakers called for an investigation of American spy activity as the U.S. denied a report that President Barack Obama had been informed about the hacking of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone in 2010.

A parliamentary investigative committee is “unavoidable,” Social Democratic General Secretary Andrea Nahles told Bild newspaper. German officials denounced U.S. eavesdropping after the latest disclosures about National Security Agency spying.

“I’m astounded at the scale, or rather the extravagance, of this surveillance activity,” Friedrich Merz, chairman of the Atlantik-Bruecke group that fosters German-U.S. ties and former caucus leader for Merkel’s Christian Democrats in parliament, told Deutschlandfunk radio today. “The Americans should understand better what kind of breach of trust has occurred with its most important ally on this side of the Atlantic.”

The fallout since Merkel spoke with Obama to protest NSA eavesdropping has led to recriminations between allies and calls to suspend U.S.-European Union trade talks. Merkel reacted to an internal probe that showed that her mobile phone could have come under U.S. surveillance.

German authorities are in the process if clarifying the circumstances of the possible surveillance of Merkel’s phone, government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters today.

“If this information is confirmed, then this would represent a grave breach of trust,” Seibert said. Still, “where trust has been lost, it has to be restored.” A group of high-level German intelligence officials is traveling to Washington to discuss the matter, he said.

Report Denied

The Obama administration denied a Bild report over the weekend that the president had been informed by NSA Director Keith Alexander about tapping Merkel’s phone three years ago and allowed the operation to continue. Bild cited an unidentified high-level official within the NSA.

“General Alexander did not discuss with President Obama in 2010 an alleged foreign intelligence operation involving German Chancellor Merkel, nor has he ever discussed alleged operations involving Chancellor Merkel,” the NSA said in a statement distributed by the White House. “News reports claiming otherwise are not true.”

Obama told Merkel he was unaware of the surveillance as he apologized to the chancellor in their Oct. 23 conversation, Der Spiegel magazine reported, citing unidentified chancellery officials.

U.S. authorities had first obtained Merkel’s cell number in 2002, Spiegel reported, citing documents including those disclosed by former government contractor Edward Snowden. The surveillance is being carried out by an NSA “Special Collection Service” from within the U.S. Embassy next to Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, Spiegel cited the documents as showing.

Operation Ended

The NSA shut down the Merkel operation and others targeting world leaders after the administration conducted a probe over the summer, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing U.S. officials. Obama had been briefed on “intelligence priorities,” though not specific operations, the Journal said.

The SPD’s Nahles said that Snowden, the source of the surveillance disclosures who is in temporary asylum in Russia, could be called on to give testimony to a Bundestag probe, according to Bild.

Obama should “stop apologizing” for NSA surveillance that has “saved thousands of lives,” Republican U.S. Representative Peter King said yesterday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Donahue in Berlin at pdonahue1@bloomberg.net

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

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