German secret agents listened in on Hillary Clinton and John Kerry's calls

Berlin: The German Foreign Intelligence Agency has admitted tapping "at least one" phone call each by US Secretary of State John Kerry and  his predecessor Hillary Clinton while they were aboard United States government jets.

The disclosure is an embarrassing reversal of the spying scandal that blew up when it was revealed last year that America bugged German Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile.

The German media reports claim Mr Kerry's intercepted communication was a satellite phone call from the Middle East in 2013. Mrs Clinton's communication was also a satellite call, in 2012, and was reportedly to then United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. Both calls were reported to have been intercepted accidentally while German intelligence was targeting terror suspects in the Middle East and northern Africa.

The intelligence agency (the Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND) told German media that terror groups often use the same frequencies that the secretaries phone calls were made over, so the calls were picked up. The calls were among what the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung said intelligence sources described as several cases of US official phone calls being picked up accidentally during anti-terror communications monitoring.

German-American relations have chilled in the past year - since former National Security worker Edward Snowden began leaking documents detailing the extent of America's global electronic spying and eavesdropping programs. Media reports about Mr Snowden's leaked documents led to the revelation that  Dr Merkel's private mobile phone had been tapped, since the years when she was a lower ranking German minister and continuing at least until the northern summer of 2013.

The scandal includes the electronic spying on millions of private emails and electronic communications, the tapping of official phones and even the hiring of German officials to act as American agents and pass on secret German government information.


 Dr Merkel has repeatedly called the US spy program a breach of trust and noted that "friends don't spy on friends."

In a twist that connects this tale to the broader spying scandal, the new reports note that after Mrs Clinton's phone call was picked up, an order from the BND leadership was sent out to delete the communication. But the German charged with deleting the conversation was Markus R, who has been charged with selling 218 secret official documents to US intelligence, and he instead of deleting the conversation sold the transcript to his American contacts.

Markus R, who under German law cannot be fully identified unless he is convicted, has been charged with spying for a foreign intelligence agency.

The BND denied that there was any systematic phone tapping of US officials, though admitted other phone calls had been swept up.

Both Mr Kerry's and Mrs Clinton's phone calls were picked up while they were flying over conflict areas. The German phone tapping program in the Middle East is well known to US officials.

In the past, German officials insist, when US official conversations were intercepted, those intercepting the calls would contact their superiors who then checked with the BND president's office and in every case the result was an order to destroy the tape and transcript. But German intelligence officials told German media this weekend that they have been under a standing order since last northern summer from the Chancellor's office to immediately destroy any such intercepted conversations, without waiting for approval.