A BND monitoring base in Bad Aibling, near Munich. Photo: AP
Berlin: After angrily insisting for months that "friends don't spy," the German government struggled on Monday to respond to news media reports that its intelligence services routinely spy on Turkey, a NATO ally, and inadvertently captured at least one conversation each involving Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state and her successor, John Kerry.
While officials in Berlin sought to downplay the reports, Turkey summoned the German ambassador to demand an immediate investigation and the termination of any espionage activity.
"If there is even a bit of truth in these allegations, this is a grave situation that requires an explanation by Germany," Turkey's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
In a tone of outrage heard repeatedly from politicians in Berlin over the past year when addressing widespread allegations of spying by the US National Security Agency, the Turkish government demanded that German authorities "present an official and satisfactory explanation to the allegations," adding that "if true, these practices should be terminated at once."
Turkey remains on a list of countries targeted by Germany's foreign intelligence service that was drawn up in 2009 and remains relevant today, the German news magazine Der Spiegel reported on Monday, attributing the information to documents leaked to the CIA. The magazine also reported that the German foreign intelligence service, known by its initials BND, had captured individual conversations of Ms Clinton and Mr Kerry while they were in the Middle East.
Christiane Wirtz, a spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, refused to confirm the spying reports, citing German protocol under which espionage is exclusively handled by a parliamentary committee that oversees the country's intelligence services. Asked whether Berlin considered Turkey a friendly nation that would exempt it from being the target of spying, Wirtz responded that, "Germany co-operates closely with Turkey in many different areas."
In October, amid widespread German outrage over allegations the NSA had been listening in on Ms Merkel's mobile phone, a spokesman for the chancellor insisted that "between close friends and partners, which the Federal Republic of Germany and the United States of America have been for decades, there should be no such surveillance of the communications of a head of government."
Asked Monday how reported spying on a NATO partner like Turkey fitted in with her firm statements against US snooping on Germany, Ms Merkel suggested there was a clear difference.
Her statement last fall came "in a recognisable context," she told a news conference on a visit to the Latvian capital, Riga. That was an apparent allusion to the fact that the United States had specifically snooped on her mobile phone.
She noted further that the United States and Germany continue to have different views on the demands of security versus privacy.
Ms Merkel declined to be drawn on whether German intelligence had spied on Turkey, noting only that the work of the secret services is confidential, with details relayed to a parliamentary oversight commission only as the government deems fit. Members of that commission are sworn to confidentiality.
Berlin demanded in July that the CIA's station chief leave the country after revelations the United States had recruited a mole who delivered 218 pages of confidential information gathered by the BND. That move represented a culmination of frustration over the US intelligence officials' failure to release information the Germans maintain they were promised after the initial revelations about Ms Merkel's mobile phone.
The spying allegations could further complicate Berlin's ties to Ankara at a time when Berlin and its NATO allies are seeking to support Kurdish separatists in Iraq, without upsetting Turkey, which has long opposed nationalist demands of the Kurds on its own territory.
New York Times