* Reports have said Obama told Merkel he did not know
* Bild quotes "U.S. intelligence source" saying he did
* Merkel phone tap leak causes diplomatic incident
BERLIN, Oct 27 A German newspaper said on Sunday
that U.S. President Barack Obama knew his intelligence service
was eavesdropping on Angela Merkel as long ago as 2010,
contradicting reports that he had told the German leader he did
Germany received information this week that the U.S.
National Security Agency (NSA) had bugged Merkel's mobile phone,
prompting Berlin to summon the U.S. ambassador, a move
unprecedented in post-war relations between the close allies.
Reuters was unable to confirm Sunday's news report. The NSA
denied that Obama had been informed about the operation by the
NSA chief in 2010, as reported by the German newspaper. But the
agency did not comment directly on whether Obama knew about the
bugging of Merkel's phone.
Both the White House and the German government declined
The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that the NSA
ended the program that involved Merkel after the operation was
uncovered in an Obama administration review that began this
summer. The program also involved as many as 35 other world
leaders, some of whom were still being monitored, according to
the report, which was attributed to U.S. officials.
In response to the WSJ report, National Security Council
spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden noted in a statement that Obama had
ordered a review of U.S. surveillance capabilities.
"Through this review, led by the White House, the United
States is reviewing the way that we gather intelligence to
ensure that we properly account for the security concerns of our
citizens and allies and the privacy concerns that all people
share," Hayden said, adding that she was not in a position to
discuss the details.
Citing a source in Merkel's office, some German media have
reported that Obama apologised to Merkel when she called him on
Wednesday, and told her that he would have stopped the bugging
happening had he known about it.
But Bild am Sonntag, citing a "U.S. intelligence worker
involved in the NSA operation against Merkel", said NSA chief
General Keith Alexander informed Obama in person about it in
"Obama didn't stop the operation back then but let it
continue," the mass-market paper quoted the source as saying.
The NSA said, however, that Alexander had never discussed
any intelligence operations involving Merkel with Obama.
"(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", NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said
in an emailed statement.
"News reports claiming otherwise are not true."
Bild am Sonntag said Obama in fact wanted more material on
Merkel, and ordered the NSA to compile a "comprehensive dossier"
on her. "Obama, according to the NSA man, did not trust Merkel
and wanted to know everything about the German," the paper said.
White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden declined to comment
and reiterated the standard policy line that the United States
gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all
Bild said the NSA had increased its surveillance, including
the contents of Merkel's text messages and phone calls, on
Obama's initiative and had started tapping a new, supposedly
bug-proof mobile she acquired this summer, a sign the spying
continued into the "recent past".
The NSA first eavesdropped on Merkel's predecessor Gerhard
Schroeder after he refused to support President George W. Bush's
war in Iraq and was extended when Merkel took over in 2005, the
Eighteen NSA staff working in the U.S. embassy, some 800
metres (yards) from Merkel's office, sent their findings
straight to the White House, rather than to NSA headquarters,
the paper said. Only Merkel's encrypted landline in her office
in the Chancellery had not been tapped, it added.
Bild said some NSA officials were becoming annoyed with the
White House for creating the impression that U.S. spies had gone
beyond what they had been ordered to do.
BREACH OF TRUST
Merkel has said she uses one mobile phone and that all
state-related calls are made from encrypted lines.
The rift over U.S. surveillance activities first emerged
this year with reports that Washington had bugged European Union
offices and tapped half a billion phone calls, emails and text
messages in Germany in a typical month.
Merkel's government said in August - just weeks before a
German election - that the United States had given sufficient
assurances it was complying with German law.
This week's news has reignited criticism of the U.S.
surveillance. Volker Kauder, head of Merkel's party in
parliament, called it a "grave breach of trust" and said the
United States should drop its "global power demeanour".
Kauder said, however, that he was against halting
negotiations on a European free trade agreement with the United
States, a call made by Social Democrats and some of Merkel's
Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told Bild am Sonntag:
"Bugging is a crime and those responsible for it must be held to
The Social Democrats, with whom Merkel is holding talks to
form a new government, have joined calls from two smaller
opposition parties for a parliamentary investigation into the
U.S. surveillance, but Kauder has rejected the idea.
SPD parliamentary whip Thomas Oppermann said former NSA
contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked many of the sensitive
documents, could be called as a witness. Snowden is living in
Russia, out of reach of U.S. attempts to arrest him.