BERLIN A German artist who beamed the words "United Stasi of America" onto the wall of the U.S. embassy in Berlin says Washington's spy methods make the former East German secret police look like boy scouts.
A video of Oliver Bienkowski's artwork is fast becoming a hit on the Internet in Germany, tapping into widespread outrage over U.S. surveillance programs revealed by fugitive ex-National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden.
Government eavesdropping is a highly sensitive topic in Germany, evoking memories of the Nazi Gestapo and the Stasi security police, which used a vast network of informants to crush dissidents in communist East Germany.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has sought explanations from the United States. With an election looming in September, her opponents have tried to turn the matter into a campaign issue, with some demanding a halt to EU-U.S. trade talks unless Washington allays German concerns.
"The Stasi would have dreamt of being able to do what the Americans are doing," said Bienkowski, 31. "The Stasi look like a bunch of boy scouts compared to what the NSA is doing. It's the real deal in terms of a secret service with modern technology at their disposal. It's far more dangerous."
A spokesman for the U.S. embassy, in the heart of Berlin near the Brandenburg Gate, said the artist's stunt was "funny, but anyone who makes this comparison knows neither the Stasi nor the United States".
Respected German news magazine Der Spiegel reported late last month, citing an internal NSA document, that the United States taps half a billion phone calls, emails and text messages in Germany in a typical month and has classed its biggest European ally as a target similar to China.
German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Monday that talks between European Union and U.S. experts to clarify the NSA's activities were starting this week in parallel to the transatlantic free trade talks.
Bienkowski's slogan, beamed onto the south wall of the U.S. embassy with a powerful projector late on Sunday night, was briefly visible throughout the neighborhood. He said police stopped him after a few minutes, telling him he needed a permit for the artwork.
A video of the incident has gathered more than 42,000 hits on YouTube, and the artist made the front page of Bild, Germany's best-selling daily with more than 12 million readers.
(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)