The United States may have bugged Angela Merkel's phone for more than 10 years, according to a news report Saturday that also said President Barack Obama told the German leader he would have stopped it from happening if he had known about it.
On Sunday the National Security Agency (NSA) backed Obama's statement, denying that its director ever discussed a surveillance operation against Merkel with Obama, according to the Guardian.
Germany's outrage over reports about Merkel’s phone being tapped by the NSA prompted German officials to summon the U.S. ambassador this week in an unprecedented postwar diplomatic rift.
German magazine Der Spiegel said Merkel's mobile telephone had been listed by the NSA's Special Collection Service (SCS) since 2002 – marked as "GE Chancellor Merkel" – and was still on the list weeks before Obama visited Berlin in June.
In an SCS document cited by the magazine, the agency said it had a "not legally registered spying branch" in the U.S. embassy in Berlin, the exposure of which would lead to "grave damage for the relations of the United States to another government."
From there, NSA and CIA staff were tapping communications in Berlin's government district with high-tech surveillance.
Quoting a secret document from 2010, Der Spiegel said such branches existed in about 80 locations around the world, including Paris, Madrid, Rome, Prague, Geneva and Frankfurt.
The magazine said it was not clear whether the SCS had recorded conversations or just connection data.
Obama apologized to Merkel when she called him Wednesday to seek clarification on the issue, Der Spiegel wrote, citing a source in Merkel's office.
Obama told Merkel he had not known of the bugging, the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung said.
Merkel's spokesman and the White House declined comment.
"We're not going to comment on the details of our diplomatic discussions," said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council at the White House.