German intelligence systematically spied on the White House and US government departments over a number of years, it has been claimed.
The damaging allegations could prove highly embarrassing for Angela Merkel and expose her to charges of hypocrisy.
The German chancellor demanded an explanation when it emerged in 2013 that the US had spied on her mobile phone, and famously said: “Spying among friends is not on”.
But according to new allegations published by Spiegel magazine on Thursday, Germany’s BND intelligence service carried out electronic surveillance on the US government over a period of eight years from 1998 to 2006.
Targets included telephones, faxes and computers in the White House, the State Department and the US Treasury Department.
They also included the US military, private defence contractors such as Lockheed Martin, and the Nasa space agency.
Spiegel claimed it had seen a list of so-called “selectors”: telephone and fax numbers and email addresses the BND was covertly monitoring between 1998 and 2006.
Among them were 4,000 targets in the US, including government departments, foreign embassies and international organisations such as the International Monetary Fund and the Arab League.
Military targets included the US air force and marine corps, and the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA).
The BND also spied on NGOs, including the New York-based organisation Human Rights Watch. Spiegel said it was not clear whether surveillance of the targets continued after 2006, as it had not seen records for later dates.
Credit: REUTERS/Yves Herman
Mrs Merkel became chancellor in November 2005. Neither the BND nor the German government have commented on the allegations, which are the latest in a series to rock the German spying establishment.
Bruno Kahl, who took over as head of the BND a year ago with a brief to clean up the agency’s reputation, has declined to comment on past spying and preferred to focus on the future.
“The question of who the BND is allowed to monitor and who it is not, will not only be subject to more stringent rules in future, but also to very extensive control,” he told Spiegel.
The magazine published its claims a week before a German parliamentary inquiry into spying is due to present its final report.
The so-called “NSA Committee” was originally set up to investigate foreign spying in Germany following the disclosure by Edward Snowden, the American defector and whistleblower, that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had monitored Mrs Merkel’s phone.
But the committee has increasingly found itself investigating German intelligence’s own activities, after it emerged in 2015 that the BND had in fact been spying on Germany’s European allies on the NSA’s behalf.
Later in 2015 it emerged that the BND had also spied on both the US and several EU allies on its own initiative as recently as 2013.
The disclosures have thrown Mrs Merkel’s claims in 2013 that she wanted to negotiate a “no-spying agreement” with the US into a new light.
The German government has since drawn up new rules for who and what the BND is allowed to spy on.
But Spiegel claims the parliamentary inquiry remains so divided that its final report will have two separate sets of conclusions: one by approved by government MPs, and one by the opposition.