German parliamentary inquiry into scope of US spying may call Snowden
All Bundestag parties except Merkel’s CDU favour US whistleblower giving evidence
People walk past the US embassy in Berlin yesterday. The embassy is becoming a focus in the current scandal over eavesdropping by the National Security Agency on the mobile phone of German chancellor Angela Merkel. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images
United States National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden may be called to testify at a German parliamentary inquiry into the scope of US spying on European communications, including the tapping of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.
Ahead of a special emergency Bundestag session into the affair on November 18th German political parties agreed yesterday to back – or at least not block – the creation of an inquiry. All parties in the new Bundestag except Dr Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) have spoken in support of inviting the Mr Snowden to give evidence – either in person or via video link from Russia.
Dr Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert declined to be drawn yesterday on whether the German leader could envisage allowing Mr Snowden appear. Instead she is expected to use a special Bundestag debate on the NSA affair to step up her calls for a no-spy treaty and provide her assessment of the effect of spying revelations on US-German relations.
Merkel allies argue that diplomatic immunity and international agreements will make it difficult, if not impossible, for investigators to assess the full scale of NSA surveillance, allegedly co-ordinated from the US embassy beside Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said yesterday : “We recognise there need to be additional constraints on how we gather and use intelligence.”
Carney’s comment, along with a tweet from National Security Adviser Susan Rice that a “proper balance” was needed, suggested some changes might be in the offing on the scale of US electronic spying as part of a review of activities of the NSA and other US intelligence agencies. The review is to be completed by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, James Costas, the US ambassador in Madrid, was yesterday summoned to explain recent reports that his country’s intelligence services had spied on millions of phone calls in Spain. Newspapers have reported in recent days that the NSA had used a similar espionage programme in Spain to those it allegedly carried out in Germany and France.
Mr Costas neither confirmed nor denied the claims when he met a senior foreign ministry official, Iñigo Méndez de Vigo, in Madrid yesterday.
In a statement released after the meeting, the ambassador said the spying programmes reported by the media related to national security and had played a “critical role” in protecting US citizens. “They have also played an instrumental role in our co-ordination with our allies and in protecting their interests as well,” he said.
The Spanish government said spying on an ally was “improper and unacceptable” and that the country’s legislation demanded “a necessary balance between security and defence of privacy and intimacy of communications”.
‘Climate of trust’
However, speaking from Poland, where he was on an official trip, Spain’s foreign minister José Manuel García-Margallo used stronger language, saying if true, the allegations would “break the climate of trust” that existed between Madrid and Washington.
Last week, El País reported that the NSA had tracked millions of Spanish phone calls, including those of politicians. Yesterday, El Mundo reported that the NSA had spied on more than 60 million Spanish calls between December 2012 and January 2013. The report said the content of the conversations had not been spied upon but the duration and location of each call had been filed.
The Spanish government has moved cautiously regarding the spying claims, apparently wary of upsetting ties with a valuable ally. Also, it is unclear whether the alleged US espionage affected prime minister Mariano Rajoy or senior members of his government.