Germany calls in Britain's ambassador to demand explanation over 'secret Berlin listening post'

Foreign minister summons ambassador to provide explanation after report in The Independent

Berlin

Britain’s ambassador has been called in by the German Foreign Minister after The Independent disclosed allegations that a secret listening post is operating from its embassy in Berlin, just yards from the German parliament and Angela Merkel’s offices.

Simon McDonald met senior officials and was bluntly warned that any interception of data by intelligence services from a diplomatic facility would be in violation of international law. It is believed to be the first time that Germany has called in a UK ambassador in this way since the end of the Second World War.

Documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the US National Security Agency whistleblower, suggest that the UK is operating an “intercept nest” from the roof of its embassy. After the claims received widespread attention in the German media, the Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, requested a statement from the ambassador.

Mr McDonald, formerly David Cameron’s foreign policy adviser and head of foreign and defence policy in the Cabinet Office, relayed the conversation back to London. Last month, Mr  summoned the US ambassador, who received an official complaint following revelations about a listening post on top of the American embassy that was intercepting calls from Chancellor Merkel’s mobile phone. The US and UK embassies are just yards apart, close to the Bundestag and the Chancellery, Mrs Merkel’s prime ministerial offices.

Downing Street sought to play down the scale of the rift, with David Cameron’s spokesman insisting Mr McDonald had been “invited”, to the ministry. The spokesman said Mr Cameron had an “excellent” relationship with both Ms Merkel and her government, and that it would continue.

But a senior British diplomat who recently worked at the Berlin embassy took a different view of events, calling the spying claims and their aftermath “acutely embarrassing”. He said: “The problem is that because one can’t discuss what is being done, it’s easy to draw the worst possible inference.

“All I can say is that we have excellent intelligence-sharing with Germany and we don’t want that to be damaged by this. However, if this leads to better dialogue on this issue, then at least something positive has happened.”

Heat maps show how activity in the US embassy's spying nest significantly reduced from 24 October (top picture) to 25 October, after it emerged that the US bugged Chancellor Merkel’s phone (ARD Panorama) Heat maps show how activity in the US embassy's spying nest significantly reduced from 24 October (top picture) to 25 October, after it emerged that the US bugged Chancellor Merkel’s phone (ARD Panorama)
The disclosure of the alleged British surveillance operation provoked sharp criticism from British and German MPs of spying practices at the UK Government Communications Headquarters in Cheltenham.

Bernd Riexinger, the co-chairman of the left-wing Die Linke party, said that if the allegations were proven it would seek a European summit to discuss potential financial sanctions against the UK.

Julian Huppert, the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge, called for fresh scrutiny of the activities of the intelligence services and described the allegations as “very serious”.

“International law is very clear about the purposes for which embassies can and cannot be used,” he said. “Although I don’t know the facts of this particular matter, I think this shows that it is all the more important to have a debate so that we know where we stand. I think that’s in the interest of the intelligence services.”

Thomas Oppermann, the parliamentary leader of the Social Democrats and a likely member of Ms Merkel’s future “grand coalition” government, said: “Sad as it is, we will have to reckon with being spied on by our friends in future.”

The GCHQ 'nest' on the top of the UK’s Berlin embassy (Buggedplanet.info) The GCHQ 'nest' on the top of the UK’s Berlin embassy (Buggedplanet.info)

Wolfgang Bosbach, a home affairs specialist for Ms Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, said the disclosures proved it was time for a “no-spy” agreement between Britain and Germany, similar to a deal being negotiated between Berlin and the US.

“Since disclosures about Tempora [a GCHQ-run spying programme that intercepts huge amounts of personal data from internet] we have been aware of the extent to which the British carry out data surveillance,” he said. “The latest developments show that we should also reach a ‘no-spy’ agreement with Great Britain.”

Professor Richard Aldrich, a professor of international security at Warwick University, said the kind of activity allegedly carried out by the British in Berlin’s political district was “pretty universal”. He added: “This stuff is so ubiquitous and we now have documentary evidence to show that Britain regularly runs covert listening stations out of embassies and consulates, as does everybody else.”

Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader, said: “It’s commonplace for embassies to have direct and secure communications with their foreign offices.

“There is a sense of paranoia breaking out as a result of the Snowden revelations. It has to be accepted that the sophistication of modern technology is not confined to the UK, but is available to Germany and many other countries as well.”

From A to B to CIA: How the spy network functions

 

Data is collected from “spy bases” in US embassies by a special CIA/NSA unit often located on the roof of the US embassy (circled above on top of the US embassy in Madrid). The operational nests in Europe and Central Asia are located in Athens, Baku, Budapest, Frankfurt, Geneva, Kiev, Madrid, Milan, Moscow, Paris, Prague, Pristina, Rome, Sarajevo, Tbilisi, Tirana, Vienna and Zagreb.

Collected data is then sent to a relay facility at RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire. (Pic credit: PA)

The data is then transmitted to the College Park joint CIA/NSA centre (pictured above) in Maryland for analysis and use by America’s intelligence agencies. Under Britain’s long-standing intelligence-sharing pact with the United States, material can also be transmitted to GCHQ via a high-security link installed during the 1990s. (Getty Images)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Trainee Installation Engineer / Field Service Engineer / Customer Support Exec

£16 - 18k: Guru Careers: A Trainee Installation Engineer / Field Service Engin...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians Mate / Electricians Labourer

£22000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Approved NICEIC contractor is l...

Recruitment Genius: 1st / 2nd Line IT Support Technician

£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a small IT consultancy business...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager - North West

£50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is profitable and privately...

Day In a Page

A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935