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)

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little