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)

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
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 Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution