Chancellor Angela Merkel has ordered her counter-espionage services to begin surveillance of British and American intelligence gathering in Germany for the first time since 1945 in response to a series of US spy scandals which have badly soured relations between Berlin and Washington.
The Süddeutsche Zeitung and two-state funded German TV channels, WDR and NDR, quoted an unnamed Berlin government source who said Ms Merkel’s Chancellery and her interior and foreign ministries had agreed to launch counter-espionage measures against Britain and the US for the first time.
“Right now we need to send a strong signal,” the Süddeutsche Zeitung quoted the source as saying. The extraordinary measures are a direct response to a series of embarrassing US and British spying scandals in Germany which began last year with revelations that the US National Security Agency had bugged Ms Merkel’s mobile phone.
The Chancellor protested on several occasions that she was “not amused” by the disclosures
The Independent subsequently revealed that like the Americans, Britain was operating a secret GCHQ listening post from the top of its Berlin embassy. A similar listening post on the roof of the US embassy in Berlin was almost certainly used to eavesdrop on Ms Merkel’s phone.
The spying scandal came to a head earlier this month with further revelations that a German intelligence double agent had sold secrets to the CIA after being recruited by officials from Berlin’s US embassy and allegations that a German defence ministry employee had also passed on confidential information to US intelligence.
Ms Merkel’s government responded by taking the unprecedented step of ordering the CIA’s station chief in Germany to leave the country. The move underlined her coalition’s increasing exasperation over Washington’s reluctance to curb its spying activities or offer any explanation.
News of Germany’s new counter-espionage offensive against Britain and the US comes only two days after officials from Washington and Berlin held so-called “restorative talks” in an attempt to dispel the mutual rancour caused by the spying scandals.
Both sides were said to have set up “ guiding principles” governing the relationship between their respective intelligence agencies although the German side was obliged to accept that the US flatly ruled out any “no spy” agreement.
Revelations about uncontrolled US and British intelligence gathering have struck a nerve in Germany where spying is associated with Hitler’s Gestapo and the former Communist Stasi secret police.
Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine argued in a recent article that GCHQ was “more unscrupulous than the NSA” and suggested that Britain suffered from a “James Bond problem”.
But fear of NSA spying has prompted MPs to call for a reintroduction of typewriters at parliamentary committee meetings discussing US espionage. During one session classical music was played to deter potential US eavesdroppers.
Earlier this month the German Interior Minister, Thomas de Maiziere, said Germany needed a “360-degree view” of foreign intelligence gathering to prevent new scandals.