Why would the US spy on Merkel?

One expert: Spying on Frau Merkel — shocking? No. Hurtful? Perhaps. Wise? Almost certainly not. Read also more comments.


1. If true, how shocking or maybe not very much shocking would you consider spying on Merkel by the US?

2. In theory, what could the US  gain from spying on Merkel in your opinion?


Robert DoverSenior Lecturer in International Relations, Loughborough University

1. Deeply shocking! Demonstrates a somewhat unrestrained attitude to surveillance. One would normally expect to collect on a head of a developed state/government indirectly. To access the comms of a head of a friendly government would seem a bad breach of those friendly terms.

2. Depending on what set of comms being intercepted, they will have accessed the private debates and tensions. Gold dust to those seeking to influence on the international stage. Like delving into the heart of someone else’s marriage…

Anthony GleesProfessor, Director, Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies, University of Buckingham

1. I would be surprised if the story weren’t true; in the late 1920s Henry Stimson the US Secretary of State said, allegedly, gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail. In fact the British had been busy intercepting communications ever since when communications interception became possible. Of course, you could argue that an enemy or potential enemy wasn’t by definition a ‘gentleman’.
However, it was widely accepted that friendly or allied states did not spy on each other. Even during the Second World War period from 1941-45 Winston Churchill insisted that Britain not spy on the Soviet Union because, as he put it, ‘we do not spy on our friends ‘and he was worried that if we had spied on the USSR and it had discovered this, it might have joined forces with Hitler again.
But today governments spy on their friends and enemies alike, not least because the use of it makes it so easy. Mi6 spied on the Bundesbank for years.

Spying on Frau Merkel — shocking? No. Hurtful? Perhaps. Wise? Almost certainly not.

2. Intelligence allows governments to know what is likely to happen before it happens so knowing what Frau Merkel was thinking of doing on any subject which impacted on us interests would have been of interest. But of course given the intimate intelligence relationship between the USA and the UK, anything that impacted on British interests would also have been passed on. Knowing whether Frau Merkel would speak out against the NSA, for example, or the use of drones would be the sorts of thing the USA would like to know about before they happened. Britain would like to know whether Frau Merkel would or would not support David Cameron’s planned re-negotation of the UK’s membership of the E.U.

That said, it would not be surprised if the German intelligence service wasn’t repaying its compliments to the Americans — and the British. Spies spy. It’s what they do. And knowing is always better than not knowing. Predictability (a modern German virtue) is good in politics.

Matthew AidIntelligence Historian, Author of The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security Agency

1. I am not surprised at all that NSA was listening to Angela Merkel’s cell phone calls. The lesson to be learned is that she and other European leaders should not be using unencrypted cell phones to talk about high-level policy matters. Not only NSA was listening, but I am certain every other major intelligence service as well.

2. If NSA was indeed listening to Merkel’s phone calls, I am sure that we learned everything we needed to know about every major policy questions she has dealt with, including but not limited to her recent tough reelection fight.

Michael Smith,  Intelligence expert, Author of various books including – The Spying Game

1. The extent of the US and UK surveillance has shocked even some experts, but largely as a result of the capability rather than the target. President Obama’s denial, purely in the present tense, suggests that they have and probably will do again if they can.

2. It isn’t a surprise that Merkel’s communications have been targeted, almost certainly ahead of and during summit meetings like the G8. The heads and officials of all the countries involved in such talks will be targeted to determine their negotiating positions and ensure the US gets the best deal it can. The US is not the only country that does this but it may be the most successful.

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