Henry Austin, NBC News contributor
A leading German lawmaker has warned that European relations with the U.S. could not return to “business as usual” if the “really bad” reports about NSA monitoring of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone were confirmed.
"The Americans are and remain our best friends, but this is absolutely not right," German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere told the country’s ARD television about the alleged surveillance by their close ally.
Julian Stratenschulte / EPA, file
German Chancellor Angela Merkel whose cell phone was allegedly monitored by the National Security Agency.
"We can't simply return to business as usual," he said when asked about possible effects on U.S.-German and U.S.-European relations, adding that it would be "really bad" if they proved to be true.
"There are allegations in France too," he said, referring to a report in the French newspaper Le Monde earlier this week that the NSA had collected tens of thousands of French phone records.
"I have reckoned for years with my cellphone being monitored, but I wasn't reckoning with the Americans," de Maiziere, who was previously Merkel's chief of staff and Germany's interior minister, added.
His comments followed a phone call between from Merkel to Obama requesting “immediate clarification” on U.S. surveillance, her spokesman said Wednesday.
It did not appear, however, that the German government was fully satisfied with the response and Merkel issued a strongly worded statement through her spokesman.
"She made clear that she views such practices, if proven true, as completely unacceptable and condemns them unequivocally," according to the statement.
However, White House spokesman Jay Carney, Obama assured Merkel that the United States “is not monitoring and will not monitor her communications,” although he fell short of disclosing any past practices.
“The United States greatly values our close cooperation with Germany on a broad range of shared security challenges,” a White House statement said. “As the President has said, the United States is reviewing the way that we gather intelligence to ensure that we properly balance the security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share.”
The United States has been forced to respond to a series of revelations about alleged U.S. spying around the world, attributed to documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who fled prosecution in the U.S. this summer and was granted asylum in Russia.
Secretary of State John Kerry, on a visit to Rome Wednesday, also promised to look into whether U.S. intelligence services may have illegally intercepted Italian telephone data.
And French President Francois Hollande is pressing the U.S. spying issue to be put on the menu of a summit of European leaders that starts on Thursday, Reuters reported.
Addressing the Le Monde report, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Wednesday the U.S. is having “detailed discussions” with countries that raise the NSA surveillance issue and is providing a “consistent message.”
“There are specific, limited reasons we conduct intelligence activities of the kind that many if not all countries around the world conduct,” Harf said. “They are for limited aims; they're to protect American national security, to thwart terrorist plots.” She said intelligence is shared with allies and friends.
The European concerns come after a steady stream of reports from documents tied to Snowden that allege NSA snooping, including the collection of email contact lists of Americans.
On Sunday, the German magazine Der Spiegel, citing documents from Snowden, reported that the NSA hacked into the computers of Mexican government officials. The Mexican government called the report of U.S. spying “unacceptable, unlawful and contrary to international law.”
Last month, Brazil’s O Globo television network reported that the U.S. had snooped on the email of President Dilma Rousseff, whose aide said she was “indignant” about it.
NBC News Catherine Chomiak and Michael Isikoff as well as Reuters contributed to this report.
First published October 24 2013, 3:07 AM