back to article Obama to Merkel: No Americans are listening to you on this call

Germany's relationship with the US turned decidedly frosty today after Angela Merkel's government said that the Chancellor's mobile phone may have been tapped by American spies. Washington attempted to prevent a row over alleged surveillance escalating with Berlin by confirming that President Barack Obama had told Merkel that …


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  1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    On the plus side

    She didn't have to *dial* Obama...

  2. Chris Miller

    Does she use a standard 'handy' bought on the high street. Or is she provided with encrypted communications by the Bundesnachrichtendienst? If the former, she needs to sack her security adviser. If the latter, and she didn't use it, it's her own fault.

    1. Guus Leeuw

      Dear Sir,

      what makes you so sure the BND isn't hackable by the NSA?


      Guus Leeuw

    2. Tchou

      Her fault...

      Same reasoning as in "she wore a mini skirt and got raped... her fault.."

      About the raper fault?

      What about the US?

      1. Chris Miller

        Much as many here enjoy bashing the US, all states (try to) spy on their neighbours - be they foes or 'allies'. She's the head of state* FFS. If she doesn't know how (or hasn't got an aide to help her) to make a secure call, she's in the wrong job.

        * Technically the Bundespräsident is head of state, not the Chancellor. If you can name him without the use of Google award yourself a beer.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward


          Context is in order here, true. How about remarking that the NSA even bugged the United Nations office in Washington or the EU building in Brussels?

          This idiocy is going way beyond "spying on your neighbors".

          1. Chris Miller


            And this surprises you? From the US perspective, they're just another foreign 'government'. Probably a more lucrative/attractive target than many.

      2. Scorchio!!

        "Her fault...

        Same reasoning as in "she wore a mini skirt and got raped... her fault.."

        About the raper fault?

        What about the US?"

        What about France:

        Of course the French aren't hypocrites, and the Germans are blissfully unaware.

      3. Stevie

        she wore a mini skirt and got raped

        More like she went a-bonking with the curtains open and got caught on a passerby's Googlespex.

    3. Rustident Spaceniak

      Actually she's known to use an encrypted mobile all the time. She does it so much it got to be known as the Merkelphone, and it was a news item when a new generation of them was bought (I think last year) for all the government members and other officials. One might think the crafty Americans used that info to figure out how to hack them.

      Which lets me think she'll probably send a three-word text to her purchasing officer.

      1. Rustident Spaceniak

        Update: Apparently (according to the German newspaper Tagesspiegel) her secure phone wasn't even hacked, but the one she uses to call people who don't have secure ones - so e.g. for (political) party business.

        Nonetheless, given the reactions in Germany today, one has the impression that Angie is not just making a show at being angry. The US ambassador was called in for a talking-to. We'll see if the matter has any more tangible consequences.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes, of course, if I am mugged it is my own fault.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Yes she should be, but given that it would be naive to fully trust even close allies in this world, I think her outrage should be directed at her own security services for not providing appropriately secure communications.

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Re: Outraged?

      I couldn't agree more.

      by confirming that President Barack Obama had told Merkel that the US "is not monitoring and will not monitor" the chancellor's telephone conversations is just a load of rubbish. It is - and must be - the responsibility of each country to keep other spooks out. I do understand that not each and every country has the capability of maintaining its own secure, i.e. not back doored, encryption, at least for its government. But countries such as Germany or France should be able to do exactly that.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Evil Auditor - Re: Outraged?


        UK, Germany and France should all be aware that they are targets and should certainly have the capability to protect those communications that matter most.

        Not just protecting from the US, but also from eachother. I'm not entirely convinced that the leaders of our respective nations necessarily know who their own spooks are spying on.

        1. Don Jefe

          Re: @Evil Auditor - Outraged?

          You've got to understand the reason for the outrage though and most reports skip over that. The reason for the outrage is that the US got caught, not the fact they were doing it. Every country operates under the assumption that there are spies in their midst, but without proof there's nothing to be outraged about.

          Now that there appears to be proof, the appropriate level of outrage can be expressed and the appropriate level of concessions can be negotiated. In reality, this is all a big game that most State actors are engaged in playing. There'll be a negotiated settlement and empty promises not to do it again. And they won't do it again, until they're caught.

          Overall I think State level spy vs spy stuff is no big deal, as I said its all fun and games for them. State surveillance of the general populace is terribly fucked up, but that's not what this is about.

    2. Schultz

      Re: Outraged?

      It's actually easier to understand why the NSA would want to spy on the head of a state as opposed to spying on the whole populace. But they managed to be indiscreet about it -- if Snowden had documents about it, then the better part of the US security services and administration might have access. Nobody wants their dirty laundry thus widely disseminated.

      Even 'if it can be expected' that the US spies on the rest of the world, they managed to really mess it up by creating such a large and all-encompassing system, that all kinds of sensitive information seem to be floating around. (If Snowden had access to presentation slides advertising those great information gathering tools, then there must be a lot of people for whom the data was advertised.)

      The NSA clearly overstepped the boundaries of reasonable actions and they might loose a lot of access due to it in the near future.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All countries should make a mass effort to spy on anything and everything in the US.

    The country predominatly made up of whiney little bitches would soon cry foul then.

    1. Rob Carriere

      I'm sure that goes on already. The sheer fact that other countries do not (yet) have their Edward Snowdens doesn't mean there isn't anything to report.

      1. Don Jefe

        Here in the US our overriding belief in Capitalism eliminates a lot of the need for actual covert surveillance. Savvy information analysts can just read industry journals and press releases and learn more about what's really going on than any spy can provide.

        From upcoming commercial developments, supply chain weaknesses, inventory holes, all the truly important information is published freely (or for the price of a journal subscription) if you know what to look for and have enough eyes on the info to put it all together. Having spies inside is a nifty bonus, but we've set up an entire industry that exists solely to publish information most other countries consider sensitive. It's all rather silly.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @ AC 24th October 2013 11:27

      It's already happening. Not that you're a whiny little Brit biotch that can't spell.

  5. Amorous Cowherder

    Oh rubbish!

    I'm sorry but I find all this mock outrage to be complete codswallop! The German government ministers were probably notified exactly whom was being spied on many months ago and now they pretend to share the common man's annoyance at having been spied on.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Oh rubbish!

      Yup. Pretty much in the same way that Kofi Annan's "outrage" about GCHQ intercept was acting too. If you're in such a position you KNOW there will be spying, so to have it confirmed is merely an opportunity to wind up the disclosed entity by some grandstanding in the media.

      Don't get me wrong, I think it's below par that it happens but it's the reality.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Oh rubbish!

        I don't even think it's below par that it happens. When we have peace, and love and one-world-government with perfect democracy then the spies will all be out of business. That's never going to happen though, so until then we're stuck with reality.

        For example: The Germans are trying to impose a transaction tax on the City of London via the EU. They're also very happy with the single market in goods, where they're dominant - but keep blocking the single market in services, where we are. There's nothing wrong with this - they're acting in their own best interests as they see them. So long as people are grown-up about it and regard the EU (and international relations in general) as the jungle they are, this is no problem. But it is an adversarial process. We cooperate where it suits us, and not where it doesn't, and every country regards that trade-off slightly differently. The moral outrage is also part of the game. But to take that at face value is ridiculous. Only countries that don't employ spies, and also don't use the information provided to them by others that do, are in a position to complain.

  6. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Highest honour

    Surely the leaders who weren't spied on should be the ones who are outraged. The conclusion would be that they weren't worth the effort.

  7. Arachnoid

    The statement is quite true

    GCHQ is not American so they are not spying on her conversations we are.

  8. lglethal Silver badge

    Oh no, please stop being a bad boy.

    Please, if these politicians are actually outraged there are dozens of ways which they could visibily act and hurt the americans.

    Everything from expelling ambassadors or embassy staff, removing co-operation between german agencies and american ones, right up to the extremes of trade sanctions. But they never do it. If the only punishment a child gets for misbehaving is a stern telling off, then I can guarantee that they wont stop misbehaving. And the US is very much a child in need of having its toys taken away and being made to sit in the corner with the dunce hat on!

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Oh no, please stop being a bad boy.

      What about warfare? How could you leave that out?

  9. markw:

    But surely Germany...

    But surely Germany is spying on American — and everyone else for that matter.

    Or are they the only country in the world that is'nt?

    1. Dances With Sheep

      Re: But surely Germany...

      > But surely Germany is spying on American


      Y'see, you have to understand the Germans.

      Have a few pints together and inevitably they will nearly all tell you the same thing.

      It. Must. Not. Happen. Again.

      In being accepted back into the "international community" the Germans have always been very, very careful to try to be whiter than white, and aviod pissing off others. It is unthinkable to the average German bloke in the street that they would spy on allies....... Even if it did happen, the German public would be outraged.

      Not everybody has the same attitude to friends as the biggest bully in the room, the US of A.

      (Would any Germans kindly care to comment on what I have written above?)

      1. Chris Miller

        Re: But surely Germany...

        So what does the Bundesnachrichtendienst (the German foreign intelligence agency) do, then?

        1. keith_w

          Re: But surely Germany...

          Commies. They spy on commies. and ex-commies. and countries that might be commies. and countries that might become commies. and Turkey.

        2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: But surely Germany...

          Assume they spend most of their time typing the name of their own agency into Powerpoint, email, contact lists, apointments etc

        3. Dances With Sheep

          Re: But surely Germany...

          > So what does the Bundesnachrichtendienst (the German foreign intelligence agency) do, then?

          Kindly re-read what I wrote above :-)

          Do the Bundesnachrichtendienst spy on friendly allies ? Unlikely.

          And if they did get cought doing it, the German public would not be impressed at all. Not one bit.

          I base my observations on working in Germany for a few years. Perhaps anybody else who has worked there or is German themselves would care to comment?

        4. Schultz

          So what does the Bundesnachrichtendienst do, then?

          The Bundesnachrichtendienst does what its name describes: Collecting news. The service was actually described as "newspaper clipping service" in the not-so-distant past. I am sure that they did expand their act a bit since then, nobody is immune against mission-creep. But the combination of German morals (nobody loves this undemocratic institution, it just has too many historic connotations) with the general boringness of German administration work (rules, rules, rules -- don't touch that pen unless you read the 20 page regulation on legitimate use), it makes me hopeful that the Bundesnachrichtendienst is still quite tame.

          They seem to have outsourced the more demanding jobs anyways: recent exposures of German spying software showed that they rely on commercial software of questionable quality.

          1. Scorchio!!

            Re: So what does the Bundesnachrichtendienst do, then?

            "I am sure that they did expand their act a bit since then, nobody is immune against mission-creep"

            Then there is the interesting case of the Deutsche Bundesbahn, which has been spying on certain persons. There are other cases in Germany. Everyone does it. You do it. I do it. This faux outrage is mere bollox. What we have at the moment is not unlike the unpopular patient phenomenon in psychiatry - where both staff and patients take a disliking to a single patient - or the unpopular employee phenomenon at work - similar - and so on; in every social setting, between individuals and groups, there will always be one individual or group that is targeted by a significant number of others, and it is interesting to note the schaden freude amongst people in the former HQ of the British empire, whom the Americans disliked and distrusted in the mid 20th century... ...for being an empire.

            Rather than targeting 'big data' and not putting names to it, France has actively been seeking out particular items of sensitive economic data, to the great cost of the victims. Worse to Germany the USSR was or China is according to an article I've already put up:

            “France is the evil empire in stealing technology, and Germany knows this,”

            Smutny was quoted as saying in the US diplomatic cable. The American embassy

            recorded his judgment that French industrial espionage was “so bad that

            the total damage done to the German economy is greater than that inflicted

            by China or Russia.”

            Spying on your friends is also a way to confirm they are still your friends, a means to affirm they're doing nothing that will endanger you, a means to find out whether or not they are releasing secrets to people who may indirectly or directly cause you harm, intentionally or not. It's a damage limitation method.

            The other article whose link I cited makes it very clear, by means of the Boston example, precisely what the 'big data' 'espionage' means. No one has the means to listen to millions of calls, but they do have the ability to statistically analyse millions of calls and sift out the irrelevant, non terrorist calls; after that a process of elimination can narrow the calls down to the few that may be suspect, and then, and only then, they apply to the FISA court for a warrant to tap lines.

            In the Boston example, where police suspected that a number of public phones were being used for criminal activity, traffic analysis resulted in them knowing there were calls to certain numbers known to be owned by suspects. All the investigators lacked was the content of conversations. Having established that these phones were used to contact such criminals they applied to FISA for a wire tap warrant (with the caveat that they were to take measures to ensure they were not recording innocent calls) and they proceeded to confirm that these calls did indeed contain information about criminal activity.

            Returning to France for a minute, the 'evil empire' that outspies even the former USSR's commercial theft enterprise (and note that one Lt. Col. Vladimir Vladimorovich Putin, or 'Voro' in kindergarten Russian, was in charge of the German end of this effort), the effect that their commercial espionage has on ordinary people is considerable and troublesome to people who pay attention. The trouble is that we are looking in the direction, mostly, of the traffic analysis of meta data, and we are panicking irrationally about it, whilst simultaneously and wrongly generalising to ourselves.

            I'm more concerned about Deutsche Bundesbahn's espionage, and far more concerned about the espionage practised by hiring and actual employers, who grep the web for your information, for your remarks, for your photographs... ...and then generalise about you when actually the things that you have done and confessed online are more than likely found in most people, including the employers, who are practising a kind of Victorian, prudish hypocrisy.

            As a side note, I have analysed vast amounts of data in my academic life, much of it about very painful, personal emotional conditions, criminal behaviour and so on; the data are collected and turned into anonymous collections that can (only for the purpose of follow up) only related to real people by means of a key. I've never been interested in the particularity, yet I can understand the fears of people whose data I've analysed. I have had to conform to high standards of data protection, and every other organisation that collects data has to face similar criteria. Interestingly intelligence agencies analysing vast amounts of data start off not knowing much of value, and only know it after connections to suspect nodes are made by previously unremarkable ones. I see no one mention these things, as I see no one worrying about French destruction of commercial secrecy, at great cost to the victims; that would be the like of you and me.

            Worth a level headed read:



          2. Don Jefe

            Re: So what does the Bundesnachrichtendienst do, then?

            As I posted above, most of the useful, actionable information State actors need to operate a successful intelligence service is published in newspapers (or journals or other public source). Prior to the descent of the US into cowardice and paranoia, the vast majority of intelligence was always gathered from public sources (excepting totalitarian regimes that spied on their own citizens). The super secret code breaking and spy vs spy stuff has always been the smallest component of intelligence operations. It is rarely very effective or timely and presents tremendous risk to the agents and their country. Better to just 'clip the newspaper'.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Didn't seem to bother them at the time...

  11. ciaran

    Its like when you have proof that a politician is lying...

    Everybody thinks that politicians lie about anything they think they can get away with. But when you catch one making an outright lie, should they be punished ?

    I think they should. And in the same logic I think the US should be punished for having a spy agency that's out of control.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Its like when you have proof that a politician is lying...

      I think the US should be punished for having a spy agency that's out of control.

      Just of out morbid curiosity, how do you propose any nation "punishes" the US? To me, that's part of the problem right there.

      1. silent_count

        Re: Its like when you have proof that a politician is lying...

        "Just of out morbid curiosity, how do you propose any nation "punishes" the US?'"

        Poetic justice - by directing funding towards creating and maintaining a secure AOSP build and distribute it to all and sundry, starting with Ms Merkel. Could you imagine how hard the NSA would cry if a substantial number of phones worldwide suddenly got a whole lot harder to hack and there wasn't some American company they could lean on to get backdoor access?

        1. Stevie

          Re: Poetic justice

          Hmm. Do you have any schemes that would work outside of the pages of an issue of "V for Vendetta"?

          You don't seriously think the German security services want an "unhackable" phone system any more than the NSA does, do you? Seriously?

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. BongoJoe

        Re: Its like when you have proof that a politician is lying...

        Just of out morbid curiosity, how do you propose any nation "punishes" the US?

        Simple. Stop using the Dollar as the currency for the international petroleum trade. Without the PetroDollar the US would go bust overnight.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Its like when you have proof that a politician is lying...

          Just of out morbid curiosity, how do you propose any nation "punishes" the US?

          Simple. Stop using the Dollar as the currency for the international petroleum trade. Without the PetroDollar the US would go bust overnight.

          China is already doing that.

          1. Don Jefe

            Re: Its like when you have proof that a politician is lying...

            There is no need for a prescribed punishment for the US government. Bullies and dickheads always lose in the end without any proactive action required. People just begin to ignore those sorts and eventually you're left with a screaming loony in the corner that's loud, and will bite if you get to close, so everyone just stays away.

            Right now there isn't much anyone can can do to the US. The only country with any significant, organized financial power is China, and they are completely dependent on the health of the US. That's the leading reason why they aren't considered a true global power. They're too locked in to the US. It won't always be that way though. If our leaders don't start acting like the only people on Earth then we'll be completely left behind. Another huge, angry, semi-stable State, like Russia.

            1. Stevie

              Re:Bullies and dickheads always lose in the end ...

     long as you understand the time taken may be epochal, that you personally may not be in a position to care when come-uppance happens, and the bullying may restart very quickly. See: Russia.

        2. Stevie

          Re: Stop using the Dollar

          Good luck with that. Personally, the alternatives give me the willies, but your mileage may vary.

      4. Pseu Donyme

        Re: Its like when you have proof that a politician is lying...

        > do you propose any nation "punishes" the US?

        In this particular context eliminating US tech products from official or infrastructure use by law would seem to have merit: a fair and prudent precaution also amounting to punishment.

  12. Peter Clarke 1
    Big Brother

    Equal Opportunities

    Did the German spooks find out their leader was compromised when they sifted through the data provided to them by the NSA???

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Equal Opportunities

      Did the German spooks find out their leader was compromised when they sifted through the data provided to them by the NSA???

      Maybe it was in one of those DVDs with data they ordered stolen from Swiss banks?

    2. Rustident Spaceniak

      Re: Equal Opportunities

      Whichever way they did find out, the fact that they did probably is what is keeping their jobs at present. Mind you, we haven't heard about that bug in Downing Street yet, or in the Elysée - oh in fact yes, that's one we did hear about!‎

  13. Dances With Sheep
    Big Brother


    But shirly....

    If Angela Merkel has nothing to hide, then she has nothing to fear. ;-)

    1. ByeLaw101

      Re: Meh

      I don't know about that, and stop calling me Shirly :D

  14. The First Dave

    Was this another one of those denials by diversion?

    ie: "No, of course we didn't record any of your conversations onto mini-disc!"

    Otherwise known as: "Of course we keep a record (on flash-disc) of any 'meta-data' we can get our hands on."

    1. Anonymous Dutch Coward

      Evasion, schmevasion

      Well, the difference between

      - is not monitoring

      - will not monitor


      - has been monitoring for ages but we've stopped now

      - we let the Brits do the monitoring

      - we don't monitor but eavesdrop, then get a German speaking intern to write up the translations, /then/ we monitor the translations


      is quite palpable, yes.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I wish *we* could hear that conversation - an angry German on line one. Unmissable.

  16. Fading
    Black Helicopters

    "is not monitoring and will not monitor"

    The translated transcripts on the other hand............

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bullcrap. This is what the NSA has done for decades and there are thousands of examples of spying on friendly governments and their people.

    Just goes to show you cannot trust a single thing from the US. Their technology is bugged, their crypto is inherently flawed, and their word is meaningless.

  18. JaitcH

    Merkel's crocodile tears.

    GERMANY is the No. 1 intercept country for Russia and Eastern European countries, second only to Britain in the phone tapping business in Europe.

    And if Merkel is so smart she should know the NSA is building a huge new headquarters in Weisbaden, using ONLY American labour and materials.

    And, during her time in office the NSA monitoring base in Bad Aibling was operative until around 2004,

    I guess Americans don't need visas to work, or spy, in Merkel's Germany.

    She could take her new car to the NSA "Dagger Complex" in Griesheim - where she will be, once again, surprised to see Americans at work.

    Kind of hard to miss those bloody great golf-balls called RADOMES.

    1. Dances With Sheep

      Re: Merkel's crocodile tears.

      > GERMANY is the No. 1 intercept country for Russia and Eastern European countries

      Russia is hardly a friendly neghbour.

      The US and Germany are supposed to be friends and allies.

      That is why people are outraged.

    2. ByeLaw101

      Re: Merkel's crocodile tears.

      "GERMANY is the No. 1 intercept country for Russia and Eastern European countries,"

      Can you post a link with the evidence on what you are claiming here?

    3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Merkel's crocodile tears.

      That is slightly different, Russia is an enemy, it has 10,000 nukes, a couple of million soldiers and quite a few tanks ready to roll into Germany again if it wanted.

      The difference between spying on them and on Germany is rather like the difference between the USAF bombing Afghanistan and it bombing Canada

      1. Stevie

        Re: Merkel's crocodile tears.

        [4 Yet Another Anonymous coward]

        I suggest you keep your mouth shut with regard to The Canada Option, unless you want find yourself standing naked in a stone cell 20 hours a day while the Barney theme plays at volume number 11.

        Signed: A Friend.

  19. Eugene Crosser

    half-hearted outrage

    If Angela Merkel or any other European leaders are so outraged by the NSA practices, they surely ought to show some gratitude to the person who made evidence of such practices public, and give him political asylum. No?

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: half-hearted outrage

      Ah, there's the rub. They're more than happy to have their citizens spied upon by the NSA (as long as they get to read the reports); they're less happy when it's them being spied upon.

      On the plus side, this SNAFU is going to increase the chances of the suspending the agreement on SWIFT snooping which would be a huge bargaining chip for the EU in future negotiations.

      The recent spate of revelations are looking increasingly like leaks. Is it possible that someone in the current US administration is taking advantage of the Snowden situation to take the NSA, et al. down a peg or two? Would be a nice way to cut the budget a bit.

  20. Andy Roid McUser

    let me fix the title for you

    "No Americans are listening to you on this call"

    Should read..

    "No, Americans are listening to you on this call"

    Simple grammatical error corrected.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: let me fix the title for you

      You don't think they were questioning the nationality of Mr Obama then?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No Americans...

    as in a missing comma?

    "No, Americans are listening to you on this call."


    "... because we employ German citizens to spy on your, dear Markela"?


    "as in "... no native Americans"?

    Possibilities are endless.

    As in... "more than a few mentioned above but hey, language's a funny tool"

    1. Isendel Steel

      Re: No Americans...

      So... President Obama is not American, or he wasn't listening...

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yes, and "it must not happen again" can be summarized in two words: Gestapo, and Stasi.

    After all, only police states spy on their citizens.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "This Statement is False."

    Post "This Statement is False." ...and another NSA power supply flames out.

    The risks of artificial intelligence attempting to parse the Internet.

  24. Eguro

    I think I've said it previously, but surely with these scandals about the US spying on UN headquarters, it is about time to relocate the UN to a more trusted nation? One of the other countries on the security council? Or let it rotate in 5-10 year periods - OR declare one piece of land somewhere a no-mans-land and hold it there - OR convene in airport transit areas which are already no-mans-land!

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Yeah, because the other 4 Permanent members of the security council are dead trustworthy. I'm sure the Russians and Chinese have never tried to spy on anyone, France isn't pure as the driven snow, and Britain has a very long history of reading other peoples' mail... After all we didn't tell many of our allies after WWII that we'd broken Enigma, and quite a few of them copied/adapted it and used similar machines for a while. I'm sure that we weren't listening in, honest...

      Spying is a legitimate part of statecraft. It can certainly have bad consequences, but also good ones. One of the reasons the Cold War didn't turn hot is that each sides' spies were able to get some information on the other side, which helped stop people getting more nervous than they already were.

      Weirdly, spying can actually increase trust. If a country's diplomats tell you something, you may not trust them. If you can confirm that by spying, then not only do you know what's happening, but you've also now built some trust with the diplomats.

      Had our spies been more effective in Iraq for example, we might have saved an awful lot of grief, last decade. Basically were weren't getting any useful information out. So as Saddam had lied repeatedly about having got rid of his WMDs in the 1990s, only for the UN inspection teams to find another load - it was always assumed that he still had some. Especially as the UN teams had been stopped from getting all the stuff they'd discovered in the 90s (as in seen the paperwork for, not found the actual chemicals).

      1. Eguro

        First off: Of course none of the other members of the security council are trustworthy - hence it being bundled with a bunch of none too good suggestions.

        Secondly: You are right! Spying - when complementing hot-topic diplomacy - can be a good thing!

        I can't help but notice, however, that you did not make examples of countries already on friendly terms.

        I'm not as naive as to think spying doesn't take place between friendly countries (sadly?), but I would hope that the nations of the world could get together and do something about blatant spying in the UN. Furthermore, whilst spying can be good, being discovered in spying is not good.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Tthe Germans may be a friendly country, but then again they may not. They aren't always our allies in foreign policy terms, not that this makes them unfriendly, but it does move them to the pot of 'countries that are a legitimate target for spying'. Although in my opinion, that's every country. You spy on your enemies to see what they're up to, and on your friends to make sure they still are.

          But also, the Germans are currently the big cheese in all matters Euro. And if you want my opinion, they're not making a very good job of it. Knowing what's happening in negotiations in the Eurozone affects the economies of every country on the planet. If the Euro breaks up messily, it could plunge the world into a much worse recession than we've just had.

          As for the UN, some of what it does is very important. Therefore you'll get spying. I think the mistake you're making is in seeing the UN as some moral force for good, which should except it from the rules of diplomacy. It's not. If it were, then we might have had a peaceful solution to the crises in Syria and Iraq. The UN is very useful as a talking shop for countries, often helping to broker peace; as a means to get international cooperation on various projects, health, famine relief, telecoms etc.; and for lots of other stuff. So wherever you put it, you won't change anything.

          Also, I'm not even sure getting caught spying is all that bad. Every country does it. No government is shocked when it happens to them. If governments make a big noise about it, it's because they wish to use that in negotiation. Any government can put out a report at any time that they're being spied on, and then take whatever action they wanted to take anyway. Admittedly it can have an affect in democracies, where popular sentiment can throw a spanner in the works of inter-governmental negotiations. But even there, that can mostly be stopped by a government that wanted to. If this harms the EU-US trade negotiations for example, that will be because European governments want it to. If they didn't, they could stop the public outrage in a heartbeat by simply putting out a statement saying, yes the US is spying on our government phones, but we're also spying on theirs.

          1. Eguro

            I don't see the UN as some moral force for good.

            I see it as a diplomatic institution, which will not work as well as we could hope, if everything done there is riddled with doubts - in the minds of politicians, NGOs, the populations of the world, and all others who are affected by decisions made there.

            You might argue that spying will help alleviate the doubts in the politicians minds, but that is - I think - only partially true. And it most certainly cannot be true about the doubts of other groups - I sincerely doubt that the US envoy to the UN will go on National TV to tell the public about how their spies have found out things, that'll put current dealings in another light.

  25. Britt Johnston

    The Core of the Special Relationship

    is that neither British Statesmen nor USA ones are accusing each other of phone-tapping.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: The Core of the Special Relationship

      As I understand it, we share a good deal of our communications infrastructure. I don't know if that's as true now as it was in the Cold War days. So it's not so much spying, as the sysadmin looking at the logs...

      I'm sure each government must have ways of hiding things from each other, for those times when it would be just too tempting to listen in on the party line.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Look at it the other way

    Obama to Merkel: No Americans are listening to you on this call.

    I quite believe this, the Americans are probably getting someone else ( i leave this to your discretion as to who that is) to listen to the conversations and then report back to them with the relevant information.

  27. Anonymous Coward

    "Obama to Merkel: No Americans are listening to you on this call

    ...we hired a local German professional to do that for us ;)

  28. Wedge

    Those terrorists sure manage to get high in the German parliament..

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Send me your masses

    ...of sheeple for they are dumber than a rock.

  30. bed

    Unforeseen consequences

    One of the interesting, and unforeseen by the US, consequences of this farrago may be, for a variety of plausible reasons, a move by European governments away from US sourced software.

  31. Nigel 11

    the US "is not monitoring and will not monitor"

    Probably literally true and 100% false at the same time!

    Ie, they've sub-contracted it to some outfit that is non-US. GCHQ? Some wholly-owned tax-haven-based subsidiary of a Maryland holding company about which it is very difficult to obtain further ownership information (i.e. 100% indirectly owned by the NSA)?

  32. W. Anderson

    ignorant banter

    There is always some stupid excuse made when the USA is found to be unethically if not illegally doing something like spying into the e-mails of heads of States who as claimed by the US government "close allies and partners".

    The NSA documented revealed by Edward Snowden show that the NSA spied on President Calderon of Mexico, as well as millions ordinary citizens and even children in Western Democracies. If those making ignorant and snide comments on this blog and nation wide do not comprehend the full implications of such arrogant and ill-conceived actions, then it proves the veracity of the recent international (including respected and prominent US social scientists) comprehensive study showing "adult" Americans scoring substantially below their peers in most developed nations "in Math, Reading and comprehension, as well as Problem Solving/Analytical Skills for non-complicated issues."

    Proof positive that (false) superiority complex based on ignorance and unintelligent banter is prevalent here in America.

  33. Martin 47

    Is it just me or does anyone else think 'NSA employee' whenever I read a post saying 'its their own fault they were spied on' or 'its no big deal really'?

    I suspect NSA has both the means and the inclination to do lots of 'damage limitation' posts on forums such as this.

    Or an I just getting too suspicious and cynical?

  34. Shao

    Obama to Merkel: No! Americans *are* listening to you on this call

  35. Dick Emery

    What about the rest of us?

    Sure Obmama(sp). So you will not be spying on your political buddies. What about the millions of ordinary Joe's though? Eh? Eh?

  36. Anonymous Moose
    Thumb Down

    Bit hypocritical,

    especially since she didn't appear to give a rat's arse when it was only the other 80 million people who were being spied on.

    That's the impression this german got anyways.

  37. GotThumbs

    I wouldn't count on it.....Word play from Obama.

    They may not be "recording" calls (that we know of), BUT they are tracking millions, billions of calls and storing the metadata on all of them.

    Unless they have a specific "Do Not Track" table to EXCLUDE certain numbers. If there is such a system, I want on that.

    Unfortunately, you just can't believe that a very, very small number of individuals are exempt, when the NSA is using a blanket approach to information collection.

    It would be foolish to believe the current US Administration IMO.

    ~Best wishes

  38. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge


    I'm embarrased as an American for the NSA's illegal and unconstitutional spying program. I'm embarrased that officials thought they could straight-up lie about it and that it'd all go away. And I'm embarrased that the NSA has been as tactless in their foreign spying as they have been.

  39. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Once Upon a Time

    Once upon a time there was a US President called Nixon, who surprised and appalled the world and his country by having microphones installed in foreign embassies on US soil. He was impeached for the effort.

    Today, we have a US President who is responsible for the greatest official dragnet ever concieved, shamelessly spying on everyone and everything without a shred of accountability or justification, and the world just goes "meh".

    Is this what they call progress ?

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