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US ambassador: Merkel phone tap was stupid
US ambassador to Germany, John Emerson. Photo: DPA

US ambassador: Merkel phone tap was stupid

Published: 05 Feb 2014 11:16 GMT+01:00
Updated: 05 Feb 2014 11:16 GMT+01:00

The US ambassador admitted on Tuesday the tapping of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone by US security services was “stupid”. He was speaking minutes before it emerged the phone of Merkel’s predecessor was also targeted.

In a speech to Berlin business leaders, the US ambassador to Germany, John Emerson, criticized the tapping of Merkel's mobile phone by the US National Security Agency (NSA).

When answering a question from the audience about immigration restrictions he said: “We [the US] have done a number of stupid things, Chancellor Merkel’s phone being one of them.”

During his 30-minute speech to Berlin trade association VBKI at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Emerson praised Germany as a “role model” for the rest of the world.

He said the problems facing Germany and the US today could be measured in “megabytes” rather than “megatonnes” as during the Cold War.

Speaking about Germany’s reaction to the mass surveillance programme conducted by the NSA and revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, he said: “I fully understand the stress that has been caused in Germany.

“I understand the differences in the experiences of the German people and the recent experiences of Americans, as well as the impact that these different experiences have had on our respective attitudes to intelligence gathering.”

The former banker told his audience that German concerns were being “taken very seriously” at the highest levels of American government.

“Fully rebuilding trust is going to take sincere effort and a long time,” he added. “Discussions continue to be ongoing between senior levels of our respective intelligence services.”

“It is essential that we rebuild the trust that has been shaken,” he said. “Friends can disappoint one another. When it does occur friends work hard to get through it.

“We will get through this because we must get through this.”

The ambassador, who took up his post in August, warned that Germany and the US were facing new types of threats than those of the Cold War, and that intelligence gathering had stopped attacks on German soil.

But the father-of-three admitted: “Listening to the Chancellor’s cell phone has nothing to do with that [stopping terrorist attacks].”

Emerson went on to refute claims made by former NSA contractor Snowden in a television interview last Monday that the NSA was engaged in industrial espionage against German firms.

“We don’t collect intelligence to provide a competitive advantage to US sectors,” he said. “We don’t steal trade secrets.”

Looking to the future of German-US relationships, the ambassador called on his audience to support the proposed trade pact (TTIP) between America and the European Union, which would create the world’s largest free trade zone.

Shortly after Emerson’s speech, it emerged that the NSA also allegedly targeted the phone of Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, over his lack of support for President George Bush for the Iraq War in 2002. 

READ MORE: US view of Germany 'better than ever'

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Tom Bristow (tom.bristow@thelocal.com)

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