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17 Feb, 2017 22:00

Merkel ‘presumed’ Berlin didn’t spy on allies, she tells investigators of German surveillance

Merkel ‘presumed’ Berlin didn’t spy on allies, she tells investigators of German surveillance

Chancellor Angela Merkel was the last witness questioned by the parliamentary commission investigating US surveillance in Germany and cooperation with local intelligence. She denied knowing the program’s scale when declaring “friends don’t spy on friends.”

The now-infamous statement was given by Merkel in 2013 after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden made public the global program of electronic surveillance conducted by American intelligence. She was speaking after it was revealed that German citizens, and she personally, were subject to this collection of data.

The words came back to haunt her when it was revealed two years later that the German intelligence service BND was closely engaged with America’s NSA to survey on various targets, including allies of Berlin.

At the questioning session on Thursday, Merkel said she was not aware of this in 2013 when she delivered the “friends don’t spy on friends” rebuke to Washington.

“I assumed that the BND does not engage in such activities,” Merkel told the enquiry as cited by the Local.

The chancellor said she only gradually learned about the BND’s electronic surveillance methods and maintained that her statement was that of a policy, not of fact, Deutsche Welle reported. She blamed “technical and organizational deficits” when asked why it took until March 2015 for the BND to discontinue certain controversial surveillance methods.

“You say that it can’t be that friends spy on one another and yet the BND did precisely that over years,” objected André Hahn of the opposition Left Party. “And that was just down to ‘technical and organizational deficits?’”

Merkel said her role as a chancellor was to set policy targets and that she had trusted others to see that they were met.

When questioned about the reported tapping of her phone by US intelligence, Merkel said such tapping had not been proven and that she trusted then-US President Barack Obama, who had assured her that her phone would not be tapped in the future. She said she didn’t submit the phone for forensic examination to avoid disclosing her communications habits and that she through it would be easier to just get a new device.

During a break in the testimony, Christian Plisek of the Social Democratic Party, an ally of Merkel’s Christian Democrats in the greater coalition government, told journalists that he believed the chancellor’s words on not knowing about BND’s surveillance methods. He added that Merkel seemed to have erected a “protective wall” around herself to keep from knowing more than she absolutely had to.

Merkel’s testimony was the last in the three-year investigation of the committee, which now has until the second half of June to file its final report on the matter.