Calls made by US secretary of state John Kerry and his predecessor Hillary Clinton were "accidentally" intercepted by German intelligence agencies, Der Spiegel reports.
The Bundesnachrichtdienst (BND), the German intelligence service, snooped on a satellite phone conversation that Kerry made in 2013, a year after it intercepted a call between Clinton and former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan in 2012.
None of the three were targets of surveillance but their conversations were intercepted anyway: in Clinton's case this was because the call she was making was on the same "frequency" as a terror suspect (report in German here).
Turkey – a fellow member of NATO – was named as a target for German intelligence gathering in a leaked BND document dating from 2009 and obtained by Der Spiegel (report in German here).
A BND spokeswoman told Reuters that Germany was not tapping the phones of allied countries. She also sought to downplay suggestions that US politicians had become the target of surveillance as a reprisal for the much publicised snooping on German chancellor Angela Merkel's phone by the NSA and others. "Any accidental recordings are deleted immediately," she said.
Turkey's foreign ministry has reportedly summoned the German ambassador for a meeting without coffee, while the US has kept a diplomatic silence over the latest snooping revelations. Der Spiegel previously reported that Kerry's phone calls were intercepted by Israeli signals intelligence spies during failed Middle East peace talks last year.
Intelligence gleaned was passed onto Israeli negotiators, giving them an advantage of knowing more about the negotiating position of other parties during the ultimately unsuccessful talks.
Der Spiegel said at least one other intelligence service was also tapping Kerry's communications as he tried to broker an agreement between Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab states. Its latest reports confirm rumours that the other spy in the room was Germany. Kerry was said to have used both encrypted and open phone lines during his diplomatic efforts with open lines being brought into play when the senior US politician needed to talk to third-party deal brokers.
Spying on foreign leaders is, of course, a core part of the job of signals intelligence agencies worldwide. Revelations about spying by the Germans weaken its moral authority in complaining about US snooping, which was perhaps the aim of whoever leaked these German secrets to Der Spiegel.
German-US relations, already under a bit of a cloud because of the Merkel spying allegations, were further inflamed last month when a BND worker was cuffed over allegations he spied for the Americans. The 31-year-old allegedly supplied the NSA with information on a German Parliamentary inquiry into spying by the NSA, among other matters.
The story goes that evidence of his alleged malfeasance only emerged after German counter-intelligence agents got wind of the technical support staffer's offer to work for the Russians. ®