Bundestag wants to question Snowden over US eavesdropping

Ed Snowden whistleblower.jpg

Germany's parliament will hold a special session on revelations that the United States has tapped Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone, with left-wing parties demanding a public inquiry and asking to call in witnesses, including former US intelligence agent Edward Snowden.

Her conservative party, now in talks with the opposition Social Democrats on forming a new governing coalition after the Sept. 22 election, said it would not stand in the way of any parliamentary committee investigating the espionage affair.

Reports last week that the US National Security Agency had bugged Merkel's mobile phone stirred outrage in a country haunted by memories of eavesdropping by the Stasi secret police in old communist East Germany.

A rift over US surveillance activities first emerged earlier this year with reports that Washington had wired European Union offices and monitored half a billion phone calls, emails and text messages in Germany in a typical month.

"These actions are intolerable, they have the power to destroy the ties of friendship that have always bound us to the US," said Andrea Nahles, general secretary of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD).

"A Bundestag (lower house of parliament) committee, which could shed light on the case, is unavoidable," Nahles told the Bild daily. "Edward Snowden could be a valuable witness."

A German newspaper said on Sunday that US President Barack Obama knew his intelligence service was eavesdropping on Merkel as long ago as 2010, contradicting reports that he had told the German leader he did not know.

Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and the SPD have agreed to hold a special session of parliament on the spying scandal on Nov. 18, a spokesman for the conservatives said on Monday.

The SPD, Greens and radical Left party also are keen for parliament to set up an investigative committee.

The panel could call up witnesses in the scandal including the chancellor herself or Snowden, now living in asylum in Russia after he leaked details of US spy programmes, the parties said.

Gregor Gysi, parliamentary leader of the Left, said Germany should include Snowden in its witness protection scheme so he could speak before the committee.

The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee's chairwoman Dianne Feinstein said yesterday (28 October) she is "totally opposed" to the collection of intelligence on U.S. allies by the National Security Agency and that oversight of such surveillance must be strengthened.

"Unless the United States is engaged in hostilities against a country or there is an emergency need for this type of surveillance, I do not believe the United States should be collecting phone calls or emails of friendly presidents and prime ministers," Senator Feinstein said in a statement after reports that the NSA had bugged Merkel's cell phone and eavesdropped on the communications of other foreign leaders.

"With respect to NSA collection of intelligence on leaders of U.S. allies - including France, Spain, Mexico and Germany -let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed," Feinstein said.

She said the White House had told her that such collections of information from allies would not continue. But she said the Senate intelligence panel would begin "a major review" into all of the collection programs.

"It is my understanding that President Obama was not aware Chancellor Merkel's communications were being collected since 2002. That is a big problem," Feinstein said

Barack Obama knew his intelligence services were eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel as long ago as 2010, according to a report published on 27 October by a German newspaper.

At the 24-25 October EU summit Merkel demanded that the United States strike a "no-spying" agreement with Berlin and Paris by the end of the year, saying alleged espionage against two of Washington's closest EU allies had to be stopped.

Merkel said she wanted action from US President Barack Obama, not just apologetic words following revelations that the US National Security Agency had accessed tens of thousands of French phone records and monitored Merkel's private mobile phone.

Germany and France will seek a "mutual understanding" with the United States on cooperation between their intelligence agencies, and other EU member states could eventually take part.

French President François Hollande expressed his concerns that companies were also spied.

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