The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) bugged the phone of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder from at least 2002, a German newspaper reported on Wednesday, compounding the most serious issue between the allies in a decade.
The reason for the snooping was Social Democrat (SPD) Schroeder's opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq under then President George W. Bush, the Sueddeutsche daily said, citing U.S. government sources and NSA insiders.
“We had reason to believe that [Schroeder] was not contributing to the success of the alliance,” the newspaper quoted one person with direct knowledge of the monitoring as saying.
Reports last year about mass surveillance in Germany, in particular of Merkel's mobile phone, shocked Germans and caused Berlin to push, so far in vain, for a “no-spy” deal with Washington.
Since then, it has been widely suspected in Germany that the NSA had bugged governments preceding Merkel's, but this is the first concrete report that offers evidence and it stems from information from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Schroeder, who headed a coalition with the Greens between 1998 and 2005, said he was no longer surprised.
“At that time I would not have entertained the idea of being monitored; now I am no longer surprised,” Schroeder told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
Germans are especially sensitive about snooping due to their experiences in the Nazi era and in Communist East Germany during the Cold War, when the Stasi secret police built up a massive network of surveillance.
Merkel said last week that Berlin and Washington were still “far apart” in their views on the NSA's surveillance of Germany but that they remained close allies.