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back to article Obama to Merkel: No Americans are listening to you on this call

Germany's relationship with the US turned decidedly frosty today after Angela Merkel's government said that the Chancellor's mobile phone may have been tapped by American spies. Washington attempted to prevent a row over alleged surveillance escalating with Berlin by confirming that President Barack Obama had told Merkel that …

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Black Helicopters

On the plus side

She didn't have to *dial* Obama...

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Does she use a standard 'handy' bought on the high street. Or is she provided with encrypted communications by the Bundesnachrichtendienst? If the former, she needs to sack her security adviser. If the latter, and she didn't use it, it's her own fault.

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Dear Sir,

what makes you so sure the BND isn't hackable by the NSA?

Regards,

Guus Leeuw

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Stop

Her fault...

Same reasoning as in "she wore a mini skirt and got raped... her fault.."

About the raper fault?

What about the US?

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Pint

Much as many here enjoy bashing the US, all states (try to) spy on their neighbours - be they foes or 'allies'. She's the head of state* FFS. If she doesn't know how (or hasn't got an aide to help her) to make a secure call, she's in the wrong job.

* Technically the Bundespräsident is head of state, not the Chancellor. If you can name him without the use of Google award yourself a beer.

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@Chris

Context is in order here, true. How about remarking that the NSA even bugged the United Nations office in Washington or the EU building in Brussels?

This idiocy is going way beyond "spying on your neighbors".

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@ShelLuser

And this surprises you? From the US perspective, they're just another foreign 'government'. Probably a more lucrative/attractive target than many.

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Actually she's known to use an encrypted mobile all the time. She does it so much it got to be known as the Merkelphone, and it was a news item when a new generation of them was bought (I think last year) for all the government members and other officials. One might think the crafty Americans used that info to figure out how to hack them.

Which lets me think she'll probably send a three-word text to her purchasing officer.

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Update: Apparently (according to the German newspaper Tagesspiegel) her secure phone wasn't even hacked, but the one she uses to call people who don't have secure ones - so e.g. for (political) party business.

Nonetheless, given the reactions in Germany today, one has the impression that Angie is not just making a show at being angry. The US ambassador was called in for a talking-to. We'll see if the matter has any more tangible consequences.

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Anonymous Coward

Yes, of course, if I am mugged it is my own fault.

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"Her fault...

Same reasoning as in "she wore a mini skirt and got raped... her fault.."

About the raper fault?

What about the US?"

What about France:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/davidblair/100242400/france-is-shocked-shocked-i-tell-you-that-america-would-spy-on-its-allies/

http://davidsimon.com/we-are-shocked-shocked/

Of course the French aren't hypocrites, and the Germans are blissfully unaware.

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she wore a mini skirt and got raped

More like she went a-bonking with the curtains open and got caught on a passerby's Googlespex.

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Outraged?

Yes she should be, but given that it would be naive to fully trust even close allies in this world, I think her outrage should be directed at her own security services for not providing appropriately secure communications.

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Re: Outraged?

I couldn't agree more.

by confirming that President Barack Obama had told Merkel that the US "is not monitoring and will not monitor" the chancellor's telephone conversations is just a load of rubbish. It is - and must be - the responsibility of each country to keep other spooks out. I do understand that not each and every country has the capability of maintaining its own secure, i.e. not back doored, encryption, at least for its government. But countries such as Germany or France should be able to do exactly that.

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@Evil Auditor - Re: Outraged?

Yup.

UK, Germany and France should all be aware that they are targets and should certainly have the capability to protect those communications that matter most.

Not just protecting from the US, but also from eachother. I'm not entirely convinced that the leaders of our respective nations necessarily know who their own spooks are spying on.

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Re: @Evil Auditor - Outraged?

You've got to understand the reason for the outrage though and most reports skip over that. The reason for the outrage is that the US got caught, not the fact they were doing it. Every country operates under the assumption that there are spies in their midst, but without proof there's nothing to be outraged about.

Now that there appears to be proof, the appropriate level of outrage can be expressed and the appropriate level of concessions can be negotiated. In reality, this is all a big game that most State actors are engaged in playing. There'll be a negotiated settlement and empty promises not to do it again. And they won't do it again, until they're caught.

Overall I think State level spy vs spy stuff is no big deal, as I said its all fun and games for them. State surveillance of the general populace is terribly fucked up, but that's not what this is about.

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Re: Outraged?

It's actually easier to understand why the NSA would want to spy on the head of a state as opposed to spying on the whole populace. But they managed to be indiscreet about it -- if Snowden had documents about it, then the better part of the US security services and administration might have access. Nobody wants their dirty laundry thus widely disseminated.

Even 'if it can be expected' that the US spies on the rest of the world, they managed to really mess it up by creating such a large and all-encompassing system, that all kinds of sensitive information seem to be floating around. (If Snowden had access to presentation slides advertising those great information gathering tools, then there must be a lot of people for whom the data was advertised.)

The NSA clearly overstepped the boundaries of reasonable actions and they might loose a lot of access due to it in the near future.

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Anonymous Coward

All countries should make a mass effort to spy on anything and everything in the US.

The country predominatly made up of whiney little bitches would soon cry foul then.

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I'm sure that goes on already. The sheer fact that other countries do not (yet) have their Edward Snowdens doesn't mean there isn't anything to report.

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Here in the US our overriding belief in Capitalism eliminates a lot of the need for actual covert surveillance. Savvy information analysts can just read industry journals and press releases and learn more about what's really going on than any spy can provide.

From upcoming commercial developments, supply chain weaknesses, inventory holes, all the truly important information is published freely (or for the price of a journal subscription) if you know what to look for and have enough eyes on the info to put it all together. Having spies inside is a nifty bonus, but we've set up an entire industry that exists solely to publish information most other countries consider sensitive. It's all rather silly.

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Anonymous Coward

@ AC 24th October 2013 11:27

It's already happening. Not that you're a whiny little Brit biotch that can't spell.

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Facepalm

Oh rubbish!

I'm sorry but I find all this mock outrage to be complete codswallop! The German government ministers were probably notified exactly whom was being spied on many months ago and now they pretend to share the common man's annoyance at having been spied on.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Oh rubbish!

Yup. Pretty much in the same way that Kofi Annan's "outrage" about GCHQ intercept was acting too. If you're in such a position you KNOW there will be spying, so to have it confirmed is merely an opportunity to wind up the disclosed entity by some grandstanding in the media.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's below par that it happens but it's the reality.

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Re: Oh rubbish!

I don't even think it's below par that it happens. When we have peace, and love and one-world-government with perfect democracy then the spies will all be out of business. That's never going to happen though, so until then we're stuck with reality.

For example: The Germans are trying to impose a transaction tax on the City of London via the EU. They're also very happy with the single market in goods, where they're dominant - but keep blocking the single market in services, where we are. There's nothing wrong with this - they're acting in their own best interests as they see them. So long as people are grown-up about it and regard the EU (and international relations in general) as the jungle they are, this is no problem. But it is an adversarial process. We cooperate where it suits us, and not where it doesn't, and every country regards that trade-off slightly differently. The moral outrage is also part of the game. But to take that at face value is ridiculous. Only countries that don't employ spies, and also don't use the information provided to them by others that do, are in a position to complain.

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Highest honour

Surely the leaders who weren't spied on should be the ones who are outraged. The conclusion would be that they weren't worth the effort.

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The statement is quite true

GCHQ is not American so they are not spying on her conversations we are.

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Mushroom

Oh no, please stop being a bad boy.

Please, if these politicians are actually outraged there are dozens of ways which they could visibily act and hurt the americans.

Everything from expelling ambassadors or embassy staff, removing co-operation between german agencies and american ones, right up to the extremes of trade sanctions. But they never do it. If the only punishment a child gets for misbehaving is a stern telling off, then I can guarantee that they wont stop misbehaving. And the US is very much a child in need of having its toys taken away and being made to sit in the corner with the dunce hat on!

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Mushroom

Re: Oh no, please stop being a bad boy.

What about warfare? How could you leave that out?

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But surely Germany...

But surely Germany is spying on American — and everyone else for that matter.

Or are they the only country in the world that is'nt?

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Re: But surely Germany...

> But surely Germany is spying on American

No.

Y'see, you have to understand the Germans.

Have a few pints together and inevitably they will nearly all tell you the same thing.

It. Must. Not. Happen. Again.

In being accepted back into the "international community" the Germans have always been very, very careful to try to be whiter than white, and aviod pissing off others. It is unthinkable to the average German bloke in the street that they would spy on allies....... Even if it did happen, the German public would be outraged.

Not everybody has the same attitude to friends as the biggest bully in the room, the US of A.

(Would any Germans kindly care to comment on what I have written above?)

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Re: But surely Germany...

So what does the Bundesnachrichtendienst (the German foreign intelligence agency) do, then?

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Re: But surely Germany...

Commies. They spy on commies. and ex-commies. and countries that might be commies. and countries that might become commies. and Turkey.

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Re: But surely Germany...

Assume they spend most of their time typing the name of their own agency into Powerpoint, email, contact lists, apointments etc

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Re: But surely Germany...

> So what does the Bundesnachrichtendienst (the German foreign intelligence agency) do, then?

Kindly re-read what I wrote above :-)

Do the Bundesnachrichtendienst spy on friendly allies ? Unlikely.

And if they did get cought doing it, the German public would not be impressed at all. Not one bit.

I base my observations on working in Germany for a few years. Perhaps anybody else who has worked there or is German themselves would care to comment?

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So what does the Bundesnachrichtendienst do, then?

The Bundesnachrichtendienst does what its name describes: Collecting news. The service was actually described as "newspaper clipping service" in the not-so-distant past. I am sure that they did expand their act a bit since then, nobody is immune against mission-creep. But the combination of German morals (nobody loves this undemocratic institution, it just has too many historic connotations) with the general boringness of German administration work (rules, rules, rules -- don't touch that pen unless you read the 20 page regulation on legitimate use), it makes me hopeful that the Bundesnachrichtendienst is still quite tame.

They seem to have outsourced the more demanding jobs anyways: recent exposures of German spying software showed that they rely on commercial software of questionable quality.

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Re: So what does the Bundesnachrichtendienst do, then?

"I am sure that they did expand their act a bit since then, nobody is immune against mission-creep"

Then there is the interesting case of the Deutsche Bundesbahn, which has been spying on certain persons. There are other cases in Germany. Everyone does it. You do it. I do it. This faux outrage is mere bollox. What we have at the moment is not unlike the unpopular patient phenomenon in psychiatry - where both staff and patients take a disliking to a single patient - or the unpopular employee phenomenon at work - similar - and so on; in every social setting, between individuals and groups, there will always be one individual or group that is targeted by a significant number of others, and it is interesting to note the schaden freude amongst people in the former HQ of the British empire, whom the Americans disliked and distrusted in the mid 20th century... ...for being an empire.

Rather than targeting 'big data' and not putting names to it, France has actively been seeking out particular items of sensitive economic data, to the great cost of the victims. Worse to Germany the USSR was or China is according to an article I've already put up:

“France is the evil empire in stealing technology, and Germany knows this,”

Smutny was quoted as saying in the US diplomatic cable. The American embassy

recorded his judgment that French industrial espionage was “so bad that

the total damage done to the German economy is greater than that inflicted

by China or Russia.”

Spying on your friends is also a way to confirm they are still your friends, a means to affirm they're doing nothing that will endanger you, a means to find out whether or not they are releasing secrets to people who may indirectly or directly cause you harm, intentionally or not. It's a damage limitation method.

The other article whose link I cited makes it very clear, by means of the Boston example, precisely what the 'big data' 'espionage' means. No one has the means to listen to millions of calls, but they do have the ability to statistically analyse millions of calls and sift out the irrelevant, non terrorist calls; after that a process of elimination can narrow the calls down to the few that may be suspect, and then, and only then, they apply to the FISA court for a warrant to tap lines.

In the Boston example, where police suspected that a number of public phones were being used for criminal activity, traffic analysis resulted in them knowing there were calls to certain numbers known to be owned by suspects. All the investigators lacked was the content of conversations. Having established that these phones were used to contact such criminals they applied to FISA for a wire tap warrant (with the caveat that they were to take measures to ensure they were not recording innocent calls) and they proceeded to confirm that these calls did indeed contain information about criminal activity.

Returning to France for a minute, the 'evil empire' that outspies even the former USSR's commercial theft enterprise (and note that one Lt. Col. Vladimir Vladimorovich Putin, or 'Voro' in kindergarten Russian, was in charge of the German end of this effort), the effect that their commercial espionage has on ordinary people is considerable and troublesome to people who pay attention. The trouble is that we are looking in the direction, mostly, of the traffic analysis of meta data, and we are panicking irrationally about it, whilst simultaneously and wrongly generalising to ourselves.

I'm more concerned about Deutsche Bundesbahn's espionage, and far more concerned about the espionage practised by hiring and actual employers, who grep the web for your information, for your remarks, for your photographs... ...and then generalise about you when actually the things that you have done and confessed online are more than likely found in most people, including the employers, who are practising a kind of Victorian, prudish hypocrisy.

As a side note, I have analysed vast amounts of data in my academic life, much of it about very painful, personal emotional conditions, criminal behaviour and so on; the data are collected and turned into anonymous collections that can (only for the purpose of follow up) only related to real people by means of a key. I've never been interested in the particularity, yet I can understand the fears of people whose data I've analysed. I have had to conform to high standards of data protection, and every other organisation that collects data has to face similar criteria. Interestingly intelligence agencies analysing vast amounts of data start off not knowing much of value, and only know it after connections to suspect nodes are made by previously unremarkable ones. I see no one mention these things, as I see no one worrying about French destruction of commercial secrecy, at great cost to the victims; that would be the like of you and me.

Worth a level headed read:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/davidblair/100242400/france-is-shocked-shocked-i-tell-you-that-america-would-spy-on-its-allies/

http://davidsimon.com/we-are-shocked-shocked/

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Re: So what does the Bundesnachrichtendienst do, then?

As I posted above, most of the useful, actionable information State actors need to operate a successful intelligence service is published in newspapers (or journals or other public source). Prior to the descent of the US into cowardice and paranoia, the vast majority of intelligence was always gathered from public sources (excepting totalitarian regimes that spied on their own citizens). The super secret code breaking and spy vs spy stuff has always been the smallest component of intelligence operations. It is rarely very effective or timely and presents tremendous risk to the agents and their country. Better to just 'clip the newspaper'.

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Anonymous Coward

Didn't seem to bother them at the time...

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/07/07/bavaria_police_spyware_plan/

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Its like when you have proof that a politician is lying...

Everybody thinks that politicians lie about anything they think they can get away with. But when you catch one making an outright lie, should they be punished ?

I think they should. And in the same logic I think the US should be punished for having a spy agency that's out of control.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Its like when you have proof that a politician is lying...

I think the US should be punished for having a spy agency that's out of control.

Just of out morbid curiosity, how do you propose any nation "punishes" the US? To me, that's part of the problem right there.

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Re: Its like when you have proof that a politician is lying...

"Just of out morbid curiosity, how do you propose any nation "punishes" the US?'"

Poetic justice - by directing funding towards creating and maintaining a secure AOSP build and distribute it to all and sundry, starting with Ms Merkel. Could you imagine how hard the NSA would cry if a substantial number of phones worldwide suddenly got a whole lot harder to hack and there wasn't some American company they could lean on to get backdoor access?

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Re: Its like when you have proof that a politician is lying...

Just of out morbid curiosity, how do you propose any nation "punishes" the US?

Simple. Stop using the Dollar as the currency for the international petroleum trade. Without the PetroDollar the US would go bust overnight.

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Re: Its like when you have proof that a politician is lying...

>...how do you propose any nation "punishes" the US?

In this particular context eliminating US tech products from official or infrastructure use by law would seem to have merit: a fair and prudent precaution also amounting to punishment.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Its like when you have proof that a politician is lying...

Just of out morbid curiosity, how do you propose any nation "punishes" the US?

Simple. Stop using the Dollar as the currency for the international petroleum trade. Without the PetroDollar the US would go bust overnight.

China is already doing that.

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Re: Its like when you have proof that a politician is lying...

There is no need for a prescribed punishment for the US government. Bullies and dickheads always lose in the end without any proactive action required. People just begin to ignore those sorts and eventually you're left with a screaming loony in the corner that's loud, and will bite if you get to close, so everyone just stays away.

Right now there isn't much anyone can can do to the US. The only country with any significant, organized financial power is China, and they are completely dependent on the health of the US. That's the leading reason why they aren't considered a true global power. They're too locked in to the US. It won't always be that way though. If our leaders don't start acting like the only people on Earth then we'll be completely left behind. Another huge, angry, semi-stable State, like Russia.

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Re: Poetic justice

Hmm. Do you have any schemes that would work outside of the pages of an issue of "V for Vendetta"?

You don't seriously think the German security services want an "unhackable" phone system any more than the NSA does, do you? Seriously?

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Re: Stop using the Dollar

Good luck with that. Personally, the alternatives give me the willies, but your mileage may vary.

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Re:Bullies and dickheads always lose in the end ...

...as long as you understand the time taken may be epochal, that you personally may not be in a position to care when come-uppance happens, and the bullying may restart very quickly. See: Russia.

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Big Brother

Equal Opportunities

Did the German spooks find out their leader was compromised when they sifted through the data provided to them by the NSA???

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