Germany opens probe into U.S. phone tapping

Chancellor Merkel’s cellphone was target of eavesdropping

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BERLIN — Almost a year after news surfaced that the United States had been spying on German communications, Germany’s top prosecutor announced Wednesday that he has launched a criminal investigation into the tapping of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone.

“Let me be clear: Espionage is a crime in Germany regardless of whether those spying are friends or enemies,” Federal Public Prosecutor Harald Range said as he opened a news conference to announce the investigation, which he disclosed first during a closed session of the Parliament’s judicial committee.

Range’s decision — and his unusual candor in branding the surveillance of Merkel’s phone a crime — underscored just how raw German nerves remain over the revelation that the United States had been eavesdropping on Merkel’s cellphone for years. Range noted that an espionage conviction would carry a 10-year prison sentence.

He said his office had developed information that specific individuals, not impersonal computer programs, had been involved in tapping Merkel’s phone — and that that was one reason his office had decided to pursue the case.

In Washington, White House adviser Ben Rhodes didn’t directly address the probe when he was asked about it, but he acknowledged ongoing discussions with German officials about National Security Agency surveillance issues. “We believe that the best way to address the concerns that Germany has had about NSA’s activities is through a direct dialogue with us,” he said. “We believe we have an open line and good communication with the chancellor and her team, and that’s where we’re going to continue to focus our efforts.”