Sunday 10 December 2017

Gardai asked to check if Kenny was bugged by US

Taoiseach: claims Merkel was spied on are appalling

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the EU summit in Brussels yesterday. The growing phone-tap furore could derail a potential transatlantic trade deal.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the EU summit in Brussels yesterday. The growing phone-tap furore could derail a potential transatlantic trade deal.

THE Government is understood to have requested that the gardai investigate whether it was being bugged by the US.

While a spokesman insisted the Government did not comment on "national security matters", it is understood that reports earlier this year that EU leaders were being bugged prompted gardai checks on Mr Kenny's phone.

The furore grew last night as claims emerged that the leaders of 35 countries had been targeted.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has angrily condemned America's "unacceptable" behaviour after "firm suspicions" emerged this week that US intelligence agencies had monitored her personal mobile for almost four years.

The growing furore over the spying overshadowed an EU summit. It could threaten negotiations on a transatlantic trade deal between the EU and US if Germany insists on privacy safeguards and data-protection guarantees that President Barack Obama will find hard to deliver.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday described as "appalling" the allegations that Ms Merkel's calls were monitored, but attempted to laugh off any suggestion that his phone may have been tapped.

A spokesman did not clarify if the Government had asked the US authorities if Ireland was on the list of countries whose leaders' phones were being tapped.

Government sources said there was "no evidence of being under surveillance".

The issue was raised at the EU summit by European Parliament president Martin Schulz, a German MEP.

Coincidentally, EU leaders were also discussing the development of a single digital market.

Mr Kenny described the allegations of the tapping of Mrs Merkel's phone by US intelligence services as "appalling".

"I happen to be the Taoiseach of a small country – I think it's an appalling situation if that were to be true," he said.

"I always operate on the basis that the calls I'm making are all listened to," he said.

Germany yesterday summoned the US ambassador for the first time in living memory over suspicions Washington bugged Mrs Merkel's phone.

In the worst spat between the close allies in a decade, the chancellor said the incident had shattered German trust in the US. "It's not just about me but about every German citizen," she said. "Spying among friends is not at all acceptable."

State surveillance is a highly sensitive subject in a country haunted by memories of eavesdropping by the dreaded Stasi secret police in East Germany, where Mrs Merkel grew up.

Former European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton laughed off a question about what she thought the US would hear if they tapped Mr Kenny's phone. "That's a very interesting question. I don't know. I've never really listened into Enda Kenny's phone calls, so I've no idea. Hopefully they are not doing that," she said.

Evidence of the spying was uncovered by German weekly 'Der Spiegel', which according to officials, obtained a National Security Agency (NSA) document with Mrs Merkel's mobile number on it and showed it to her office, which had it vetted by German intelligence.

The White House did not deny the bugging, saying only it would not happen in future. Mr Obama spoke with Mrs Merkel to assure her she was not now under surveillance.

German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle suggested Washington may have deceived Berlin with assurances about the scope of its covert spying programme, which was revealed earlier this year by fugitive former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

"In the summer, we received explanations and assurances," Mr Westerwelle said. "Whether we can trust these explanations and assurances, that must be examined again."

Mr Westerwelle took the unusual step of making part of his statement in English – to make the message to Washington "quite clear".

The affair sparked suggestions the row could disrupt EU negotiations with the US on a free trade pact, though others played down that possibility.

The news also shocked many Germans, coming just four months after Mr Obama visited Mrs Merkel in Berlin on the 50th anniversary of John F Kennedy's famous 'Ich bin ein Berliner' speech. Mr Obama then praised Germany as one of Washington's closest partners.

Meanwhile, the Government has previously adopted a hard line on US spying of EU countries. At an EU-US ministerial meeting in Dublin in June, during Ireland's EU presidency, Justice Minister Alan Shatter expressed concern about reports in the media on US data surveillance programmes and how they might impact on EU citizens' fundamental rights.


At that meeting, US attorney general Eric Holder floated the idea of setting up an EU-US high-level expert group on data protection and security to discuss the matter further. After that, there was further contact between Ireland and the European Commission. The group had its first meeting in July and another in September.

Documents leaked to 'The Guardian' newspaper by Mr Snowden show the spy agency encouraged other US government departments to hand over their 'rolodexes' of foreign contacts to be used for targeting.

"In one recent case, a US official provided NSA with 200 phone numbers to 35 world leaders," according to one memo. The 2006 NSA document does not name the 35 leaders and concedes that the phone numbers yielded "little reportable intelligence".

The White House refused to address the disclosures, saying: "We are not going to comment publicly on every specific alleged intelligence activity, and as a matter of policy we have made clear that the US gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations."

Fionnan Sheahan

Irish Independent

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