BBC News reports: Mrs Merkel phoned the US president when she first heard of the spying allegations on Wednesday.
President Barack Obama apologised to the German chancellor and promised Mrs Merkel he knew nothing of the alleged phone monitoring and would have stopped it if he had, Der Spiegel reports.
But on Sunday Bild newspaper quoted US intelligence sources as saying NSA head Keith Alexander personally briefed the president about the covert operation targeting Mrs Merkel in 2010.
“Obama did not halt the operation but rather let it continue,” the newspaper quoted a senior NSA official as saying.
Her number was still on a surveillance list in 2013.
Bild is a tabloid that does not have a reputation for journalistic excellence. Even so, if a conflict between the NSA and the White House is escalating, then an NSA source might turn to this type of publication as a way of making a veiled threat. The report has the effect of sowing doubt about Obama’s statements even if NSA officials now make dismissive responses, pointing out the unreliability of the press.
Obama has a dilemma. On the one hand it is becoming increasingly evident that he will need to steer some kind of reform in the NSA’s operations. But at the same time he doesn’t want to foster the appearance of the agency having become a rogue operation since that would also make him look like a negligent, ineffectual president. Neither does he want to get into an open fight since by their nature, intelligence agencies are dirty fighters. He can be reasonably confident that none of his communications are being monitored by any foreign intelligence agencies, yet why should he assume the NSA would never spy on an American president?
In a speech NSA chief Keith Alexander gave this summer, as he referred to when Obama “first came on board,” either unconsciously or intentionally, the four-star general seemed to be alluding to the transience of elected officials. The president, his cabinet, and members of Congress, sustain the facade of democracy, but the captains of the state like Alexander generally move around in the background, loyal to the president and the Constitution as they like to declare, yet harboring the conceit that they are America’s most stalwart defenders.