If it’s reported by Bild, is it worth repeating?

Reuters has a report which is really a repeat, which is to say, it elevates to the status of “news,” an item in the Sunday edition of Germany’s Bild — a newspaper which is not renowned for the quality of its reporting.

The National Security Agency (NSA) has stepped up its surveillance of senior German government officials since being ordered by Barack Obama to halt its spying on Chancellor Angela Merkel, Bild am Sonntag paper reported on Sunday.

Revelations last year about mass U.S. surveillance in Germany, in particular of Merkel’s mobile phone, shocked Germans and sparked the most serious dispute between the transatlantic allies in a decade.

Bild am Sonntag said its information stemmed from a high-ranking NSA employee in Germany and that those being spied on included Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, a close confidant of Merkel.

“We have had the order not to miss out on any information now that we are no longer able to monitor the chancellor’s communication directly,” it quoted the NSA employee as saying.

This is silly.

Firstly, how likely is it that a “high-ranking NSA employee in Germany” is going to talk to Bild? Not likely.

Secondly, how likely is it that surveillance of Angela Merkel’s phone was occurring in isolation and thus, having been curtailed, now needs to be supplemented by broader surveillance?

Assuming that the NSA’s bugging efforts are designed for gathering intelligence as opposed to irritating the people being bugged, it’s hard to imagine that an interest in Merkel’s communications would overshadow an interest in the communications of the officials who brief her. Indeed, it’s reasonable to assume that an intelligence agency conducting surveillance on any head of state will actually be more interested in the communications going on around that individual than those that directly involve the individual her or himself. That being the case, what the NSA is doing in Germany now is probably very close to what it was doing before — except they are now more nervous about getting caught.

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