Germany says new reports of U.S. spying harm security ties

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Germany is taking seriously the latest reports about U.S. spying on senior government ministers and they are putting strains on vital security cooperation between the two countries, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman said on Thursday.

German media have reported that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) bugged several senior government members, including the economy and finance ministers, as well as Merkel.

The reports are the latest twist in a long-running scandal triggered by revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden of wide-ranging U.S. espionage spying on close allies.

Privacy is an especially sensitive issue in Germany after the extensive surveillance by Communist East Germany's Stasi secret police and by the Gestapo in the Nazi era.

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Germany says new reports of U.S. spying harm security ties
BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 02: A woman rides a bicycle past the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture on July 2, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. The online whistleblower platform Wikileaks claims to have documents showing the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) spied on German government ministries, including the ministries of finance, economy and agriculture, in the period from 2010 to 2012. The NSA has come under repeated criticism for supposedly spying on European government and political leaders. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 02: Signs are seen on the wall of the Federal Ministry for Economy and Energy at dusk on July 1, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. The online whistleblower platform Wikileaks claims to have documents showing the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) spied on German government ministries, including the ministries of finance, economy and agriculture, in the period from 2010 to 2012. The NSA has come under repeated criticism for supposedly spying on European government and political leaders. (Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty Images)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel pulls her earphone during a joint press conference with the Prime Minster of Italy, Matteo Renzi, as part of a meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, July 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
Chief of Staff of the German Chancellery Ronald Pofalla speaks during a press conference in Berlin, Germany, Monday Aug. 12, 2013. The senior German official says Germany and the U.S. will begin talks this month on an agreement not to spy on one another in wake of the revelations about electronic surveillance by the National Security Agency. Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff, Ronald Pofalla, told reporters such an agreement would offer a unique opportunity to set standards for future work of Western intelligence agencies after the Cold War. U.S. Embassy spokesman Peter Claussen said he had no immediate comment to Pofalla's remarks, which were made following a meeting of a parliamentary committee overseeing intelligence services. (AP Photo/dpa,Rainer Jensen)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivers her speech on the second day of a four days debate of a debt free national budget for 2015 at the parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the final four days debate of a debt free national budget for 2015 at the parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Demonstrators hold a poster showing a portrait of German Chancellor Angela Merkel reading "surveillance Chancellor" and a fake surveillance camera during a protest against the supposed surveillance by the US National Security Agency, NSA, and the German intelligence agency, BND, during a rally in front of the construction site of the new headquarters of German intelligence agency in Berlin, Germany, Monday July 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)
The president of German Intelligence Agency (BND) Gerhard Schindler stands in front of the giant golf ball-shaped radomes in Bad Aibling, near Munich , Germany, Friday June 6, 2014. Germany's foreign intelligence agency officially lifted the lid on some of its worst-kept secrets Friday, acknowledging that half a dozen facilities around the country are in fact spy stations — as anyone with Internet access could already figure out. The agency was holding a ceremony at the site in Bad Aibling Friday to attach its logo officially to the entrance. (AP Photo/dpa, Stephan Jansen)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during an address to the Lowy Institute in Sydney Monday, Nov. 17, 2014. Merkel is in Australia to attend the G-20 summit in Brisbane and an official visit to Sydney and Canberra.(AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
A satellite dish is photographed inside of a receiver, a so-called Radom, at the German Intelligence Agency,BND , facility near the Mangfall barracks in Bad Aibling,, near Munich Germany, Friday June 6, 2014. Germany's foreign intelligence agency officially lifted the lid on some of its worst-kept secrets Friday, acknowledging that half a dozen facilities around the country are in fact spy stations — as anyone with Internet access could already figure out. (AP Photo/dpa,Stephan Jansen)
The president of the German Intelligence Agency, BND, , Gerhard Schindler, stands in front of a facility with a new attached logo in Bad Aibling, Germany Friday June 6, 2014. Germany's foreign intelligence agency officially lifted the lid on some of its worst-kept secrets Friday, acknowledging that half a dozen facilities around the country are in fact spy stations — as anyone with Internet access could already figure out. (AP Photo/dpa, Stephan Jansen)
Chief of Staff of the German Chancellery Ronald Pofalla speaks during a press conference in Berlin, Germany, Monday Aug. 12, 2013. The senior German official says Germany and the U.S. will begin talks this month on an agreement not to spy on one another in wake of the revelations about electronic surveillance by the National Security Agency. Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff, Ronald Pofalla, told reporters such an agreement would offer a unique opportunity to set standards for future work of Western intelligence agencies after the Cold War. U.S. Embassy spokesman Peter Claussen said he had no immediate comment to Pofalla's remarks, which were made following a meeting of a parliamentary committee overseeing intelligence services. (AP Photo/dpa,Tim Brakemeier)
Demonstrators hold a banner during a protest against the supposed surveillance by the US National Security Agency, NSA, and the German intelligence agency, BND, during a rally in front of the construction site of the new headquarters of German intelligence agency in Berlin, Germany, Monday July 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)
Demonstrators hold a placard during a protest against the supposed surveillance by the US National Security Agency, NSA, and the German intelligence agency, BND, during a rally in front of the construction site of the new headquarters of German intelligence agency in Berlin, Germany, Monday July 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel reflects in a glass window of the visitors tribune as she delivers her speech on the second day of a four days debate of a debt free national budget for 2015 at the parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and the Prime Minister of Kosovo Isa Mustafa brief the media after bilateral talks at the chancellery in Berlin, Tuesday, June 30, 2015. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
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"Such repeated events strain German and American intelligence cooperation which is essential for the safety of our citizens," spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement.

Earlier, in an unusual move, Merkel's chief of staff Peter Altmaier summoned the U.S. ambassador and demanded an explanation for the reports. Altmaier told the envoy that German law must be respected and violations punished, Seibert said.

In Washington, a State Department spokesman confirmed the meeting but declined to elaborate. He denied the latest reports have had a negative impact on the two countries' relations.

"What I can tell you is that nothing's changed about the strong relationship that we have and will continue to have with Germany," spokesman John Kirby said.

Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily and broadcasting network ARD reported that the NSA had targeted 69 telephone and fax numbers in the German government administration. They based their reports on documents released on the Wikileaks website.

Among the officials targeted were the economy minister and as well as several deputy ministers, the reports said.

Asked about the reports, Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel -- who is also Germany's Vice Chancellor -- said he was most worried by the risks of industrial espionage, particularly given the links his ministry has to companies.

"It is an absurd carry-on," Gabriel told ARD television.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, who is responsible for security issues, said Germanywould look at the latest allegations.

"We have become more distrustful," he said.

The role of Germany's spies has also been in the spotlight since reports surfaced earlier this year that its BND foreign intelligence agency had cooperated with the NSA.

(Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke in Berlin and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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