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German spy chief sees reason to thank Snowden

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s domestic intelligence chief said Tuesday that the revelations by Edward Snowden have had at least one positive effect, by raising awareness about the importance of counter-espionage.

Hans-Georg Maassen told a gathering of business leaders in the southwestern city of Stuttgart that after the Cold War ended, the issue of counter-espionage was seen as unimportant, German news agency dpa reported.

“So maybe one can be grateful to Snowden that he has put a spotlight on the issue of counter-espionage in Germany,” dpa quoted Maassen as saying.

Germany’s government reacted angrily two years ago to reports that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone had been monitored by the U.S. National Security Agency. Although the reports didn’t explicitly cite documents leaked to the media by Snowden, they came amid a flurry of similar claims about alleged U.S. surveillance in Germany that were linked to the former NSA contractor.

Separately, German diplomats said Tuesday that they are asking the U.S. government to clarify reports that the country’s foreign minister was a target of eavesdropping.

The secrecy-spilling website WikiLeaks published a document late Monday that it claimed was a summary of a 2005 conversation Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had following a trip to the U.S.

WikiLeaks alleges that the conversation was intercepted by U.S. intelligence, though it didn’t say which agency might have done so or how.

“Should the claims prove to be accurate, then this would be unacceptable espionage against partners,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “Naturally we will ask the U.S. government to clarify these serious allegations.”

Over the weekend, Merkel cast doubt on the value of any alleged eavesdropping effort, saying the “emotional damage felt by many citizens is much, much greater than the benefits that one might gain from such information.”

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