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Germany summons NSA staff and US ambassador 'to help' with spy case

German lawmakers are investigating the activities of foreign intelligence agencies in Germany. The inquiry was sparked by documents, leaked by Edward Snowden, showing that German citizens, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, were targeted by US intelligence.

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United States Ambassador John B. Emerson (l.) shakes hands with German Vice Chancellor and Minister for Economy and Energy Sigmar Gabriel, as US Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew looks on, June 19 in Berlin.

Markus Schreiber/AP/File

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Germany summoned the US ambassador in Berlin on Friday following the arrest of a man reported to have spied for the United States, heightening friction between the two countries over alleged US eavesdropping in Germany.

US Ambassador John B. Emerson was called in "in connection with an investigation by the federal prosecutor," the German Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The US envoy "was asked to help in the swift clarification" of the case, it added.

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Federal prosecutors say a 31-year-old German man was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of spying for foreign intelligence services. They did not identify the suspect or the intelligence services.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters that Chancellor Angela Merkel been personally informed of the arrest.

He declined to comment on reports by Der Spiegel magazine and the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung that the man worked for Germany's foreign intelligence service, known by its German acronym BND.

The newspapers, which didn't identify their sources, said the man was suspected of passing on information about a German parliamentary committee investigating the activities of US and other intelligence agencies in Germany. He claimed to have worked with US intelligence since 2012, they reported.

Seibert said members of the parliamentary panel had also been informed of the arrest.

Reports that the National Security Agency spied on German citizens, including on Merkel's cellphone, have caused friction between Berlin and Washington since they were first published last year, based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Martina Renner, a member of the opposition Left Party on the parliamentary panel, said the case indicated that anyone who examined Snowden's revelations in detail was subject to scrutiny by U.S. intelligence agencies.

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Her panel heard testimony Thursday from two former NSA employees, Thomas Drake and William Binney.

"If the media reports (about the case) are confirmed then there can't just be a legal response, there also has to be a political response," she said.

In his testimony, Drake claimed that cooperation between the NSA and Germany's BND greatly increased after the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States. He described the German spy agency as an "appendage" of the NSA.

Seibert said Merkel discussed "foreign policy matters" in a telephone conversation with President Barack Obama late Thursday. He said the conversation focused on Ukraine but wouldn't say whether the arrest was also discussed.

The US National Security Council declined to comment Friday and BND didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.

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Geir Moulson in Berlin and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.