Merkel's love for her mobile began early on (JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)

Gaining access to the personal communications of the leader of any country would be a highly valued prize for an intelligence agency.

But accessing chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone, as Germany strongly suspects the US has done, was a coup indeed. Read more

Philipp Rösler (Getty)

Four years ago your correspondent was treading the streets of Friedrichshain in east Berlin on German election day when an extraordinary number of locals told me they had voted for Germay’s pro-business Free Democratic Party. Read more

Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger’s revelation that his newspaper was forced by British spooks to destroy hard disks containing files provided by the contractor Edward Snowden included a fascinating detail on modern spy craft. The Guardian reported:

“In a subsequent meeting, an intelligence agency expert argued that the material was still vulnerable. He said by way of example that if there was a plastic cup in the room where the work was being carried out foreign agents could train a laser on it to pick up the vibrations of what was being said. Vibrations on windows could similarly be monitored remotely by laser.”

I’m sorry, come again?

You read that correctly. GCHQ, the British intelligence agency, feared that if Russian or Chinese agents were unsuccessful in penetrating the Guardian’s computer systems, they might try to listen to journalists discussing the Snowden files by using a laser beam.

That sounds like a far-fetched plot line from the US hit TV series Homeland…

True. But laser microphone surveillance has been going on ever since the Soviets and Americans went toe-to-toe during the Cold War.

Some experts argue that intelligence services take the risk of laser audio surveillance into account when constructing their own headquarters. Read more