More embarrassment for Cameron: NSA spied on 122 world leaders - and the UK helped

Top secret documents released by German daily Der Spiegel have revealed just how aggressively the American National Security Agency (NSA) has targeted Germany with its sprawling spy programmes, and also how widely its surveillance net was cast with regards other world leaders.

The NSA's spying programmes appear to have targeted as many as 122 leaders and heads of state around the globe, and the UK's own Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) helped with many of them, including the surveillance of private companies.

Back in October, the German government expressed outrage at allegations that Chancellor Angela Merkel had her personal mobile phone tapped by the NSA. In the wake of that scandal, Germany considered creating its own walled-off Internet, and state-backed Deutsche Telekom urged other German communications firms to "cooperate to shield local Internet traffic from foreign intelligence services."

These latest allegations show that the scandal went much further than those initial reports. The documents, leaked to the publications by Edward Snowden, include a list of 11 world leaders that have been targeted by a system known as Nymrod, but the document implies the total number targeted was 122.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is listed specifically by name, the first time actual confirmation has been found of such targeting. In October, a National Security Council spokesperson announced that the US is "not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of Chancellor Merkel," tactfully leaving out one of the three tenses.

More obvious targets are also named in the documents, like Syrian president Bashar al Assad and former Ukranian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who will be standing again in the upcoming Ukrainian elections. Various other leaders have apparently been added to a "Target Knowledge Database."

The documents described by Der Spiegel also detail a widespread effort by our own GCHQ to target German technology and web companies like Cetel, Stelar and IABG.

According to the documents, GCHQ targeted employees and engineers in an attempt to identify "access chokepoints" that would allow it to monitor communications more effectively.

This is certainly an embarrassing revelation given the gushing pronouncements of Anglo-German cooperation that came out of the recent CeBIT conference in Hanover, where Prime Minister David Cameron said "We are on the brink of a new industrial revolution and I want us – the UK and Germany – to lead it."

The UK government has not responded for comment.