NSA Scandal II: What the Snowden Papers Neglected to Mention About German Spying on Europe
May 1, 2015
NSA scandal rekindles in Germany, with an ironic twist
May 1, 2015
BERLIN — The uproar shaking the halls
of power here could aptly be titled, “NSA Scandal II, the Sequel.” But
in this latest spy drama, the nefarious Americans have a co-conspirator:
the recalcitrant German intelligence service.
Outrage in Germany
about American snooping erupted in 2013, after data released by
whistleblower Edward Snowden disclosed U.S. surveillance on friendly
European targets up to and including Chancellor Angela Merkel. But fresh
revelations suggest that the Bundesnachrichtendienst — Berlin’s foreign
intelligence arm also known as the BND — may have separately aided U.S.
agents with snooping on hundreds of European companies, regional
entities and politicians. The targets, according a report in Germany’s
Süddeutsche Zeitung on Thursday, included French and European Commission
The new disclosures center on a list of 2,000
suspicious “selectors” — including phone numbers, IP addresses and
e-mails — provided by the United States and plugged into German
intelligence data systems that the Germans later determined exceeded the
operation’s mandate. The German government has privately acknowledged
the existence of the list to select lawmakers but has not clarified the
targets, according to one of the parliamentarians briefed but who spoke
on the condition of anonymity because the briefing was classified.
a country where Merkel berated Washington in the wake of the Snowden
disclosures by saying that spying on friends is “a no go,” the
revelations are rocking the government to its core. A bevy of German
lawmakers are demanding answers to highly uncomfortable questions, some
aimed at top figures in Merkel’s cabinet. Next week, they will summon
intelligence officials before two parliamentary committees to testify.
Some are now even threatening to call Merkel.
meanwhile, are clamoring for the complete list of targets, and that is
likely to prove highly embarrassing to Washington and Berlin. The
Suddeutsche Zeitung report, for instance, said that unnamed officials in
the Élysée Palace, the French foreign ministry and European bureaucrats
in Brussels were targeted.
will be extremely embarrassing for Merkel, who prides herself on her
close relationship with [French President Francois] Hollande, if it
turns out that the BND helped the NSA to spy on French politicians.
Obama knows the feeling,” said Hans-Christian Ströbele, a member of the
parliamentary intelligence control panel from the Green Party.
Germany, fresh outrage is being aimed at the United States, with
critics mostly worried that attempts to snoop on companies such as
Airbus could qualify as industrial espionage. But this time, many here
appear far more scandalized by the actions of their own intelligence
agencies and officials, with words such as hypocrisy, ineptitude and
cover-up flying at the BND and the chancellery.
“There was always
a feeling that Merkel and [Foreign Minister Frank-Walter] Steinmeier
were much too soft with the U.S. government on this, and now we are
learning almost everyday that Germany has been more involved in all this
than initially believed,” said Olaf Boehnke, the Berlin office head for
the European Council on Foreign Relations. “They need to explain.”
current allegations pivot around operations at a top-secret Bavarian
surveillance base in Bad Aibling, where the Germans and Americans have
been engaged in beefed-up intelligence operations in the wake of the
Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. German and U.S. officials agreed to closer
cooperation that involved tapping into sensitive German data, including
satellite incepts and information accessed from the major Internet cable
hubs in Frankfurt.
As part of the deal, U.S. intelligence would
provide search terms such as phone numbers and e-mails that would be fed
into the computers in Bad Aibling for data matches. There were,
however, supposed to be restrictions. A 2002 Memorandum of Agreement
(MOA) between Germany and the United States narrowed the kinds of
targets open to the operation, excluding, for instance, German and
American nationals and companies.
According to an initial report in Der Spiegel
on April 23, the United States presented the Germans with at least
40,000 search terms that were quickly deemed unacceptable. Yet after the
Snowden scandal erupted in 2013, an official at the BND conducted a
review that revealed about 2,000 other “suspicious” searches that had
been processed even though they appeared to be outside the scope of the
operation. The list of targets, German lawmakers said, included the
defense arm of Airbus Group and the helicopter manufacturer Eurocopter,
now also part of Airbus.
recent reports now suggest that the list included other European
officials. And what is shocking to many here is that such lapses were
not publicly disclosed when Germany was railing against the United
States for snooping on Merkel in 2013.
remains unclear, however, who in the government knew, and when they
knew it. If it does turn out that top German officials knew and withheld
the information, the scandal, observers here say, could become one of
the biggest of Merkel’s tenure. If they were kept in the dark, the BND’s
failure to disclose the lapses to the highest level of government,
especially given the national debate at the time, would be viewed as a
potentially colossal error of judgment.
“What is the extent of
this?” said Martina Renner, a lawmaker from the Die Linke party who sits
on the parliamentary committee investigating the NSA scandal. “The
important thing is who knew about this, and who failed politically to
prevent this from happening.”
In addition, at least some of the
lapses may have been flagged earlier and passed on. As early as 2008,
according to Bild, officials at the BND notified the chancellery — the
civilian overseers of the BND — that the NSA was using the joint
operation to pursue its “own interests which go beyond common
Publicly, German officials have been cagey at best,
merely conceding that there were “technical and organizational deficits”
within the BND. But they have refused to elaborate, or clarify who knew
what, and when.
Thomas de Maizière, the top civilian in charge
of overseeing the BND in 2008 and currently Merkel’s interior minister,
is taking the most fire. After his ministry informed lawmakers two weeks
ago that it had no prior knowledge of lapses, he has been accused of
being disingenuous or derelict in his duties for not uncovering them in
After the tabloid Bild published his image with a Pinocchio nose
and the headline, “Mr. de Maizière, You’re a Blatant Liar!” he defended
himself. In a statement Thursday, he said the allegations are not true.
He could not air the evidence publicly, he said, because it was top
secret. But he pledged to offer confidential briefings to members of
The U.S. Embassy in Berlin declined to comment.
“We’re not just trying to blame the NSA,” Renner said. “We’re looking at what happened here.”