MS Risk Blog

The German Spy Scandal

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Two years ago, after the NSA’s former contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations regarding the extent of U.S. electronic espionage in Europe, which allegedly included monitoring Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone, Germany was presented as a victim of aggressive intelligence gathering. However, it seems a new scandal arose recently that presents Germany as a willing accomplice in NSA’s intelligence gathering in Europe. According to these allegations, Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the BND, carried out extensive surveillance at the request of NSA. Reports suggest that various European companies, institutions and individuals were targeted something that violates the German policy and law, since the type of information the BND is allowed to collect is strictly regulated by German law. According to the reports, BND provided signals intelligence for the NSA in more than 40,000 instances. Additionally, there are reports that claim that NSA have passed some 800,000 IP addresses, phone numbers and email addresses to the BND to monitor. These new allegations raised a lot of questions against the German government and its alleged contribution in authorizing BND to collect and share that kind of intelligence with NSA. This new scandal came as a godsend gift at the hands of the opposition that found a new tool to attack the Chancellor since she enjoys great popularity amongst Germans voters.

After the scandal was made public, BND halted any Internet-related intelligence sharing with the NSA. At the same time, the German parliament demanded a full list of all the companies, institutions and individuals that were deemed suitable to be spied on. The parliamentary committee proceeded in questioning Thomas de Maizière, the Interior Minister, behind closed doors. Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that she too would be willing to testify if the committee deemed necessary. However, the scandal is already harming Angela Merkel’s public profile since she came into power under the promise of competence and credibility. The German people feel deceived with the hypocrisy of the German government when back in 2013 when Germany was presented as the victim of aggressive intelligence Angela Merkel had said that ‘’spying among friends is not acceptable’’, and under these new allegations Germany nowadays does what it had denounced back in 2013. Austria announced that it filled a legal complaint against Germany over suspicions that its authorities and firms were among the targets of BND-NSA’s spying. Similarly, Airbus Group, an aerospace and defence manufacturer, is allegedly another one of the BND-NSA’s targets. After these allegations became public, Airbus announced that it plans to file a criminal complaint over the suspicion that BND aided the U.S carry out industrial espionage.

The BND is actively seeking a more substantial cooperation with NSA, since it relies on NSA intelligence. Especially now that BND needs to track German individuals travelling to Iraq and Syria and fighting for ISIS and similar terror groups and the subsequent return of these individuals back to Germany. This scandal seems to be based on BND’s efforts to increase the ties between the two intelligence agencies, even by using means and methods that would have been controversial if they ever became public knowledge, as it happened. However, the method that BND choose to promote this collaboration, with or without the German government’s knowledge as it is not clear yet, actually sabotaged its goals since it made the Germans suspicious against the United States and make it harder to promote intelligence sharing between the two countries beyond the minimum necessary.

This is not the first time such allegations have been made against BND, since in March 2014, the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper published an article that claimed that BND supplied the NSA with German citizen’s communication data from 2004 to 2008, in a project under the code name ‘’Eikonal’’. This new scandal is coming amid concerns how to balance the need for surveillance during a time where the threats against the state have multiplied and are of increased complexity. The national governments are struggling to find the balance between the need for security and the protection of the individuals’ privacy rights.

The main problem with this scandal is not based upon whether BND and NSA are collaborating in terms or intelligence sharing, but whether they exchange intelligence concerning areas well beyond anti-terrorism activities that are promoted under the need of securing German people. Additionally, through this scandal surfaced the question whether the German government knew about BND’s extended activities and if it did something to prevent it or put a halt on it. Since this is not an isolated incident the German government finds it especially difficult to persuade the public that it was ignorant of BND’s collaboration with NSA in spying on European targets. On top of that, and despite the government’s denials of being involved and its willingness to help clear up the scandal, members of Germany’s ruling parties delayed a decision on whether lawmakers should get access to secret lists detailing the extent of Germany’s intelligence cooperation with the United States. The lawmakers demanded these lists since they include search terms the NSA asked of BND to look out for while eavesdropping on international phone and data traffic.

This scandal goes along with the latest trend that finds the states trying to increase their surveillance powers under the justification of the new forms of security threats that have arose. They promote the necessity of these more intrusive measures that should be adopted even if they operate against the individuals’ privacy rights. France’s lower house recently adopted a sweeping new spying bill that would give French intelligence the power to deploy hi-tech tools such as vehicle tracking and mobile phone identification devices against individual without judicial oversight. Moreover, before the British elections, Prime Minister David Cameron had promised to authorise British intelligence agencies to read ‘’all messages sent over the Internet’’ in a package of legal provisions named as the ‘’snoopers’ carter’’ by its opponents. Germany is not an exception as it tries to increase its surveillance abilities against the security threat posed by individuals fighting alongside terror groups and many German nationals that are returning from Iraq and Syria and could potentially organise attacks inside Germany. However, BND’s actions brought the German people’s outrage both against the agency and against the German leadership, complicating the government’s plan towards the adoption of a legislation that would increase BND’s powers as it happened in other European countries. Furthermore, this scandal became another tool for the German opposition to attack Chancellor Angela Merkel inside Germany since she is already facing a lot of criticism regarding the way she handles the Greek economic crisis and the Ukrainian crisis.

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