German intelligence agency knew NSA was spying on European leaders as early as 2008
Germany has been one of the harshest critics of the National Security Agency surveillance programs revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013. Yet a new report from Der Spiegel indicates that the NSA spied on world leaders with the help of the country's electronic surveillance agency, the German BND.
This cooperation was revealed as the result of a parliamentary investigation into the relationship between the German BND and the NSA. The inquiry showed that the NSA asked the German BND to hand over information about defense contractors, large companies, and politicians from both Germany and France.
Another report from the Die Zeit newspaper indicates that the German BND knew it was handing over sensitive information to the NSA, yet it didn't end the partnership, or limit the data it shared with the American intelligence agency. It was too worried about the NSA retaliating by limiting the information it shares.
That wouldn't be the last time Germany compromised its ideals to receive information from the NSA. The Washington Post reported in December 2014 that the country provided the NSA with the names, phone numbers, and email addresses of suspected extremists it feared would cause trouble in Europe.
These revelations make Germany's objections to the NSA surveillance programs ring hollow. German chancellor Angela Merkel was reportedly spied on (some have said there's no concrete evidence of this allegation) yet the German BND helped the NSA spy on other politicians across Europe. The country has condemned digital surveillance, but it reaches out to the NSA when it needs to.
As I wrote when the Washington Post first revealed the recent data-sharing:
There’s an inherent conflict between a citizenry’s desire to maintain its privacy and its government’s desire to defend against terrorist attacks. That’s why it’s been so hard for reform advocates to make any progress in the fear-mongering US Congress.
Balancing the two competing ideals is difficult. The problem is that Germany is trying to shield itself from any criticism for tipping the scales in favor of security by closing its eyes, receiving NSA help, then condemning the scale’s shift from privacy. The parliament is looking to reduce the amount of information provided to the NSA by the German BND as a result of its investigation. It's not clear how much data will still be shared between the two intelligence agencies, nor if there will be a harsher response to the years of dubious sharing, on both parties' sides.
[illustration by Brad Jonas]