German Media Spies on US Spies
Last June, President Obama was blunt at a press conference in Berlin: “We do not use Germany as a launching point for unmanned drones to go after, as a part of our anti-terrorism activities.” The Süddeutsche Zeitung (South German Newspaper) and Norddeutsche Rundfunk (North German Radio, which despite the name, is also a television operation) have teamed up to look into this claim, and they beg to differ. A lot.
Indeed, their research has shown this to be a lie, and they are in the midst of publishing a multi-part series called “Secret War” that lays this all out. (The full series is in German, but various parts of it have also appeared in English.)
Part of their approach has been very direct. They’ve created a website at geheimerkreig.de (“secret war” in German) which allows people to see what SZ and NDR have learned about what the US intelligence services might be up to in their part of the country. The headline on the site notes that it is a beta version, so be prepared for some glitches, but the mission of the site is bluntly stated: “Spionieren Sie zurück: Finden Sie die Agenten vor Ihrer Haustür!” [English: “Spy back: find the agents at your doorstep!]
They took their cameras around, and asked questions like “what happens when you fly a drone over a secret CIA post?” (For the answer, click the link and watch the video.)
They also are asking other questions, like these about the role of private contractors and their relationship to the German government:
When a private company is granted a government contract, it’s a stamp of approval. What about the flipside? What does it say when the government—say, the German government—does business with companies involved in abduction and torture? What does it say when German ministries share IT servicers with the CIA and the NSA? And what does it mean for Germany that those same agencies are involved in projects concerning top-secret material including ID cards, firearms registries and emails in the capitol?
NDR (the German public radio and television broadcaster) and Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ, Germany’s leading broadsheet newspaper) are proving that these aren’t just hypothetical questions. Especially when it comes to spying, security and an American contractor called Computer Sciences Corporation, the CSC.
Khaled el-Masri sits blindfolded in a container in Kabul. His hands are tied and he can hear a plane engine. It’s a white gulfstream jet. It’s May 28, 2004 and el-Masri has lived through hell. For five months he was tortured while in U.S. custody. He was beaten and humiliated. He received enemas and had to wear diapers. He was drugged and interrogated repeatedly. All this is public knowledge. It eventually became clear—even to the CIA—that they had the wrong man; el-Masri was innocent.
That’s where the CSC comes in. . . .
Some 43,000 American soldiers are stationed in Germany, operating a total of about 40 military bases, and reportedly storing nuclear weapons on the German airbase in Büchel, southwest Germany. The U.S. spent $3 billion in Germany in 2012. Only in Afghanistan—where there’s a war to finance—does the U.S. spend more money annually. There’s no war in Germany. But where the U.S. army and intelligence agencies once protected the West during the Cold War, they now lead a worldwide secret war—a massive breach of international law.
American soldiers—on bases in Ramstein and Stuttgart—are conducting a bloody drone war in Africa from within Germany. First they practice with their 57 drones getting ready for the real thing. When they receive intelligence on potential targets and suspected terrorists, they deliver that information to U.S. intelligence officers, also based in Germany. And these soldiers are responsible when innocent civilians in Africa die as a result. Moral issues aside, the fact remains: without these bases in Germany, the U.S.’s ‘war on terror’ would not be the well-oiled machine it is now. Germany acts as the headquarters for secret wars in Africa, the European hub for CIA operations and the training ground for drone attacks worldwide. . . .
This eerie shadow army grows larger every year, especially in Germany. All told, Germany has granted 207 American companies special permits to conduct sensitive tasks for the U.S. government on German soil. The intelligence work billed for just in the past five years totals some $90.1 million. Most of the contracts are with the largely unknown SOS International. The American company, founded by an Armenian immigrant and started as a small translation office, now rakes in tens of millions of dollars for its operations in Germany. Their employees are called “Intelligence Analyst”, “Signal Intelligence Analyst” and “Counter Intelligence Operations Planner” in the official database of U.S. government contractors. Simpler put: spies for hire.
The exact number of private agents in Germany is hard to determine, but it’s clear from the documents that it’s at least in the hundreds. Unlike the official CIA and NSA employees, these loaner spies are not registered with the German authorities.
That begs two questions: Who keeps these private agents in check? And, who would keep them in check, seeing as no one’s really watching the government-registered spies, either?
It’s clear that the federal government lost track a long time ago. And the government doesn’t really want to take back the reins. It’s no wonder the U.S. embassy doubles as a nest of spies. And the listening post in the middle of the U.S. embassy in Berlin, from which Merkel’s phone was allegedly tapped, should have been shocking. But a good host doesn’t ask questions—and ignores thresholds of pain.
The German government may not be asking the questions, but the German media certainly is. Sadly, it is a damning indictment of our own media that we aren’t doing the same on this side of the Atlantic. But at least folks like McClatchy are starting to take notice of what Süddeutsche Zeitung and Norddeutsche Rundfunk are doing.
McClatchy notes the effect of stories like this within Germany:
The resulting freefall in American popularity was tracked by a poll by national German public television station ARD. That poll showed that only 35 percent of Germans still see the United States as a good partner, down from 49 percent in July. The poll also found that 61 percent of Germans now see the United States as an untrustworthy partner and that 60 percent of Germans consider Snowden – who has been called a traitor by American officials – to be a hero. President Barack Obama’s star has fallen fast. In April 2010, 88 percent of Germans said they liked his politics; the new poll put that number at 43 percent.
This is even more stunning in the larger historical context. After the 1948-49 Berlin Airlift, where the US flew every gram of food and fuel into the Western half of the divided city for 11 months in opposition to a Soviet blockade, ordinary Germans looked at the US as the best friend their nation could have. Now, almost two-thirds of the nation view the US as “untrustworthy.” Note, please, that the reporting did not cause this change. The activities that the US has engaged in caused the change.
Now if only our major corporate media were asking tough questions like these. Instead, they seem to be worried more about losing their access rather than reporting. As Kevin Gosztola put it last June,
. . . most [US] national security journalists are engaged in access journalism, where they have to condemn leaks from whistleblowers that are in the public interest, so they can preserve access to sources in positions of government that will provide them leaks so they can have scoops on the day-to-day affairs of US national security. And to be someone who receives this information, one cannot regularly cover information that calls into question this agenda or the inherent operations of national security agencies.
The German media knows that they’re not going to get insider tidbits and leaks from the US government, so they’re quite happy to ask the questions that our press is apparently too timid to ask for themselves.
Welcome to reason #586 explaining why the major US traditional media outlets are not respected.
Photo by Andrew Rennie and used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.