WikiLeaks has revealed more details of political and economic espionage against German government officials by the National Security Agency.
The media organization published a list of 69 telephone numbers in the German government that were “high-priority” targets for the NSA. The targets include people who were officials when President Bill Clinton was still in office and confirm the NSA intercepted communications Chancellor Angela Merkel had with German government officials.
On June 12, German prosecutors closed an investigation into the NSA’s spying on Merkel’s cellphone, which was spurred by disclosures made by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Prosecutors claimed the documents from Snowden did not contain “evidence of surveillance of the cellphone used by the chancellor” that would be “solid enough for the court.”
On October 11, 2011, a document classified two levels above “Top Secret” indicates the United States closely monitored Merkel’s conversation with her personal assistant about how to address the Greek financial crisis:
The intercepted communication was shared with the “Five Eyes” alliance—Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.
Another summary of an intercepted communication came from the British spy agency, GCHQ, and was shared with the NSA. It described how the German government planned to negotiate a European Union bailout plan for Greece. German Chancellery Director-General for EU Affairs Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut argued that it would take an increased level of involvement from the private sector to resolve the crisis.
The “high-priority” list of German targets published shows the US government’s focus on information related to economic affairs. Oskar Lafontaine, who was German Finance Minister from 1998 to 1999, had his communications targeted.
Other officials spied upon include: Werner Müller, German Federal Minister for Economics 1998–2002, Barbara Hendricks, former Secretary of State at the Federal Ministry of Finance and current Federal Minister for the Environment and Ida-Maria Aschenbrenner, Head of Office of Minister of Finance Theo Waigel from 1989 to 1998.
The NSA targeted ministers, staff members and groups working on G7 and World Trade Organization meetings. The phone number of the European Central Bank was listed.
“Today’s publication further demonstrates that the United States’ economic espionage campaign extends to Germany and to key European institutions and issues such as the EU Central Bank and the crisis in Greece,” WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange declared.
“Our publication today also shows how the UK is assisting the US to spy on issues central to Europe. Would France and Germany have proceeded with the BRICS bailout plan for Greece if this intelligence was not collected and passed to the United States – who must have been horrified at the geopolitical implications?”
Previously, Snowden disclosed numerous details of US spying against Germany. Der Spiegel reported in 2013 that US intelligence services had saved “data from around half a billion communications connections from Germany.” There was evidence of German companies and various European businesses having their communications targeted.
The Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, was nearly plunged into a major scandal earlier this year, as it became increasingly clear that the agency was complicit in allowing the US to target businesses and various government officials and institutions in Europe.
What this list of targets from WikiLeaks does is confirm the identities of officials, who were targeted in Berlin. It, however, still leaves open the question of whether journalists were targeted and, if so, how many.
Since Gerhard Schröder was chancellor, it has become evident that German intelligence has grown dependent on US spy agencies. It treads lightly and accepts a level of intrusion into European societies and economic and political affairs in order to maintain partnerships. By permitting spying, the BND is privy to information it would not receive if it challenged US global surveillance.
A deep dependence was fostered, according to Der Spiegel. “This dependence prevented an open and honest discussion within the German government about the problems associated with the cooperation.”
In April 2002, a “Memorandum of Agreement” — a six-page document with more than 70 pages of addendums — laid the foundations for a new and particularly close level of cooperation. It included provisions for a new eavesdropping alliance and was intended to prevent Germans or Americans in Germany from being spied on. Data tapped from Europe was only to be used in instances of a clear terror threat. The partners provided mutual assurances that each would have oversight of the assignments. Over the years, however, it appears that the terms of the agreement were largely forgotten.
The spying on negotiations related to the Greek financial crisis in 2011 is further proof that the terms of any agreement went ignored.
The US government faced a bit of an international scandal over spying on German officials, particularly Merkel’s cellphone, in 2013.
German intelligence uncovered a spy providing documents to the CIA on a special parliamentary committee investigating the extent of NSA surveillance against Germany. The CIA chief in Germany was expelled. Germany sought a “no spying agreement” but then-NSA Director Keith Alexander and CIA Director John Brennan would not agree to a meaningful agreement to not spy on Germany. Officials did not want to establish any formal “no spying agreement” that would set a precedent spy agencies would regret later.
The revelations from WikiLeaks will only renew concerns, particularly among those in Germany who believe Merkel and other German officials have failed to stand up to the US and investigate, prosecute and respond to US spying more aggressively.