July 22 (Bloomberg) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel came under renewed pressure over the trans-Atlantic surveillance scandal after a report that German intelligence cooperated closely with the U.S. National Security Agency.
Germany’s BND Federal Intelligence Service, led by Gerhard Schindler, pushed for a looser interpretation of privacy law and German counterintelligence agents were given access to NSA spy software, news magazine Der Spiegel reported yesterday, citing documents among those exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
“If it’s true that the BND president wanted to circumvent existing data-protection law in Germany, he has to be dismissed,” opposition Social Democratic Party Chairman Sigmar Gabriel told Der Spiegel in an interview.
Nine weeks before national elections on Sept. 22, the opposition is seeking to attack Merkel by questioning how much the government knew about U.S. mass-surveillance activities. The chancellor defended her administration last week, saying she’s pressing U.S. officials for information on the scale of NSA spying on German communications.
The Spiegel documents allege that the BND has stepped up its cooperation with the NSA since U.S. intelligence helped thwart a planned bomb attack on Germany in 2007 that officials said could have been devastating. Merkel’s government has cited the prevention of that attack, known as the “Sauerland” plot, as evidence of how helpful cooperation with U.S. authorities has been.
Merkel’s government takes the Spiegel report “very seriously” and her chief of staff, Ronald Pofalla, will answer all open questions in front of the Parliamentary Control Panel, the lower-house committee that oversees intelligence matters, government spokesman Georg Streiter told reporters in Berlin today.
“International terrorism can only be fought through international cooperation,” Streiter said, while reiterating that German law must be adhered to. He declined to comment on calls for the BND’s Schindler to resign.
Der Spiegel reported that agents for Germany’s counterintelligence service, or BfV, were given access to an NSA system called “XKeyscore,” which enables analysts to access phone numbers, e-mail addresses, computer log-ins and user activity. The information is drawn from a trove that offers a “full take” of unfiltered data that can allow intelligence agents to puzzle together an individual’s user history.
Moreover, the documents cited by Spiegel showed that the NSA has lauded the BND for pushing the government for a more flexible interpretation of Germany’s G-10 laws that determine when the government can observe citizens.
The BfV confirmed that it’s testing a surveillance program from the NSA, though it isn’t in operation and wouldn’t collect more data, Deutsche Presse-Agentur cited the agency as saying. The BND didn’t immediately respond today to a telephone call requesting comment.
The debate in Germany has so far focused on the exposed NSA data-mining Prism program. Merkel said last week that she and her ministers learned of the program through the media and that she’s waiting for answers from the U.S.
The Spiegel report showed that the government “knew very well what the Americans were doing,” the SPD’s chief whip in parliament, Thomas Oppermann, who chairs parliament’s control panel, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.
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