Merkel's Chief of Staff Called to Testify on Spying

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff rejected what he called “unbelievable accusations” against German intelligence services as the government fended off a wave of criticism over what it knew about U.S. spying.

Ronald Pofalla, the cabinet-level chancellery aide who coordinates German espionage, said intelligence officials conformed to German law. He dismissed a report in Der Spiegel that the head of Germany’s BND Federal Intelligence Service sought to weaken privacy laws and that Germany transferred “massive” data to the U.S. National Security Agency.

“The work of our intelligence services is necessary for the protection of German citizens,” Pofalla told reporters today in Berlin after answering questions in front of the Parliamentary Control Panel, which met behind closed doors.

Less than nine weeks before elections, Merkel’s government is weathering a torrent of criticism from the Social Democratic-led opposition about how much Germany cooperated with the NSA in mass surveillance of German citizens.

Pofalla rejected the accusation that the chief of the BND, Gerhard Schindler, had pressured the government to loosen its interpretation of secrecy law. Citing documents among those exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Spiegel reported July 21 that the NSA lauded the BND for pushing the government to ease the implementation of the country’s G-10 laws that determine when citizens can be subject to surveillance.

Data Transfers

Merkel’s chief of staff also called “completely false” reports about mass data transfers to the NSA. German authorities approved two data transfers under an existing law, both of them concerning an unidentified German national who had been kidnapped, the top-level Merkel aide said.

“We’ve been trying for months to bring him home safely,” Pofalla said. He said he would return to the parliamentary panel on Aug. 19 to answer questions more comprehensively.

The minister also reiterated Merkel’s statement that the government would continue to seek answers from U.S. officials on the details of its mass-surveillance activity, especially the Prism data-mining program that was exposed last month.

Hans-Christian Stroebele, a Green Party lawmaker who sits on the intelligence panel and has criticized the government’s response on the spy scandal as insufficient, came out of the session more satisfied with Pofalla’s answers than previously.

“We learned quite a bit from him,” Stroebele said. Still, he expressed “outrage” that Merkel’s administration hadn’t demanded that the Americans stop their Prism-related activity and that Pofalla wasn’t able to clarify better what U.S. intelligence was doing on German soil.

Merkel, already easing into her summer vacation, has so far been unscathed by the criticism, with a Forsa poll yesterday showing her coalition consolidating its lead as the opposition Social Democrats lose ground.

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