Merkel aide questioned over US spying
Chancellor’s chief-of-staff insists German intelligence services operate within the law
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief-of-staff Ronald Pofalla. Photograph: Getty Images
Der Spiegel magazine, drawing on information from whistleblower Mr Snowden, has claimed the US National Security Agency operates a mass dragnet on electronic communications in Germany, has bugged German and EU officials, and has schooled the German intelligence agencies in electronic data interception techniques.
Through it all, Dr Merkel has denied all knowledge and insists she first learned about the NSA’s Prism programme through the media.
This has prompted snorts of disbelief from German opposition politicians, hunting for a chink in the popular German leader’s armour before election day.
Low profile/high influence
They hope that chink is Mr Pofalla, a 54-year-old bureaucrat whose low profile in Berlin belies his political influence. His tasks as chancellery minister include co-ordinating the operations of the German domestic and foreign intelligence services (BfV and BND).
This was the focus of nearly nearly four hours of questioning yesterday in a secure meeting room beneath the Reichstag building. Afterwards, Mr Pofalla insisted “German intelligence services operate within the law . . . [they] meet data protection provisions 100 per cent”.
Until he received further information from the US, however, he said it was unclear whether the same could be said for the NSA’s activities in Germany.
Opposition politicians said they were no wiser about Prism and Germany’s role in the affair.
“Either we were deceived by this [government] or the left hand in the chancellery doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,” said Thomas Oppermann, opposition Social Democrat (SPD) and member of the Bundestag intelligence service oversight committee.
Fellow committee member and Green Party MP Hans-Christian Ströbele said he was “incensed . . . that the Prism programme is not being put on hold as long as no clear explanation is forthcoming from the NSA”.
The scandal continues to build. This week German intelligence chiefs confirmed Der Spiegel reports that they tested an NSA programme called XKeyscore, that records content of electronic messages as well as sender and recipient data.
In exchange, the magazine said, they promised the NSA to “influence” Berlin to relax privacy laws and “provide greater opportunity for intelligence sharing”.
Pressure on Merkel
With two more committee sittings scheduled before the coming election, opposition parties hope to call on Dr Merkel to testify.
Should further damaging information emerge, as Mr Snowden has promised, Dr Merkel might cut loose Mr Pofalla, a close aide and political strategist, to contain the political damage.
But it may not come to that. Despite German historical sensitivity to state surveillance, coloured by experiences of the Gestapo and Stasi, a public television poll put Dr Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) up one point at 42 per cent support.