Merkel under pressure over NSA revelations

German foreign intelligence agency accused of processing over 40,000 spy requests from US organisation

When confronted with Edward Snowden's allegations of US National Security Agency mass surveillance of European citizens, EU institutions, and even on her mobile phone, German chancellor Angela Merkel said: "Spying on friends is just not on."

Now Dr Merkel is braced for the worst after revelations that considerable NSA surveillance was enabled by Germany’s foreign intelligence service.

The Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) is accused of processing more than 40,000 requests from the NSA to spy on people, businesses and institutions in Europe. Among the reported targets: German arms manufacturers, the EADS aerospace consortium and the French government.

Starting in 2002, the NSA sent surveillance requests to the BND with targets identified by so-called “selectors” – email address, telephone number or the IP address of a computer’s internet connection.


These targets were then observed by the BND via its listening post in Bad Aibling, south of Munich, and the collected data forwarded to the NSA.

It is unclear how many such “selectors” were filed by the NSA, though estimates range from several hundred thousand to more than a million.

Seven years ago BND employees noted thousands of these computer-automated requests did not come under the terms of categories agreed with the NSA in 2002, months after the 9/11 attacks. But instead of informing the chancellory, to which it reports directly, the BND reportedly asked the NSA to desist from such requests.

Organisational deficits

Under siege at a press conference yesterday Dr Merkel’s spokesman

Steffen Seibert

declined to comment on the claims – or the future of the BND chief

Gerhard Schindler

. He said he had nothing to add to a statement noting that “technical and organisational deficits” had been identified at the intelligence agency.

“The chancellery issued without delay the order for these to be remedied,” he said, reading from the statement, but refused to say what these deficits were.

News of the alleged BND activity caused uproar at an ongoing Bundestag inquiry into the NSA activities. Even inquiry head Patrick Sensburg, from Dr Merkel's own ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), was astonished that "no-one drew a line and said: 'This isn't okay.'"

BND chief Gerhard Schindler is under pressure after his agency told the Bundestag committee its activities with the NSA were covered by existing co-operation agreements.

“The benefit for the BND [lies] in a know-how gain in closer co-operation with the NSA,” said the agency in a memorandum to the Bundestag investigation, saying the NSA requests were “checked by the BND for compliance with agreed rules”.

The memorandum, seen by Der Spiegel, concludes that the co-operation involved “no activity against German interests”.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin