Snowden claims Germany is ‘in bed with’ NSA

Merkel under pressure to clarify what she knew about US surveillance in Germany

The Snowden affair shifted closer to German chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday amid claims from the NSA whistleblower that, despite protestations to the contrary, Germany's politicians and secret service were "in bed with" their US partners.

Days after Dr Merkel attacked "cold war" methods allegedly used by the NSA to gather communications data in Germany, Mr Snowden told Der Spiegel that the NSA's surveillance methods were "practically boundless". A crucial part of the NSA's success was, he said, down to the fact that Germany's BND secret service was "as much in bed with" the NSA "as most other western states".

"Other agencies don't ask us where [the NSA] got information from and we [the NSA] don't ask them," he said. "That way they can protect their top politicians from the backlash in case it emerges how massively people's privacy is abused worldwide."

'Unlimited access'
In the interview Mr Snowden said the NSA's worldwide network meant it had "unlimited" access to anyone who came on its radar.

“A target person is monitored all the time,” he said. “The computer of the target person no longer belongs to them, but effectively to the US government.”

Mr Snowden said the NSA had worked together closely with the Israeli secret service, confirming speculation that the two agencies had co-operated to create the Stuxnet computer virus that attacked Iran’s nuclear facilities in 2010.

He also gave further details of the "Tempora" programme reportedly operated by Britain's intelligence agency, GCHQ.

“Tempora is the ‘full-take’ programme that sucks up all data, regardless of what it is about and what rights are infringed in the process,” he said.

“Not a single bit of information escapes it. At the moment three days’ traffic can be saved but that is being optimised.”

He claimed the programme collected not only connection data but everything that passed through British internet connections. “If one has the choice one should never send information through British lines or servers,” he said.

The revelations from Mr Snowden come a week after Der Spiegel claimed the NSA collates half a billion emails, phone calls and text messages each month in Germany.

With an eye on September’s general election, German opposition parties – and increasingly Dr Merkel’s coalition partners – are demanding answers on what Dr Merkel knew about the NSA and when.

Der Spiegel said the interview with Mr Snowden was conducted in May with US documentary maker Laura Poitras and hacker Jacob Appelbaum.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin