By Don Quijones, an editor at Wolf Street who writes from Spain and Mexico. Originally published at Wolf Street
Angela Merkel, Germany’s most successful and popular politician, could be in serious trouble, after revelations that Germany’s national intelligence agency, the BND, has been spying on key European assets on behalf of US intelligence. Those “assets” include top French officials, the EU’s headquarters, the European defense corporation EADS, the helicopter manufacturer Eurocopter and even German companies.
To wit, from Der Spiegel:
In 2008, at the latest, it became apparent that NSA selectors were not only limited to terrorist and weapons smugglers… But it was only after the revelations made by whistleblower Edward Snowden that the BND decided to investigate the issue. In October 2013, an investigation came to the conclusion that at least 2,000 of these selectors were aimed at Western European or even German interests.
Today, the German foreign intelligence agency is accused of processing over 40,000 spy requests from the NSA, many of which represent a clear violation of the Memorandum of Agreement that the US and Germany signed in 2002. Washington and Berlin agreed at the time that neither Germans nor Americans — neither people nor companies or organizations — would be among the surveillance targets.
From Victim to Villain
The scandal could be particularly damaging for the Minister of Interior Thomas de Maiziere, whose ministry is accused of misleading parliament after claiming, as recently as April 14, to have no knowledge of alleged US economic spying in Europe, and of Germany’s alleged involvement.
For Merkel, it is a dizzying reversal of roles and fortunes. In 2013 she was arguably the most high-profile victim of NSA surveillance when it was revealed that the NSA had targeted her cellphone. When confronted with Edward Snowden’s allegations of US National Security Agency mass surveillance of European citizens, Merkel famously said that “spying on friends is just not on.” According to official accounts, she even placed a “strongly worded phone call” to US President Barack Obama.
At the time the scandal was a political boon for Merkel, with 62% of Germans approving of her “harsh reaction”, according to a survey by polling institute YouGov. Now the tables have turned. If Merkel’s government is found to have had prior knowledge of the BND’s spying on the French government, citizens, and companies, its behavior in the wake of the phone-tapping revelations will be cast in a starkly different light. The phrase “shameless hypocrisy” comes to mind.
While the BNS is taking most of the flak, with some pundits even questioning whose interests it serves, questions are being raised about just how much Merkel’s government knew about the surveillance program.
“At least since the Snowden revelations in 2013, all those involved at all levels, including the Chancellery, should have been suspicious of the cooperation with the NSA,” Konstantin von Notz, the senior Green Party member on the NSA investigative committee, told Der Spiegel.
On Wednesday, the tabloid newspaper Bild printed a picture of Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, with his nose elongated to Pinocchio proportions, while another German newspaper dedicated its front page to a “wanted” poster. Among the mug shots of politicians was one of Merkel herself.
“Granted, the story may die a quick death.” says a German associate. “But if it turns out that the government was fully on board with NSA spying and has effectively been lying to us for years, it could do serious, lasting damage to its reputation.”
The scandal doesn’t just involve accusations of foreign spying on Germany’s government; it involves accusations that the German intelligence services conducted their own surveillance of German and fellow European citizens, companies and governments, at the behest of a foreign government. All of which is against German constitutional law.
To make matters worse, the scandal comes on the back of allegations that the U.S. military’s sprawling base in Ramstein, Germany serves as the high-tech heart of America’s deeply unpopular drone program — once again, in direct contravention of German constitutional law. And once again, the government seems to have had direct knowledge about German complicity in the program and did everything it could to keep voters in the dark.
According to internal German government communications provided to The Intercept by Der Spiegel, some German officials tried and failed to get the Merkel government to confront the U.S. about what connection facilities in Germany had to drone strikes:
According to a June 2013 document, a senior Foreign Office official, Emily Haber, advocated demanding a clear answer from Washington about the role U.S. facilities in Germany played in drone strikes. Haber was overruled: “The Federal Chancellery and the Defense Ministry would prefer to ‘sit out’ the pressure from parliament and the public,” the response read. The unofficial German-U.S. agreement appears to amount to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” understanding.
The Real Boss
The Merkel government’s almost total submission to U.S. power and interests belie the common myth that Germany is a rising superpower and Europe’s de facto ruler. As I wrote two years ago in “Europe Turns Blind Eye to US-UK Snooping Antics:”
Europe’s economic powerhouse Germany still remains, to all intents and purposes, a militarily occupied country, with as many as 21,500 British soldiers and 50,000 US troops still stationed on its soil. As such, while the Merkel government may kick and squeal as much as it likes about the NSA-GCHQ’s joint surveillance operations (mostly, of course, for political consumption), its actual room for maneouver is extremely limited.
>What’s more, Germany’s and Europe’s deeply imbalanced relationship with the U.S. is likely to be further exacerbated if (or more likely when) the EU signs the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Treaty. It’s a pact that is primarily aimed at enhancing, as I noted in my last article, the domination of multinational corporations over national sovereignty. Voters don’t support that program. Hence the need for secrecy, obfuscation, and lies. Read… Caving In to Corporatism: Endgame for Secret “Trade” Pact Negotiations