Angela Merkel’s NSA Nightmare Just Got A Lot Worse

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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.

Implausible Deniability

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

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  1. Foppe

    The Merkel government’s almost total submission to U.S. power and interests

    Please don’t paint them as victims or submissives, who have no interests of their own that they believe they are furthering this way. They do have ideas about how cooperating furthers their interests, and therefore they actively aided and abetted, regardless of whatever excuse they felt ‘forced’ them to do so. Sure, they may not have come up with the plan, but a plan is nothing without willing foot soldiers willing to ‘suspend’ their own judgment after minimal prodding/carrot-dangling.

    1. diptherio

      Why, oh why, are people still shocked when their elite leaders turn out to be lying scoundrels? Hasn’t anybody been paying attention? Only lying scoundrels have a chance of making it to the highest levels of government. If they actually cared about acting ethically (or constitutionally) they would never have gotten where they are.

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        That’s reflected in poll numbers about whether.the government can be trusted to do what is right always or most of the time.

        Nine months ago, CNN reported that, a day before the 40th anniversary of Watergate, that trust reached an all time low of 13%.

        Were the rest of us (87%) Reaganites, Libertarians or right wing Republican nuts?

        Why didn’t and don’t we trust the government to do what is right, much, much less, but in the nick of time, with the omnipotent power to print and spent new money without limits???

        “Remember Watergate, even if you don’t remember Alamo!!!”

      2. optimader

        Political leader lie and water is wet.

        All political leadership of all flags and systems of government through history “lie” at some level of policy and discourse. So what is your point?

        By recent standards probably the most honest American POTUS I can think of right off hand was J Carter. So how’d that work out?

    2. optimader

      Please don’t paint them as victims or submissive

      indeed, hold off on the fainting couch.
      Angela Kazmierczak -Kasner-Merkel is a product of East Germany.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      The earlier mistake was to declare war on America, some 70 years ago.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      Can we now persuade Herr Schaeuble and Frau Merkle to properly handle the Greek situation, or do we need to apply…er, more…um, pressure?

    2. susan the other

      Slog, thanks for that info. I assume Varoufakis knows what he has gone up against. Effectively the US.

  2. Demeter

    I am disenchanted with Merkel. She’s a throwback to Imperial Prussia, not leading Europe to peace and plenty, but to war and privation, death and destruction. And the German people eat it up. An inferiority complex is hard to overcome by doing bad things. A NATIONAL inferiority complex is even worse.

    1. OIFVet

      Agree, I’ve been saying much the same about Merkel for some time now:

      “— She is an authoritarian at heart, despite her protestations about her love of “freedom.” From the profile: “Over dinner one night in the mid-nineties, Merkel asked Schlöndorff, a former radical, to explain the violence perpetrated by the Baader-Meinhof Group. He told her that young people had needed to break with the authoritarian culture that had never been repudiated in West Germany after the defeat of the Nazis. The more he explained, the less Merkel seemed to sympathize—she wasn’t against authority, just the East German kind. What did kids in the West have to protest about? She didn’t always hide a feeling that West Germans were like spoiled children.” Nothing wrong with authoritarianism, you see, as long as it is the right kind. Packer: “She says Europe has just seven per cent of the world’s people, twenty-five per cent of the economic output, but fifty per cent of the social welfare—and we have to change this.” What’s more, “Our task is to protect Ukraine on its self-determined way…with answers from the global twenty-first century.” So it is the dictatorship of the global corporations, global finance, and the IMF that she likes, and screw the working class, national sovereignty, “freedom,” and “democracy”. That pretty much explains what has happened to Greece, Southern and Eastern Europe, and the European working class in general: crushed under the neoliberal boot of the Fourth Reich.

      — Speaking of which, the following passage should give everyone who knows anything about WW2 a pause: “On June 6th, in Normandy, Merkel and Putin met for the first time since the crisis began, along with Obama, Hollande, Cameron, and Petro Poroshenko, the newly elected President of Ukraine, to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of D Day. News photographs showed Merkel greeting Putin like a disapproving hostess—lips pursed, eyebrows arched—while Putin’s hard features came as close to ingratiation as is physically possible. In the optics of power, she was winning. “This political isolation hurts him,” her senior aide said. “He doesn’t like to be left out.” (Russia had just been suspended from the Group of Eight.) Later, before lunch, Merkel orchestrated a brief conversation between Putin and Poroshenko. On the anniversary of D Day, Germany’s leader was at the center of everything. As Kurbjuweit put it, “That was astonishing, to see all the winners of the Second World War, and to see the loser and the country which was responsible for all this—and she’s the leader, everyone wants to talk to her! That is very, very strange. And this is only possible, I think, because it’s Merkel—because she’s so nice and quiet.” No doubt Merkel’s propaganda people wanted to paint the image of a fully reformed Germany that has gone from being a criminal to being a leader, with Merkel having played an integral part of that transformation. But adding in the image of a self-styled German Iron Frau reducing the Third Reich’s vanquisher to the position of a submissive supplicant reveals something rather dark deep down in Merkel and her circle, something that no sane person should allow to blossom again. Beware of the German revanchist pointing accusing finger at the Russian “revanchist”.

  3. timbers

    Finian Cunningham is to the point with his headline: Is Merkel a CIA Asset?

    O-bomb-er has forever ruined my appreciation of Matt Damon’s 3 Bourne movies, especially the scene when upright good guy on America’s team Pamela Landy (played by Joan Allen) confronts her “bad” boss ordering assassination of one of their own, saying something like “This isn’t us. This isn’t what we do. She’s one of us.” Because if based on what we now under O-bomb-er if not earlier, that IS us and the scene should have gone something like:

    Pamela Landry: “This isn’t us. This isn’t what we do.”

    CIA Director Noah Vosen (played by David Strathairn): “Yes it is, Pam. Didn’t you get the memo?” (hands Pam the memo saying we can kill people just because).

    Pamela Landry: “Oh. Guess I missed this. Never mind.”

    1. ex-PFC Chuck

      I’ve heard there’s a fourth movie of the series in the works in which the title character infiltrates a Christianist terrorist group. The working title is “Bourne Again.”


  4. Chauncey Gardiner

    Perfect!… No TTIP. Ich danke Ihnen, Frau Merkel.

    Perhaps something similar now in the Western Pacific?

  5. susan the other

    I’d just like to point out that the Europeans launched their own spy satellite in the 60s so they could spy on us. There’s no way they aren’t just as guilty as we are. They are, however, far more subtle. That this whole thing is blowing up is more a matter of the underlying economic model failing. Miserably. Supposedly the German spy machine was compromised in 2002? What a laugh. The German spy machine is eternal. Wasn’t that the year Rummy called them senile? “Old Europe” was his slander. War is our preferred method of fixing a failing economy but it is not Europe’s preferred way. They have chosen austerity. That’s pretty interesting. Austerity is godawful, but war is worse. So why doesn’t anybody suggest we look at the big picture. (Besides Varoufakis, of course.) What kind of an economy precludes both needs (of war and/or austerity)? I’m pretty sure it isn’t one run by sovereign corporatist imperialists because those twits eat their seed corn like pigs.

  6. digi_owl

    At this point it seems prudent to consider all “security agencies” rogue until proven otherwise.

  7. Andrew Watts

    Just another tempest in the teapot ‘hic. The United States probably partners with France to spy on Germany and the French and Germans probably team up to spy on the US. Did anybody take a look at the unredacted NSA documents posted by Der Spiegel awhile back? They displayed a list of foreign countries and the level of intelligence cooperation between them and the NSA.

    The whole Merkel is a American puppet story is Russian propaganda that was widely and loudly blasted throughout the Russian official media when the Ukraine crisis started. Somehow it became popular on the internet and it’s why so many people didn’t see the Minsk 2.0 agreement coming.

  8. JoeK

    When I looked up what BND stood for (not being able to make out what German word beginning with an N was translated as “intelligence”), I was flabbergasted to find the N stands for “Nachrichten.” Perhaps it’s a lack of my German language skills, not being a native speaker, but I’ve only used or heard that word as “news,” most often in its most benign, casual, personal sense, as in “so what’s the news?”
    To me, this is like a grenade with a smiley face on it. Günter Grass expounded at length on the necessary process after WWII to de-Nazify the German language, yet this seems like a prime example of such. I find it deeply unsettling that the ostensibly nie-wieder liberalized modern Germany employs such terminology.

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