BND spying activities in Germany just got real weird real fast

22 May 2015

Following Austria’s decision to file a legal complaint against Germany amid reports of extensive espionage, the head of the latter’s surveillance arm, the BND, has stated his country is “dependent” on the NSA, “not the other way around”.

To (a) utter those words as the head of surveillance of one of the most powerful countries in the world is crazy, and to (b) feel the need to say those words is just as worrying.

“The NSA is our partner, not our opponent,” BND President Gerhard Schindler told a parliamentary committee yesterday.

“He also said that any attempt to end cooperation between the two organisations would hamper the BND’s efforts to protect Germany from terrorist attacks,” according to Deutsche Welle.

We all need a crutch after all

This is essentially comprehensive clarification that the US spying arm is so all-encompassing that other states feel reliant on it.

The fear that modern society will fall apart unless every single piece of communication around the world is stored in the US grows ever more, it seems.

This all stems from concerning revelations since Edward Snowden released swathes of information relating to the US’ global spying network.

It transpired that the NSA, among other things, piggy-backed on/cooperated with state surveillance entities around the world to beef up its metadata stockpile.

‘Selectors’ and a piggyback spy setup

In Germany’s case, it gave the BND a list of “selectors”, which were criteria the latter used in surveillance activities. These selectors could be anything from names to telephone numbers or IP addresses.

When this came out, a growing number of Germans wanted answers, specifically wondering wether the BND spied on German citizens for the US.

So the NSA basically used the BND as a proxy to spy on what many now believe to be German citizens, European corporations and even heads of state.

“We are dependent on the NSA, not the other way around,” Schindler said, adding that the Americans had provided the BND with significant information and warnings about terrorist activities, technology and know-how in recent years.

It’s angering some of Germany’s own allies, though, with Austria’s public baiting of Germany’s activities, and the legal complaint filed adding to the growing concern.

‘Austria demands clarification’

“Austria demands clarification,” said Austria’s interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner earlier this month.

“Today we have filed a legal complaint with the prosecutor’s office,” she said, “against an unknown entity, due to secret intelligence services to Austria’s disadvantage”.

“There is no concrete evidence yet,” she said. “It’s not far-fetched to suspect that Austria was also spied on.”

German chancellor Angela Merkel has defended the BND against accusations that it illegally helped the US spy on officials and companies in Europe.

But Merkel’s in her own mess at the moment amid a media discussion of what role her office, preceding her election, played in the setting up of these activities.

Bad Aibling surveillance facility in Germany image, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic