Following a disclosure that the German intelligence spied on German journalists, the agency is admitting another embarrassing mistake -- that it knew of the abduction of a German national almost two years ago.
German spies didn't tell all when it came to the el-Masri case
Germany's foreign spy agency admitted Thursday that a staff member knew and didn't disclose that a German citizen had been arrested abroad and handed to the United States as a suspected terrorist.
The Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) disclosed that an employee was told in Macedonia in January 2004 that German citizen, Khaled al-Masri, was arrested there by local authorities and turned over to the US.
The German government has up to now said that it only learned of the alleged abduction in May 2004. Al-Masri claims he was abducted by US agents and held and tortured for months in an Afghani jail before being released and flown to Albania. He filed an unsuccessful legal suit in the US and is also seeking compensation from Germany.
Prosecutors are currently investigating al-Masri's charges. Chancellor Angela Merkel's office said in a statement it "regretted" the information had not been divulged before. They added they would brief Munich prosecutors.
A leak i n Macedo n ia
He says he was kidnapped and tortured in Afghanistan
The BND told officials that an employee in Macedonia first heard about al-Masri during a conversation in a restaurant of a security agency there in January 2004.
"A person he did not know casually told him that a German citizen called al-Masri had been arrested at Skopje airport because he was on a wanted list," the agency said through a statement. "The person told him that al-Masri had been handed over to the Americans."
The agency also said it was looking into the matter: "This information breakdown within the service is being thoroughly worked through with all those involved in order to prevent any repetition," the statement said.
A spokesman for the agency told DPA news service that the man was a low-ranking official, who had not realized the significance of the information.
"We are clearly in a rather embarrassing situation now," the spokesman said. "It is highly regrettable but it can't be changed."
Bad timi n g
An embarrassing report in May detailed how the agency spied on journalists or paid them to spy on others
A new special parliamentary committee set up to examine the role and activities of the BND as part of the war on terrorism is currently preparing to question al-Masri and German officials over the matter. The committee is also looking into how agents cooperated with the United States, particularly at the start of the Iraq war in 2003.
Human rights groups and many European politicians have criticized such abductions, called "secret rendition" transfers which they say are illegal and promote torture because suspects are often transferred to countries known to practice torture.
US officials have admitted conducting such transfers but say there are far fewer than alleged. The US also denies torturing suspects or handing them over to countries that do so.
The admission also comes on the heel of a controversial report last week issued by parliamentary investigators that confirmed that the intelligence agency spied on German journalists until a few months ago and paid journalists to spy on their colleagues.