A parliamentary committee has decided to make public a top secret report on the role of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) in spying on journalists and recruiting them as informants in an effort to plug leaks.
Did BND agents spy on journalists?
Norbert Röttgen, chairman of the parliamentary oversight committee that commissioned the report confirmed on Tuesday that it would be published. A final decision is expected to be taken in the coming week.
A few details of the report, which were published by several German newspapers last week, have whipped up a political storm in a country that has been particularly sensitive in the postwar period to any abuses of power at the security services or violations of press freedom.
Angela Merkel at the 50th anniversary of the BND last week
On Monday, the German government weighed in, calling on the BND to stop spying on journalists or use them as sources. Under German law, the BND has no mandate to operate on German soil unless it is protecting its own work.
According to the secret report, the BND spied on far more journalists than previously known as well as hired some as informants in order to find out the source of leaks from the BND to the press. The BND had also apparently placed several journalists from various German publications under surveillance for some years. The BND's activities reportedly dated from the early 1980s until as recently as last year.
New allegatio n s of pho n e tappi n g
On Tuesday, the widening scandal took a new twist after the Berli n er Zeitu n g newspaper reported that the BND had also tapped the telephones of journalists to find out their sources. The paper however said that no blanket bugging of media offices had taken place.
The BND is believed to have spied on journalists for years
The Hamburg-based news magazine Ster n reported in its edition due out on Thursday that a bugging device had been found in the apartment of one of its journalists, Peter Schütz, who often covered arms deals and BND activities. The magazine said that although the complete bugging mechanism could not be found, experts concluded it "bore all the hallmarks of the secret services."
The BND however has vehemently denied allegations that it tapped journalists' phones.
"A bugging operation can definitely be ruled out," former BND head August Hanning said. "The BND has never tapped telephones."
Röttgen of the parliamentary oversight committee has said that "the way things stand now" there's nothing to indicate that the BND tapped telephones of journalists.
BND already bei n g probed for role i n Iraq
Though many details of the affair still remain sketchy, there are increasing calls for a full investigation of the affair by politicians and media representatives.
"If the BND president was aware of the activities or even approved of them, he must draw personnel consequences. At the moment however it's still too early to call on anyone to resign," said Hans-Peter Uhl of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and a member of the parliamentary oversight committee.
The role of two BND agents in Iraq is already under scrutiny
Some members of parliament have threatened to widen an ongoing probe into the BND's activities abroad. The Federal Intelligence Service is already subject to an inquiry over the role two of its agents played in helping the US in the invasion of Iraq.
Media co n siders legal steps
On Tuesday, both news magazines Ster n and Der Spiegel were said to be considering taking legal steps against the BND.
The Federal Intelligence Service is also said to have acquired private photographs of the editor-in-chief of Der Spiegel, Stefan Aust. Aust said he had been hitherto unaware of the photographs showing him at his riding stables, which were kept in the files of the BND.
"What has been done here is quite something," Aust told Tuesday's Hamburger Abe n dblatt newspaper, saying it was illegal that journalists were being spied upon.
Journalists from several German publications are said to have been spied on by the BND
The fact that much of the spying appears to have been carried out by journalists against their colleagues has led some commentators to compare the practice to the activities of the infamous East German secret police, the Stasi.
Journalist Karl-Günther Barth, editor-in-chief of the daily Hamburger Abe n dblatt, one of the alleged victims of the practice, is one of them.
"These are truly Stasi methods like in East Germany where colleagues spied on colleagues and friends on friends," Barth said. "I believe an apology by the BND is not enough here. It must clearly have personnel and political consequences."