Intelligence Chief Won′t Step Down Over Spy Affair | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 24.04.2008
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Intelligence Chief Won't Step Down Over Spy Affair

Germany's Foreign Intelligence Service (BND) has been investigated in connection with revelations that the agency spied on a German journalist working in Afghanistan. The BND chief, however, will not step down.

Man at computer with screen displaying large human eye,

The BND has been accused of keeping tabs on too many people

BND head Ernst Uhrlau, who faced a second day of questioning Thursday, April 24, by a parliamentary oversight committee (PKG), had faced calls for his resignation over the spy scandal. However, the PKG has not demanded he step down.

Over the weekend, it emerged that the BND had read e-mail correspondence between Der Spiegel newsmagazine reporter Susanne Koelbl and an Afghan politician between June and November 2006 -- a clear violation of Germany's Basic Law.

PKG Chairman Thomas Opperman, speaking after the committee session, said trust between the PKG and the BND was at a low point.

The commission also criticised the fact that the BND's top officials themselves had only learned of the case one year after the operation, a violation of an internal policy requiring official clearance.

Economy Minister

It only emerged Thursday that it was not the reporter but the Afghan official, identified Thursday by Der Spiegel as Economy Minister Mohammad Amin Farhang, who was the target of the operation.

It was unclear why the BND had set its sights on Farhang, who has a German passport and lived for several years in Germany.

However, in not calling for Uhrlau's resignation, the PKG did not go far enough for the Green Party. Its deputy parliamentary party leader, Christian Stroebele, had earlier said someone should step down because of the incident and that Uhrlau's position was shaky.

Loss of faith in the intelligence service

BND Chief Ernst Uhrlau

Ernst Uhrlau reportedly left Wednesday's meeting bright red in the face

Conservative interior affairs spokesman Hans-Peter Uhl (CSU) said the BND's cooperation with the Bundestag's oversight committee has been unsatisfactory.

"The parliamentary control committee no longer has any trust on a cross-party basis in the management of the BND," he told German news agency ddp

Uhl added that a draft law would be drawn up in the coming months to rein in the BND by bolstering parliament's powers in the wake of the scandal to monitor the agency.

Further spying allegations

Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) building with sign outside

The BND was already caught up in a scandal involving journalists in 2006

Meanwhile, there are also indications that the intelligence service might have been keeping tabs on other journalists in Afghanistan. The Berliner Zeitung daily reported Thursday that former ZDF public television correspondent Ulrich Tilgner was informed in 2007 by a senior German diplomat in Afghanistan that his telephone was being tapped.

Tilgner, who had been in contact with the kidnapped German engineer Rudolf Blechschmidt in Afghanistan, questioned whether different standards were being applied to Germans outside of Germany.

"For me it was clear at that moment that the laws that apply in Germany were obviously being ignored by German civil servants abroad," he told the paper.

The BND denied the allegation.

Two years ago, the BND did acknowledge spying on journalists to expose their sources, creating a public outcry. The agency agreed to stop these activities because they infringed upon press freedom.

The BND also installed spy software on the computer of the Afghan minister, whose identity was not released, the AFP news agency reported.

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