The German government's parliamentary committee has confirmed allegations that Foreign Intelligence Agency (BND) agents illegally spied on journalists to expose their sources.
Journalists spying on their colleagues have stirred up a storm
The 180-page parliamentary report made public determined that measures taken by the BND against German reporters in an effort to shut off leaks violated the law.
"Regarding the accusations in the press that the Federal Intelligence Service ... illegally spied on journalists in order to expose their sources, it is to be ascertained that such observations did take place ... these measures were predominantly illegal," the report read.
BND agents picked through the journalists' rubbish and traced their research, the report stated. While none of the reporters were bugged, agents used other measures against them to try to uncover their sources, including stealing a box of his papers that one journalist had thrown away and tracing another's research in the federal archive.
The report, compiled by Gerhard Schäfer on behalf of the committee, also called for the agency "to formally apologize" to the journalists whom it spied on.
BND head says sorry
After its publication, the German government announced that past and current BND employees would be investigated on the basis of the report.
The head of the BND, Ernst Uhrlau, apologized to the media shortly after it was released and promised to take steps to prevent such abuses in future.
"As president of the BND, I apologize for all rights abuses that resulted because of steps taken by the service," he said.
Last week Germany ordered the BND not to spy on local journalists after the scandal erupted over reports that correspondents had been put under surveillance to stop leaks to the press.
Government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said Berlin had taken action after the damaging revelations that BND had kept tabs on journalists and even paid reporters to spy on their colleagues to learn the source of leaks.
The release of the report, however, brought up more questions than answers and the extent of the activities has taken many Germans, including politicians, by surprise.
Hans-Christian Ströbele, Green party politician and member of the oversight committee, said he was shocked by the amount of cooperation between the BND and journalists.
"I didn't think it was possible that journalists would work together so intensely with the intelligence service," he said on Friday.
One facet of the journalistic "code of honor," he said, is that the people they speak to must feel assured that they are not talking to informants.
Just at the beginning
Hans-Christian Ströbele is surprised by journalistic informants
The information that has already been released from the current investigation has led many politicians, particularly from the opposition, to believe that it will not be the end of it.
Max Stadler, a Free Democratic politician who also sits on the oversight committee, told Hanover's Neue Presse newspaper that full clarification would not be achieved until those with political responsibility were questioned. The most important dereliction of duty was why the chancellor's office, which controls the BND, failed to hinder the activities, Stadler said.
He said he would not rule out a full parliamentary inquiry into the affair, something the Green party and the Left Party are already demanding.
"We will need an investigating committee," said Wolfgang Neskovic of the Left Party, who is also a member of the oversight committee.
Delays in report's publication
The Federal Intelligence Service is under intense scrutiny
The document was released on the parliament's official Web site on Friday. However, a Focus magazine reporter's injunction, forced the former federal judge Gerhard Schäfer to black out passages that mentioned the journalist.
The oversight committee had called for any such restrictions to be lifted, saying that the report was based on BND files and individual testimony. Magazines have reported that the domestic spying activities of the BND go back to the 1990s and continued up to 2005. The reason given was the plugging up of leaks within the service, which is strictly limited to foreign intelligence gathering.