Drawing on a classified Bundestag report, the "New York Times" reported Thursday that German spies helped the US military invasion of Iraq in an intelligence-sharing deal approved by top German officials.
What exactly were German spies doing in Iraq?
The intelligence sharing deal, which ended when the invasion came to an end, flies in the face of official German opposition to the war and is contained in a classified report by the German parliament, the Bundestag, a copy of which was obtained by the newspaper.
It also follows strong denials from Berlin and the Pentagon that German Intelligence (BND) had provided a copy of Iraq's war plans to the US military months before the US invasion, as The New York Times reported Monday.
A scoop -- or rehashed news?
The German parliamentary committee report, on which the Times based its story, was issued after a series of recent, closed-door hearings on the role of German intelligence during the Iraq war. Parts of the report were made available to the public, but several key references defined as classified were left out.
The German media has not, for example, had access to certain information deemed sensitive by the BND -- such as the existence of a German intelligence officer in Franks' office, because, according to the report, this information overlaps with the espionage activities of another country, in this case the US.
It wasn't until the newspaper published its report that many more of the details became known.
Nonetheless, the claims are being downplayed in Germany.
According to Social Democratic parliamentarian Olaf Scholz, the article reveals nothing new.
"The report is dredging up the same old news that has nothing to do with serious research," he said in Berlin, adding that US coverage of the issue is taking on "absurd characteristics."
Approval from the top
General Tommy Franks
In reviewing German-American cooperation before and during the Iraq War, German lawmakers said in their report that, starting in early 2003, a German intelligence officer was stationed in the office of US General Tommy Franks, who headed the US Central Command and the invading forces in Iraq.
Two other German spies in Baghdad passed on information to their colleague in Franks' office mostly about sites in the Iraqi capital, such as embassies and suspected location of hostages, to be avoided by US bombs.
They also provided information on Iraqi police and military units in Baghdad, although the German report stressed that the spies did not direct airstrikes against Iraqi leaders or forces, the daily said.
In all, the German spies provided 25 reports to the US Central Command and were awarded American Meritorious Medals, after the invasion came to an end, in recognition of the "critical information to United States Central Command to support combat operations in Iraq."
The German report, said the Times , made clear that the intelligence-sharing arrangement was approved in late 2002 at the highest levels of the German government, including Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the chief of staff for Gerhard Schröder, then the German chancellor, and by the foreign minister at the time, Joschka Fischer. Steinmeier is now Germany's foreign minister.
Conditions were "verbally imposed" on the German intelligence officials, the report said. The liaison officer in Franks' office, for example, was to provide "no support for the strategic air war offensive carried out by the USA."
He was also instructed to give out no "information with direct relevance for the tactical air and land warfare on the part of the USA."
The classified version of the report was provided by a German journalist to a Times reporter in Germany, who read the text into a tape recorder so it could be transcribed and translated.
The deputy spokesman for the German government consulted by telephone by The New York Times did not comment on the newspaper's account.
"I don't know the classified version. I only know the public version, so I'm not able to give any comment," said Thomas Steg.