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German intelligence spied on friendly states: reports

October 15, 2015

Germany's Federal Intelligence Service (BND) is alleged to have spied on various friendly embassies and EU authorities. It is unclear to what extent it committed the potentially illegal activities for its own benefit.

BND radars
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Warmuth

The German newsmagazine "Spiegel Online" has reported that Germany's Federal Intelligence Service (BND) eavesdropped on communications of several of its allied countries until late 2013.

According to reports, these operations may not only have taken place under the guidance of the US National Security Agency (NSA) but also under the BND's own initiative. Earlier this year, it had been revealed that the NSA commissioned the BND for years to spy on German targets using so-called "selectors" - search criteria used to flag activity with vested interests for the NSA. The NSA was reported to have supplied the technology involved in this method of intelligence gathering.

The latest disclosures, however, might imply that the BND added its own choice of selectors to the list - an act which would fall outside its constitutional mandate and qualify as illegal. The BND is already under scrutiny for the legalities of doing the groundwork for a foreign spy agency by collaborating with the NSA.

Further setbacks for the BND

According to the report, Germany used thousands of such selectors in total, which ended up flagging communications of allied states. France and the United States were reported to be among the nations affected by the intelligence breach.

Further investigation by the public broadcaster RBB revealed that some of the search criteria used may have included clearly prohibited terms. If these claims turn out to be substantiated their consequences could be far-reaching.

Gerhard Schindler
Schindler attended the hearings, but it was unclear whether he gave any testimonyImage: picture-alliance/dpa/G. Fischer

German politicians have already begun to question whether the BND overstepped its official mandate by interfering in communications of friendly states. Further examination of said selectors might reveal highly illegal dealings, as the spy agency continues to suffer further setbacks in its public esteem.

Investigation at BND headquarters

The "Spiegel Online" report was based on testimony heard at a parliamentary control panel hearing on Wednesday and on information from the parliamentary inquiry investigating NSA activity in Germany. Gerhard Schindler, the head of the BND, was reported to have attended the hearings, which were closed to the public. It could not be established whether the latest revelations were based on his statements.

The parliamentary control panel said it would travel to the headquarters of the BND, in Pullach near Munich, next week to investigate the search terms involved in the selectors and to speak with BND employees directly to try to establish the nature of those selectors.

ss/cmk (AFP, Reuters, dpa)