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Merkel minister denies cover-up

April 29, 2015

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has denied claims that he tolerated American NSA spying on European firms via Germany between 2005 and 2009. Germany's opposition Pirate party says it will press charges.

Deutschland Thomas de Maiziere Bundespressekonferenz Verfassungsschutzreform
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. von Jutrczenka

Germany's opposition Left party accused Chancellor Angela Merkel's government on Wednesday of "lying" for years that the NSA had selectively accessed data gathered by Germany's BND foreign intelligence service despite privacy laws.

This follows claims by German media outlets that the Chancellery, which oversees the BND, closed its eyes to NSA spying on German and European firms to ensure future receipt of US counterterrorism information in Berlin.

De Maiziere, who was Merkel's chancellery minister between 2005 and 2009, said on Wednesday the accusations were "untrue" and could be disproved by documents, which needed to remain secret.

He said he was willing, however, to provide explanations confidentially to the Bundestag's intelligence committee and the special parliamentary committee set up to shed light on NSA surveillance after it was first disclosed by US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

"The sooner, the better," de Maiziere added.

Documents cited recently by Bild newspaper suggested the NSA had been attempting to spy on Airbus and Eurocopter, now known as Airbus Helicopters, via a BND monitoring station.

Germany has nominally strict laws to ensure data and telecommunications privacy.

Der Bundestagsabgeordnete Jan Korte
Come clean, says Left's KorteImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Disclose 'machinations,' says Left

The Left group's deputy leader Jan Korte said that the government, responding to questions submitted by his party in parliament, had repeatedly denied knowledge of NSA economic espionage via the BND.

Given recent revelations, Korte said it was time that the government "lay everything on the table on what it knew about the machinations of the secret services."

"That is not a petit detail but instead hurts parliamentary democracy at its core," Korte added.

NSA 'outpost'

Opposition Greens parliamentary co-leader Anton Hofreiter told the newspaper Rheinische Post: "Either the BND under Chancellor Merkel has gotten fully out of control or the government has lied to the public."

The BND had allowed itself to be turned into an outpost of the NSA, Hofreiter said, and this had to stop. Personnel "at the top" needed to be changed, he added.

An internal BND inquiry is widely reported to have turned up 40,000 so-called "selectors" or NSA parameters that could have been used to track European firms.

Pirates to file charges

The opposition Pirate party leader in the North Rhine-Westphalia state assembly in Düsseldorf, Joachim Paul, said on Wednesday his party would ask Germany's federal prosecutions office to press charges against Chancellery and BND officials.

If there was suspicion of NSA economic espionage and the Chancellery was informed of this, then it would amount to treason, Paul said.

Germany had reacted with outrage in 2013 at revelations triggered by Snowden that the NSA was making Internet and phone sweeps, which included Germany and even targeted Merkel's mobile phone.

Organizational changes

On Monday, government spokeswoman Christine Wirtz dismissed talk of resignations but spoke of organizational changes within German intelligence.

Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who heads the Social Democrats, the junior partner in Merkel's current coalition, said it had become apparent that the "BND leads a life of its own." This must be stopped, Gabriel added.

ipj/lw (AFP, dpa, Reuters)