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Die Aufnahme vom 27.06.2013 zeigt den «Dagger Complex» der US-Army bei Griesheim in der Nähe von Darmstadt (Hessen). Das massiv gesicherte Gelände wird vom US-Militär betrieben und soll nach Medieninformationen unter anderem vom US-Geheimdienst NSA (National Security Agency) genutzt werden. Foto: Boris Roessler/dpa
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Spying on US bases in Germany?

Marcus Lütticke / ng
August 3, 2013

More than 20 years after the end of the Cold War, the US still has several military bases in Germany. Experts think that they could play a key role for the NSA's activities.


"German law applies on German soil and anyone operating here needs to adhere to it," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a news conference before the summer recess. Merkel made the comment in connection with alleged US intelligence activities in Germany.

After Merkel had gone off on holiday, UK daily The Guardian published fresh revelations on the NSA software XKeyscore. The article showed a graphic that pointed to data being mined by US intelligence from servers in Germany rather than just from servers based in the US.

There is now speculation that the NSA and other US intelligence agencies obtain access to German Internet hubs via US military bases in Germany. More than 50,000 US soldiers are still based in Germany - more than the entire armed forces of Belgium. Worldwide, the US has several hundred bases.

HANDOUT - Sandro Gaycken, IT-Spezialist von der Freien Universität Berlin, thematisiert in seinem Buch «Cyberwar» die Gefahren eines Angriffs über das Internet. Auf 256 Seiten beschreibt Gaycken, welche Gefahren modernen Gesellschaften drohen: Wirtschaftsspionage, die vor allem die in Deutschland so aktiven und bei IT-Sicherheit oft arglosen Mittelständler treffe; Sabotage von wichtigen Systemen wie Kraftwerken oder Börsen; Propaganda; und nicht zuletzt Angriffe, die ähnlich verheerend sein können wie militärische Aktionen. Foto: Open Source Press dpa (zu dpa
Gaycken: Spying from US military basis likelyImage: picture-alliance/dpa

It helps to be close by

IT specialist Sandro Gaycken from the Free University Berlin says it is highly likely that the US uses its military bases to gain access to cables. "It helps to be physically close to the data hubs you want to mine from," he told DW. "It does make sense," he added.

But can US intelligence really gain access without the German government's knowledge? Gaycken says it is possible, but unlikely. "If it's servers in allied countries, it could be that special contracts allow you direct and legal access to those systems," he explains.

Legal basis for spying

And there are agreements regulating US intelligence activities on US military bases in Germany. In 1968, the G10 law was passed, regulating the surveillance of postal and telecommunications services by German intelligence agencies.

The law also included an administrative agreement that allowed wiretapping and surveillance by the allied forces in Germany for the purpose of protecting the troops.

On Friday (02.08.2013) Germany's Foreign Ministry declared that "the administrative agreement from 1968/69 in connection with the G10 law" with the US and the UK was being suspended "by mutual consent."

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called it "a necessary and correct consequence resulting from the recent debates about privacy."

Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel (CDU) unterhält sich am 12.06.2013 vor der Sitzung des Bundeskabinetts im Bundeskanzleramt in Berlin mit Bundesaußenminister Guido Westerwelle (FDP). Foto: Kay Nietfeld/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
The German government suspended an agreement with the USImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Purely symbolic?

But the announcement has not changed anything, as the agreement has long been obsolete, according to a government spokesman, who said on July 8 that it had not been applied since reunification in 1990.

And so the speculating continues as to the legality of the NSA's activities in Germany. What is clear is that US intelligence agencies operate on US military bases in Germany.

The German Defense Ministry issued a paper listing companies that profited from discounts available to those who do business with US forces in Germany. The paper names 207 companies that were granted discounts "for analytical services."

"Senior intelligence systems analyst" or "signal intelligence analyst" are two job descriptions that would have fit the bill, according to the paper.

The German government told reporters on July 31 that "analytical activities" included technical, military services. But they said they were not exactly sure what that entails.

The firm whistleblower Edward Snowden worked for, Booz Allen Hamilton, was granted a license for "intelligence operations" in Germany, according to a German Foreign Ministry source from November 28, 2008.

Bildnummer: 59988920 Datum: 04.07.2013 Copyright: imago/Müller-Stauffenberg Erich Schmidt-Eenboom (Geheimdienstexperte, Leiter des Forschungsinstitut für Friedenspolitik in Weilheim) in der ZDF-Talkshow maybrit illner am 27.06.2013 in Berlin Thema der Sendung: Lizenz zum Abhören - ist das der Preis der Freiheit? People Politik TV Talkshow Fernsehen Fernsehshow Porträt Shooting xdp x0x 2013 hoch premiumd TV Deutschland Talkgast Gast Gäste Personen Geheimdienste BND-Affäre Nachrichtendienst Nachrichtendienste Publizist Autor BND Journalisten-Skandal Überwachung Bundesnachrichtendienst 59988920 Date 04 07 2013 Copyright Imago Mueller Stauffenberg Erich Schmidt Leader the Research institute for Peace policy in Weilheim in the ZDF Talk show Maybrit Illner at 27 06 2013 in Berlin Theme the Consignment License to Interception is the the Prize the Freedom Celebrities politics TV Talk show Television TV Portrait Shooting XDP x0x 2013 vertical premiumd TV Germany Talk guest Guest Guests People Secret BND Affair Intelligence service Messaging services Journalist Author BND Journalists Scandal Monitoring Federal Intelligence Service
Scmidt-Eenboom: NSA is an all too powerful forceImage: imago stock&people

What happened in the Dagger complex?

Some of the companies eligible for those discounts may well be working for the NSA in the Dagger complex in Griesheim near Darmstadt. More than 1,000 US intelligence agents work in this predominantly underground complex.

"Germany could demand for the US to close down a facility like the one in Griesheim - if Germany took the view that the Americans are violating Germans' civil rights," says intelligence expert Erich Schmidt-Eenboom.

"But that would mean confrontation, also between the various agencies. And that's something the relatively small [German Foreign Intelligence Service] BND cannot afford."

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