Germany's foreign intelligence service was spying on a "double-digit" number of EU and NATO governments until 2013, according to a parliamentary committee report. The BND also spied on a German citizen.
More than two-thirds of all 3,300 targets monitored by the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) foreign intelligence service were on diplomatic representations of EU and NATO member states around the world, according to a parliamentary committee report seen by German news agency dpa.
The report found a "low two-digit number of people" - including heads of state and government, ministers and members of their offices and military institutions - were spied on until October 2013. That same year, Chancellor Angela Merkel had complained to US President Barack Obama that spying on friends was "not done."
The BND was also found to have spied on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the aviation and space industries, as well as the arms trade, transport, media and consultancy.
Spying on a German citizen
The authors of the report also singled out the case of surveillance of a German citizen which they judged to be unjustified. German citizens are legally protected against espionage by German intelligence services both inside and outside the country.
"The most serious problem is that the BND has knowingly and willingly steered at least one German citizen," the report said, referring to the bugging of the unnamed individual. The report authors found the political risks outweighed any potential gain in information.
In 2013, former US National Security Agency (NSA) employee Edward Snowden released information detailing the extent of mass surveillance by the agency, including a tap on Merkel's phone. In response, Merkel said "spying on friends is not acceptable."
German media later reported that the NSA had provided German intelligence services with spying software in exchange for data sharing. Consequently, the BND and it domestic intelligence couterpart, called the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), were accused of assisting the NSA in its global surveillance programs.
The BND is directly subordinated to the Chancellor's office and its new head is Bruno Kahl. The agency works from new offices in Berlin and has a staff of about 4,000 people. Its annual budget in 2015 was just over 615 million euros ($680 million). The stated aim of the BND is to act as an early-warning system for the German government on threats to German interests from abroad.
Sensitivities to surveillance in Germany arise mostly from the former East German ministry for state security, the Stasi, which employed a total of 274,000 people between 1950 and 1989 to spy on opponents to the regime. Adolf Hitler's historical abuse of secret police also influences the national skepticism towards intelligence agencies.
jm/msh (dpa, FAZ)