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Snowden’s Ride, Part 4: The Underground Reich and U.S. Internet, Media Business

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COMMENT: We’ve covered Eddie “The Friendly Spook” Snowden’s exploits in numerous previous posts: Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VII, Part VIIIPart IX, Part X.) Users of this website are emphatically encouraged to examine these posts in detail, as it is impossible to do justice to the arguments in those articles in the scope of this post.

Suffice it to say, for our purposes here, that Snowden’s activities are–quite obviously–an intelligence operation directed at Barack Obama’s administration at one level and the United States and U.K. at another.

We note that the individuals and institutions involved with Snowden, as well as Fast Eddie himself, track back to the far right and elements and individuals involved with the Underground Reich. Again, PLEASE examine the previous posts on the subject, as there is no way to flesh out this line of inquiry in this post. 

Peter Thiel

We have noted that Fast Eddie may be doubling for BND or some other element of German intelligence, possibly having been recruited when posted by CIA to Geneva, Switzerland. Snowden may also be acting at the instruction of elements in U.S.–perhaps Michael Morrell, perhaps an Underground Reich faction of NSA, perhaps elements from the Peter Thiel milieu (more about that below.)

A possibility that bears examination in the context of German and/or Underground Reich economic warfare against the U.S. involves L’Affaire Snowden as a gambit to undermine American internet dominance. In that context, we offer the following thoughts:

  • Germany’s interior ministry has urged Germans not to use U.S. internet servers. (See text excerpt below.) Will this set the stage for Germany to usurp some or most of U.S. internet dominance in the world?
  • The Frankfurt DE-CIX exchange is the busiest in the world and is said–by German security experts–to be impervious to NSA/GCHQ  spying efforts, despite Snowden’s allegations that NSA has penetrated the function.   (See text excerpt below.) Will this lead corporate internet functions away from U.S. internet companies? Might German concern about the possibility of NSA/GCHQ penetration of the Frankfurt exchange be related to the Bormann capital network’s control of corporate Germany?
  • Latin American spying by NSA has also been placed on the table by Snowden. (See text excerpt below.) Will this also damage U.S. internet business and help Germany usurp some, or all, of U.S. internet business.
  • Perhaps reflecting concern over damage to its business as a result of the Snowden’s ride, Yahoo has asked that its objections to federal requests for data be made public. (See text excerpt below.)
  • In a highly speculative mode, we note that Sheryl Sandberg, a former Obama administration official and Facebook executive, was supposed to be on the Asiana Airline flight that crashed in San Francisco. (See text excerpt below.) In increasingly high-tech aircraft, the highly-developed art of sabotaging planes has moved up a notch, so to speak. Might have an Obama-circle individual in the Facebook mix have proved troublesome to the Underground Reich?
  • In that same context, we wonder if Facebook financial angel and German-born fascist Peter Thiel might have something to do with the line of inquiry we are exploring? Thiel figures prominently in our past posts.
  • We have also noted that Fast Eddie has joined forces with the “Cyber-Wandervogel” of the WikiLeaks milieu. That milieu includes the Pirate Bay crowd–dedicated to “pirating” online product. Might an intent of the higher-ups in that organization be to damage U.S. economic interests by stealing movies and music? (The bulk of the Pirate Bay folks appear to be of “anarchic/Utopian” political bent and cannot be presumed to be conscious accessories to such activities.
  • We note that Peter Sunde, a principal figure in the Pirate Bay/Pirate Party/Wikileaks milieu went to that position from a job with Siemens, inextricably linked with BND and the Bormann capital network. He resides in Germany.
  • We also wonder if Kim Schmitz, aka “Kim Dotcom” might be part of an Underground Reich economic offensive against U.S. media companies?

Shun U.S. Web Services, Top German Minister Urges Privacy-Minded Citizens” by David Meyer; Gigaom; 7/3/2013.

EXCERPT: Germany’s interior minister has suggested that people should stop using Google and Facebook if they fear interception by U.S. spies.

According to the AP, Hans-Peter Friedrich said on Wednesday that “whoever fears their communication is being intercepted in any way should use services that don’t go through American servers.” His call comes in the wake of Edward Snowden’s PRISM revelations, which showed how the NSA can easily access even supposedly private data on U.S. cloud services, at mass scale.

Friedrich is one of the first senior European politicians to explicitly urge privacy-minded citizens to avoid using U.S. services, although EU Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes said a couple of weeks ago that “the PRISM debate will definitely increase calls for a European cloud, with a range of possible consequences for American companies.”

However, shunning Google and Facebook may not be a cure-all for keeping private communications private. Snowden also exposed a British program called Tempora, which allegedly involves the tapping of the fiber-optic cables that constitute the backbone of the internet – if that is the case, then all communications may be intercepted, regardless of where the service provider is located.

German data protection officials have urged the federal government to “do everything to protect the people in Germany against access to their data by third parties,” and have also called for explanations around how much the German government knew about PRISM and Tempora before the scandal broke. . . .

“Spy­ing Ques­tions Emerge over Frankfurt’s Data Hub” by Chris Bryant;  The Finan­cial Times; 7/4/2013.

EXCERPT: Adja­cent to the river Main docks in the east of Frank­furt, not far from where the new head­quar­ters of the Euro­pean Cen­tral Bank are near­ing com­ple­tion, inter­net traf­fic from around the globe con­verges at an exchange.

In an unas­sum­ing ware­house ringed by 4m-high fences and secu­rity cam­eras, data hops from one net­work to another via switch­ing points con­tained in large cab­i­nets full of blink­ing LED lights and yel­low fibre optic cables.

The process is not unlike the way air­lines use nearby Frank­furt air­port so their pas­sen­gers can change aircraft.

Thanks to Frankfurt’s geo­graph­i­cal posi­tion link­ing east and west and the pres­ence of a large finan­cial cen­tre, more inter­net data passes through the Frank­furt DE-CIX exchange each day than at any other switch­ing point in the world; some 2.5 ter­abits per sec­ond at peak times.

This is even more than rival inter­net exchanges in Lon­don and Ams­ter­dam. Par­ti­san Ger­man media there­fore pro­claim Frank­furt the “global cap­i­tal of the internet”.

But this week Der Spiegel mag­a­zine obtained doc­u­ments from Edward Snow­den, the intel­li­gence con­trac­tor turned whistle­blower, which sug­gested the US National Secu­rity Agency has gained access to the Frank­furt hub’s gar­gan­tuan data stream. The mag­a­zine did not say how the NSA had achieved this.

Insid­ers con­firmed to Spiegel that the NSA’s inter­est is in the traf­fic that arrives at Frank­furt and other exchanges in south­ern Ger­many from east­ern Europe and Rus­sia, as well as the Mid­dle East.

The mag­a­zine reported that since Decem­ber the NSA has obtained around 500m com­mu­ni­ca­tions meta­data a month from Ger­many as part of its Bound­less Infor­mant spy­ing pro­gramme, far more than it obtained in France or Italy.

Amid sim­i­lar claims that Britain’s GCHQ spy agency is also har­vest­ing data from sub­sea fibre optic cables these reports sug­gest the phys­i­cal infra­struc­ture that makes up the inter­net is a high-value tar­get for global intel­li­gence agencies.

Frankfurt’s huge inter­net hub likely explains why on an NSA “heat map” obtained by the Guardian news­pa­per, Ger­many is the only Euro­pean coun­try marked yel­low – indi­cat­ing a high level of surveillance.

Although Ger­many and the US co-operate exten­sively on intel­li­gence mat­ters, the part­ner­ship is not as deep as that between the US and UK. Ger­many is clas­si­fied by the US as a “third-class” part­ner and there­fore sub­ject to pos­si­ble surveillance.

Hans-Peter Friedrich, Ger­man inte­rior min­is­ter, said Ger­man author­i­ties had found no evi­dence of NSA sur­veil­lance at the Frank­furt site. Still, he added: “If a for­eign intel­li­gence ser­vice were to tap inter­net nodes in Frank­furt it would be a vio­la­tion of our sovereignty.”

Ger­man busi­ness is also alarmed about the pos­si­bil­ity that the country’s trea­sured indus­trial secrets could find their way into US hands. [Information about the Bormann capital network, possibly?–D.E.]

Ste­fan Mair, at the Fed­er­a­tion of Ger­man Indus­try (BDI), said media reports about US sur­veil­lance were “con­cern­ing” but “at the moment we don’t know to what degree Ger­man com­pa­nies are affected by the NSA activities”.

US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama tried to allay some of these fears in a call with Angela Merkel, the Ger­man chan­cel­lor, on Wednes­day say­ing he “takes seri­ously the con­cerns of our Euro­pean allies and part­ners”. For her part, the Ger­man chan­cel­lor con­ceded ear­lier this week that har­ness­ing online intel­li­gence is impor­tant in the fight against terrorism.

Indeed, the BND, Germany’s for­eign intel­li­gence agency, is per­mit­ted by law to sieve through up to 20 per cent of the country’s inter­na­tional com­mu­ni­ca­tions. It does this by search­ing for hun­dreds of sus­pi­cious terms related to the traf­fick­ing of drugs, arms and peo­ple, money laun­der­ing and terrorism.

How­ever, due to tech­ni­cal and finan­cial lim­i­ta­tions Ger­many cur­rently scans about 5 per cent of the inter­net traf­fic cross­ing its ter­ri­tory, gov­ern­ment offi­cials say.

It is not known if the BND has installed mon­i­tor­ing equip­ment at the Frank­furt exchange and Ger­man law pro­hibits the exchange’s oper­a­tors from com­ment­ing on the matter.

But the own­ers and oper­a­tors of DE-CIX are allowed to talk about for­eign intel­li­gence ser­vices and they are adamant that the NSA and oth­ers are not tap­ping its exchange. “If a for­eign intel­li­gence agency was har­vest­ing data from our exchange then we would know about it,” says Arnold Nip­per, founder and chief tech­nol­ogy offi­cer. “Our tech­ni­cians are on site every day; if some­one put in a cable we would see.”

Andrew Blum, author of Tubes, a book about the infra­struc­ture of the inter­net, is also puz­zled by the Spiegel claims. “Say­ing the NSA is tap­ping all of DE-CIX is like say­ing the FBI is some­how search­ing every sin­gle pas­sen­ger that passes through Frank­furt airport?.?.?.?Having seen the place up close I’m very scep­ti­cal of the notion of whole­sale tap­ping,” he says.

That is because a spy agency would have to pen­e­trate not one, but hun­dreds of fibre optic cables at mul­ti­ple sites. In addi­tion, a big chunk of traf­fic is exchanged not via the Frank­furt hub but bilat­er­ally between tech com­pa­nies which rent data cen­tre space near the node, in a process known as peer­ing. Seiz­ing all of this would be a mam­moth and con­spic­u­ous task, Mr Nip­per of DE-CIX says. . . .

“Report: U.S. Spy­ing Eyes Energy Info in Latin Amer­ica” [AP]; USA Today; 7/9/2013.

EXCERPT: A U.S. spy pro­gram is widely tar­get­ing data in emails and tele­phone calls across Latin Amer­ica, and is focus­ing on energy issues, not just infor­ma­tion related to mil­i­tary, polit­i­cal or ter­ror top­ics, a Brazil­ian news­pa­per reported Tuesday.

The O Globo news­pa­per said it has access to some of the doc­u­ments released by National Secu­rity Agency leaker Edward Snow­den. The Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist who obtained the clas­si­fied infor­ma­tion from Snow­den lives in Brazil and is help­ing write sto­ries for the daily.

O Globo pub­lished what it said are slides that Snow­den released indi­cat­ing the U.S. effort is gath­er­ing infor­ma­tion on energy in Mex­ico and oil in Venezuela. There was no infor­ma­tion released about what infor­ma­tion was obtained, nor any com­pa­nies that were targeted.

The report also said that Colom­bia, the strongest U.S. mil­i­tary ally in South Amer­ica, along with Mex­ico and Brazil, were the coun­tries where the U.S. pro­gram inter­cepted the biggest chunks of infor­ma­tion on emails and tele­phone calls dur­ing the last five years. Sim­i­lar activ­i­ties took place in Argentina and Ecuador, among others.

Fig­ures weren’t pub­lished on how many inter­cepts occurred.

O Globo also reported that the doc­u­ments it’s seen indi­cate the U.S. had data col­lec­tion cen­ters in 2002 for mate­r­ial inter­cepted from satel­lites in Bogota, Cara­cas, Mex­ico City and Panama City, along with Brasilia. There was no infor­ma­tion pub­lished about the exis­tence of these cen­ters after 2002.

Snowden’s dis­clo­sures indi­cate that the NSA widely col­lects phone and Inter­net “meta­data” — logs of mes­sage times, addresses and other infor­ma­tion rather than the con­tent of the mes­sages. The doc­u­ments have indi­cated that the NSA has been col­lect­ing the phone records of hun­dreds of mil­lions of U.S. phone cus­tomers, and has gath­ered data on phone and Inter­net usage out­side the U.S., includ­ing those peo­ple who use any of nine U.S.-based inter­net providers such as Google.

Ear­lier, O Globo reported that in Brazil, the NSA col­lected data through an asso­ci­a­tion between U.S. and Brazil­ian telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pa­nies. It said it could not ver­ify which Brazil­ian com­pa­nies were involved or if they were even aware their links were being used to col­lect the data.

The Brazil­ian gov­ern­ment is inves­ti­gat­ing the alleged links with telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions firms with a Brazil presence. . . .

“Yahoo Wants Files Unsealed” by Brandon Bailey; San Jose Mercury News; 7/11/2013.

EXCERPT: In a rare legal move, Yahoo is asking a secretive U.S. surveillance court to let the public see its arguments in a 2008 case that played an important role in persuading tech companies to cooperate with a controversial government data-gathering effort.
Releasing those files would demonstrate that Yahoo “objected strenuously” to government demands for customers’ information and would also help the public understand how surveillance programs are approved under federal law, the company argued in a filing with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court this week. . . .

 “Sheryl Sandberg Switched From Crashed Asiana Airlines Flight” by Gillian Mohney; ABC News; 7/6/2013.

EXCERPT: Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg was scheduled to be on the Asiana Airlines flight that crash landed at San Francisco International Airport today but changed her plans at the last minute.

Sandberg, author of the best-selling “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” posted a note on her Facebook wall explaining that she was “taking a minute to be thankful” after hearing that the flight had crashed.

“[We] were originally going to take the Asiana flight that just crash-landed,” Sandberg wrote. “We switched to United so we could use miles for my family’s tickets.” . . . .


3 comments for “Snowden’s Ride, Part 4: The Underground Reich and U.S. Internet, Media Business”

  1. And now Greenwald is passing along a threat by Snowden that the “intelligence bomb” of documents that Snowden has encrypted and distributed to indivduals around the world (to be released should something happen to him). According to Greenwald, release of those documents would be the US’s “worst nightmare“:

    Greenwald: Snowden Intel Bomb Will Go Off If ‘Something Happens’ To Him

    Brian Beutler 2:06 PM EDT, Saturday July 13, 2013

    Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian writer who cultivated Edward Snowden as a source and has broken numerous stories about the nature and extent of secret U.S. surveillance programs, says harmful national security information will be released automatically if “something happens” to the notorious NSA leaker.

    “Snowden has enough information to cause harm to the U.S. government in a single minute than any other person has ever had,” Greenwald said in an interview with the Argentinean paper La Nacion. “The U.S. government should be on its knees every day begging that nothing happen to Snowden, because if something does happen to him, all the information will be revealed and it could be its worst nightmare.”

    It’s the most explicit confirmation yet that among the documents Snowden sneaked out of the NSA are some that could harm the U.S. and that these are being used as leverage against the United States as the government seeks his arrest and extradition. It’s unclear what actions would trigger such an indiscriminate, mass leak, and who would authorize or execute it.

    Note that Greenwald is disputing the Reuters reporting on this. The particular quote about Snowden’s intent in the reuters article is:

    “Snowden has enough information to cause harm to the U.S. government in a single minute than any other person has ever had,” Greenwald said in an interview in Rio de Janeiro with the Argentinean daily La Nacion.

    “The U.S. government should be on its knees every day begging that nothing happen to Snowden, because if something does happen to him, all the information will be revealed and it could be its worst nightmare.”

    But, as Greenwald points out, in the original spanish-language article (translated here), the full quote is:

    “Q: Beyond the revelations about the spying system performance in general, what extra information has Snowden?

    “A: Snowden has enough information to cause more damage to the US government in a minute alone than anyone else has ever had in the history of the United States. But that’s not his goal. [His] objective is to expose software that people around the world use without knowing what they are exposing themselves without consciously agreeing to surrender their rights to privacy. [He] has a huge number of documents that would be very harmful to the US government if they were made public.”

    So, it appears that one of Snowden’s explicit goals really is to encourage a shift away from software and web services that are part of the NSA/UK surveillance program, which happens to be almost all of the major social media tools and major webservices (Lavabit should be having good year). While it’s nice to think that maybe there could be a useful and meaningful international dialague on digital privacy that emerges from this whole affair and a new global age of enlightenment where nation’s disarm and disband mass-intelligence gathering, it’s looking more and more like the likeliest long-term impact is going to a shift of international business away from US software and web services (it wouldn’t be so bad if Facebook went away ). If it shifts to places like Germany, there will still be mass spying, but it will just be the BND doing it instead. And then there’s the possibility that we’ll see a shift towards more businesses using the services offered in places like Sweden with allegedly strong privacy protections. International business privacy concerns could shift from NSA-spying hysteria to something much weirder if that happens.

    You also have to wonder how this entire set of disclosures is going to impact the use of social media in any upcoming “[insert country of region] Springs”. Was the global public unaware that Facebook and twitter are owned by spymasters and monarchs? If so, they may not be unaware anymore. The social media tools used by the pissed off global youth for organizing purposes might be changing in the future.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 13, 2013, 5:32 pm
  2. Maybe this is a very simplistic comment but in it’s essence fascism is corporatism so I ask myself: “How are corporations benefiting from the Snowden affair? Well, since Snowden came out with his “shocking revelations” I’ve noticed several companies such as Startpage mail are starting to appear on the internet:


    Katherine Albrecht, head of U.S. Media Relations for Ixquick has already been on several alternative news programs promoting this new email service which will be completely private but as Albrecht herself has said: “You get what you pay for!” In other words, it won’t be free! I wonder how many millions of dollars corporations will make from all of these so called private email, encryption systems and anti-spyware products.

    It’s so easy to manipulate the masses! All you need is one wolf to bark and the herd of sheep will go running to the safety of their enclosure. So what if it costs only 5 or 10 USD a month! A small price to pay for safety and/or privacy right? Not really!… Because the NSA doesn’t need to hack directly into a person’s email account to obtain all the information it needs. William Binney, the NSA mathematician and cryptologist who developed the algorithm to extract information of all communications while in transit explains how it’s done in these two videos:


    They’re a bit long and technical but well worth watching.

    There’s also another important aspect in this Snowden affair, at least in my view. If you want people to stop talking to each other just tell them you’re eavesdropping and this will immediately squelch any kind of meaningful political discourse among individuals which could eventually lead to an effective political force. You don’t need to silence them. They will silence themselves. That’s why FDR said: “There’s nothing to fear but fear itself.”

    Posted by Shibusa | July 14, 2013, 8:13 am
  3. Der Spiegel has another report on the BND and the NSA. The question of “what did she know and when did she know it” looks like it will only could become an important election issue. It also looks like the general question of “who, if anyone, in the Germany government has oversight of its intelligence community” might also become a question of the day:

    Der Spiegel
    ‘Key Partners’: The Secret Link Between Germany and the NSA
    Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly said she knew nothing about American surveillance activities in Germany. But documents seen by SPIEGEL show that German intelligence cooperates closely with the NSA and even uses spy software provided by the US.

    July 22, 2013 – 12:19 PM

    It was a busy two days for the surveillance specialists of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence agency. At the end of April, a team of 12 senior BND officials flew to the United States, where they visited the heart of the global American surveillance empire: the National Security Agency (NSA). The purpose of their mission can be read in a “top secret” NSA document which SPIEGEL has seen — one of the trove of files in the possession of whistleblower Edward Snowden.

    According to the document, BND President Gerhard Schindler repeatedly expressed an “eagerness” to cooperate more closely with the NSA. The Germans, the document reads, were looking for “guidance and advice.”

    Their wish was fulfilled. Senior employees with the NSA’s Foreign Affairs Directorate were assigned to look after the German delegation. The Americans organized a “strategic planning conference” to bring their German partners up to speed. In the afternoon, following several presentations on current methods of data acquisition, senior members of a division known as Special Source Operations, or SSO, spoke to their German guests. The SSO, one of the most secretive groups within the intelligence community, is the division that forms alliances with US companies, especially in the IT sector, for data mining purposes. Snowden describes this elite unit as the NSA’s “crown jewels”.

    The journey to Washington wasn’t the first educational trip by German intelligence officials across the Atlantic this spring — nor was it the last. Documents from Snowden that SPIEGEL has seen show that cooperation between Berlin and Washington in the area of digital surveillance and defense has intensified considerably during the tenure of Chancellor Angela Merkel. According to one document, the Germans are determined to “strengthen and expand bilateral cooperation.”

    Completely Unaware?

    This is awkward news for Merkel, who is running for re-election as the head of the center-right Christian Democrats. The German campaign had been relatively uneventful until recently, but now a new issue seems to have emerged: the Americans’ lust for data. Opposition politicians have intensified their attacks in recent days. First Peer Steinbrück, the Social Democratic candidate for the Chancellery, accused Merkel of having violated her oath of office for failing to protect the basic rights of Germans. Not long later, SPD Chairman Sigmar Gabriel referred to Merkel as a “spin doctor who is trying to placate the population.” According to Gabriel, it has since been proven that the German government knew about the NSA’s activities.

    But the attacks from the SPD are not the chancellor’s biggest worry; the real threat comes from within. At a very early juncture, Merkel insisted that her government had been completely unaware of the NSA’s activities. It is a position she reiterated before starting her summer vacation last Friday.

    She will now be judged on the basis of those statements. Internally, Merkel’s advisors argue that she had no choice but to take such a clear position. After all, both the head of the BND and the president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, had said that they had had no detailed knowledge of the Prism surveillance program and the extent of American data collection. On what basis could Merkel have contradicted them?

    But with each day, fears are growing at the Chancellery that a paper could eventually turn up that clearly shows the government’s knowledge of the NSA activities.

    But does that really matter? What is worse? To be governed by a cabinet that conceals its connivance from citizens? Or to have a chancellor and ministers whose intelligence agencies exist in a parallel world, beyond the supervision of the government and parliament? Internal NSA documents show that the Americans and German intelligence agencies are cooperating more closely than previously known. The repeated assertions by the government and intelligence agencies in recent weeks that they were not fully aware of what US surveillance specialists were doing appear disingenuous in the extreme in light of the documents SPIEGEL has seen from the collection secured by Snowden.

    ‘Key Partners’

    According to those documents, the BND, the BfV and the Bonn-based Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) all play a central role in the exchange of information among intelligence agencies. The NSA refers to them as “key partners.

    The Americans provided the BfV with one of their most productive spying tools, a system called “XKeyscore.” It’s the same surveillance program that the NSA uses to capture a large share of the up to 500 million data sets from Germany, to which it has access each month, according to internal documents seen and reported on by SPIEGEL on the first of this month.

    The documents also reveal the lengths to which the German agencies and German politicians were willing to go to develop an even closer relationship with the Americans. This is especially applicable to the G-10 law, which establishes the conditions under which surveillance of German citizens is permissible. In one classified document — under a section titled “Success Stories” — it reads: “The German government modifies its interpretation of the G-10 privacy law … to afford the BND more flexibility in sharing protected information with foreign partners.”

    The claim that German intelligence agencies knew nothing was already hard to believe given that they have been cooperating with American agencies for decades. According to an NSA document from this January, cooperation between the offensive divisions of the NSA and the BND’s “Technical Reconnaissance” unit began long ago in 1962.

    The Americans are extremely satisfied with the Germans. For decades, Washington poked fun at the conscientious German spies, who always had a legal decree on hand to justify why they were regrettably unable to participate in an especially delicate operation. This was a source of annoyance to the Americans, but ultimately they had no choice but to accept it.

    More recently, however, that has changed, as the Snowden documents indicate: The German bureaucrats have become real spies.

    During the course of 2012, in particular, the Germans showed great “eagerness and desire” to improve their surveillance capacities and even “to take risks and to pursue new opportunities for cooperation with the US,” according to the NSA documents to which SPIEGEL was given access.

    A Close Link

    The shift to a more offensive German security policy began in 2007, when Merkel’s conservatives were in power in a coalition with the SPD, the so-called “Grand Coalition.” Based on information the NSA had passed on to the BfV, German authorities discovered a group of Islamists led by convert Fritz Gelowicz, known as the Sauerland cell. Gelowicz and several of his friends had planned to detonate bombs in Germany. To this day, the German government is grateful to the Americans for the tip.

    According to the NSA document, the successful operation created “a significant level of trust” between the NSA and the BfV. Since then, the document reads, there have been “regular US-German analytic exchanges and closer cooperation in tracking both German and non-German extremist targets.” The documents show that the NSA also provided several training sessions for BfV agents. The aim was “to improve the BfV’s ability to exploit, filter and process domestic data.” The hope was to create interfaces so that data could be exchanged on a larger scale — a cooperation “that could benefit both Germany and the US,” the paper reads.

    The pact also intensified on German soil. An NSA analyst accredited as a diplomat at the US Embassy in Berlin uses an office at the BfV once a week. According to the document, the analyst’s job is to “nurture” the thriving relationship with the BfV. The agent also “facilitates US requirements.” In addition, the Germans set up a “communications link” to the NSA to improve ties between agencies.

    Personal relationships also intensified. In May alone, just a few weeks before the Snowden revelations began, BfV President Hans-Georg Maassen, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich and the 12-member BND delegation paid a visit to NSA headquarters. In the same month, NSA Director General Keith Alexander traveled to Berlin, where he made a stop at the Chancellery, which supervises the BND.

    The cooperation went beyond high level visits. According to the papers from the Snowden files which SPIEGEL has seen, the NSA provided the BfV with XKeyscore, and BND officials were also very familiar with the tool, given that their job was to instruct their counterparts with German domestic intelligence on how to use the spy program. The main reason the BfV was to be provided with XKeyscore was to “expand their ability to support NSA as we jointly prosecute CT (counter-terrorism) targets.”

    A “top secret” presentation dated Feb. 25, 2008, which almost reads like an advertising brochure (the American spies are apparently very proud of the system), reveals all the things XKeyscore was capable of doing already five years ago.

    According to the presentation, the system is easy to use and enables surveillance of raw data traffic “like no other system.”

    An NSA transparency titled “What is XKeyscore?” describes a buffer memory that enables the program to absorb a “full take” of all unfiltered data for a number of days. In other words, XKeyscore doesn’t just track call connection records, but can also capture the contents of communication, at least in part.

    In addition, the system makes it possible to retroactively view which key words targeted individuals enter into Internet search engines and which locations they search for on Google Maps.

    The program, for which there are several expansions known as plug-ins, apparently has even more capabilities. For instance, “user activity” can be monitored practically in real time and “anomalous events” traced in Internet traffic. If this is true, it means that XKeyscore makes almost total digital surveillance possible.

    From the German perspective, this is especially troubling. Of the roughly 500 million data sets from Germany to which the NSA has access each month, XKeyscore captured about 180 million in December 2012.

    This raises several questions. Does this mean that the NSA doesn’t just have access to hundreds of millions of data sets from Germany, but also — at least for periods of days — to a so-called “full take,” meaning to the content of communication in Germany? Can the BND and the BfV access the NSA databases with their versions of XKeyscore, which would give them access to the data on German citizens stored in those databases?

    If this were the case, the government could hardly claim that it had no knowledge of the Americans’ vigorous data acquisition activities.

    Relaxed Interpretation of Privacy Laws

    According to an NSA document dated April 9, Germany, as part of the surveillance coalition in Afghanistan, has developed into the agency’s “most prolific partner.” The Germans are similarly successful in North Africa, where they also have special technical capabilities of interest to the NSA. The same applies in Iraq.

    But according to the documents, the German foreign intelligence agency went even further in its effort to please the Americans. “The BND has been working to influence the German government to relax interpretation of the privacy laws to provide greater opportunities of intelligence sharing,” the NSA agents noted with satisfaction in January.

    Indeed, when Schindler took office, BND officials were divided over whether it was legal to pass on information to partner intelligence agencies that had been obtained in accordance with the German G-10 law. Schindler decided that it was, and the United States was pleased.

    The surveillance base in Bad Aibling, a well-known American listening post in southern Germany, also shows how close ties are between the BND and the NSA. It was a symbol of technical espionage during the Cold War. Most recently, the NSA referred to the listening post by the code name “garlic.” Although the last parts of the base were officially handed over to the BND in May 2012, NSA officials still come and go.

    The NSA chief for Germany is still stationed at the local Mangfall Barracks. Some 18 Americans were still working at the surveillance station at the beginning of the year, 12 from the NSA and six working for private contractors. The office is expected to be scaled back during the course of the year, with the plans ultimately calling for only six NSA employees to remain at the base. According to the Snowden documents, their work will be to “cultivate new cooperation opportunities with Germany.”

    To be sure, intensive cooperation in counterterrorism activities is part of the core mission of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency. But did lawmakers know about the scope of cooperation with the Americans? And, if they did, since when?

    Making Things Worse

    So far, the BND has been able to count on support from the Chancellery for its new approach. But things seem to be changing. The surveillance scandal has the potential to shake public confidence in the German government and in Chancellor Merkel — and could negatively effect her chances for re-election.

    The NSA’s activities, of course, are not exactly driving the German people into the streets in droves. Nevertheless, revelations as to the extent of America’s surveillance abroad are chipping away at Merkel’s image as a reliable manager of the government. Some 69 percent of Germans are dissatisfied with her efforts to shed light on the issue, a number that has alarmed the Chancellery. Until the end of last week, Merkel had tried to distance herself from the subject, issuing only sparse statements. Instead of Merkel, Interior Minister Friedrich was expected to handle the delicate matter.

    But Friedrich only made things worse, returning largely empty-handed from his trip to Washington. Instead, he seemed extremely proud of the fact that he had been allowed to speak with US Vice President Joe Biden.

    To make matters worse, Friedrich had hardly returned to Germany before making the remark that “security” was a “Supergrundrecht,” a new concept that implies that security trumps other civil rights. A minister charged with upholding the constitution who suddenly invented an interpretation of the German constitution that suits the NSA’s purposes? At that moment, Merkel must have realized that she couldn’t leave things entirely to her interior minister.

    Last Friday, shortly before leaving for her summer vacation, Merkel unveiled an eight-point plan intended to provide more data security. But most of her points felt more like placebos. How, for example, are European intelligence agencies to agree on common data privacy guidelines if British and French intelligence agents are already snickering over the Germans’ obsession with data privacy?

    In a Bind

    Merkel is in a bind. On the one hand, she doesn’t want to give the impression that she is doing nothing about the Americans’ lust for information. On the other hand, this also brings the scandal closer to the chancellor. In the end, it will revolve around the question of how much the government knew about the Americans’ surveillance activities. Last Friday, the BND insisted, once again, that it had “no knowledge of the name, scope and extent of the NSA ‘Prism’ project being discussed.”

    But even if that’s true, Prism was only a part of the NSA’s surveillance system, and the new documents show that Germany was indeed extremely familiar with the agency’s comprehensive ability to spy. They benefited from it, and they wanted more.

    But Merkel claims that she knew nothing about the Americans’ surveillance software. “I became aware of programs like Prism through current news reports,” she told the left-leaning weekly newspaper Die Zeit last week. According to Merkel’s staff, when she uses such language, she is relying on statements made by the German intelligence chiefs.

    But what does that mean? Does the German government still have its intelligence agencies under control? Or have they become a kind of state-within-a-state?

    And who exactly keeps track of whether the agencies, in their zeal to enforce the “Supergrundrecht” of security, haven’t already gone too far?

    The place where the activities of domestic and foreign intelligence agencies ought to be debated is the Parliamentary Control Panel in the German Bundestag. By law, the government is required to regularly and “comprehensively” inform the 11 members of the board, which meets in secret, about the work of the BND and the BfV, and explain “procedures with special importance.”

    Oddly enough, the board has met four times since the beginning of the NSA scandal, and, four times, lawmakers have learned little about the global data surveillance programs. Instead, they were forced to listen to long-winded lectures by those responsible, the essence of which generally was: We really don’t know anything.

    Spotlight on Merkel

    Over the years, the board has mutated into a stage for large egos and is no longer particularly secret. The problem is that many panel members don’t have sufficient time or expertise to truly understand the kind of activities the intelligence agencies are engaged in. It is a perfect situation for Germany’s spies: The less the public learns about their activities, the more they can go about their business undisturbed.

    “Monitoring of the agencies is purely theoretical,” says Hans-Christian Ströbele, the Green Party representative on the board. “We don’t learn about the truly explosive issues until they’ve been exposed by the media.” This isn’t surprising, given the vagueness of statutory provisions on the supervision of intelligence agencies.

    The agencies enjoy “complete freedom,” says attorney Wolfgang Neškovi, who once spent many years on the control board for the Left Party. The CDU, its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) have now agreed to establish an intelligence body to monitor the intelligence agencies. But in light of recent events, CDU domestic policy expert Clemens Binninger believes that a “major solution” is needed. He favors the idea of a parliamentary intelligence official, to be provided with his own powers and staff.

    There is also growing mistrust of the intelligence agencies within Merkel’s government, a situation which led to a memorable scene in the federal press conference last Wednesday. According to a NATO document that had been circulated before the press conference, the German military was indeed aware of the existence of Prism. Government spokesman Steffen Seibert stated that it was the BND’s assessment that the program in question had nothing to do with NSA spy software. But he made sure to keep a distance from the intelligence agency’s assessment. Later, the Defense Ministry issued a statement of its own which directly contradicted the BND statement.

    It is an awkward situation for Merkel. In the midst of an election campaign, her government suddenly looks to be characterized by chaos. Of course, if it turns out that the intelligence agencies were deceiving her, she could clean house. BND chief Schindler would seem to be in the front of the firing line, with Ronald Pofalla, who, as Merkel’s chief of staff, is tasked with monitoring the intelligence agencies, not far behind.

    But the Chancellery staff has no illusions. The SPD and the Greens will continue putting Merkel in the NSA spotlight no matter what happens. “The chancellor is more interested in defending the interests of the US intelligence agencies in Germany than German interests in the United States,” says SPD Chairman Gabriel. It seems unlikely that the opposition will stand down any time between now and election day, on Sept. 22.

    Is a German intelligence “house cleaning” coming?

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 22, 2013, 10:58 am

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