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Germany Accused of Spying on France and Engaging in Industrial Espionage on Behalf of NSA

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is accused of lying about Germany’s collaboration with the US.
Image via Wikimedia Commons

Remember German Chancellor Angela Merkel's outrage at having her cell phone tapped by the NSA, after whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked the evidence? She accused the NSA of being "like the Stasi."

Now, it's been revealed that Germany's foreign intelligence agency BND spied on senior French and European officials on behalf of the US's National Security Agency (NSA), according to the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ).


SZ reports that the BND used its satellite tracking station in Bavaria — which famously resembles a field of oversized golf balls — to eavesdrop on members of the French foreign affairs ministry, the office of the French presidency, and the European Commission.

But leaked reports that surfaced in the German media this week indicate that the NSA also relied on Germany to conduct industrial espionage on a number of European firms, as early as 2008. According to the BBC, Washington was checking for violations of trade agreements.

Germany first started sharing data with the US in 2002 under Frank-Walter Steinmeier, then chief of staff to former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. The aim of the 2002 Memorandum of Agreement between Germany and the US was to strengthen cooperation on intelligence in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks and to combat global terrorism.

Asked to spy on companies like European aerospace and defense corporation EADS or helicopter manufacturer Eurocopter, BND employees apparently didn't take long to figure out they were engaging in industrial espionage rather than the war on terror.

According to German news weekly Der Spiegel, BND employees alerted German higher-ups as early as 2008, and again in 2010, that the NSA's intelligence requests exceeded the counterterrorism mandate of the original agreement.

Der Spiegel claims that, of the 690,000 phone numbers and 7.8 million IP addresses cleared for surveillance, 40,000 fell outside of the counterterrorism remit of the German-American intelligence pact. The US was not "solely interested in terrorism," wrote the German weekly, but "used [Germany's] technological resources to spy on western European companies and firms."


German media has reported that the government turned a blind eye to NSA spying so that it might continue to receive US counterterrorism information.

On Wednesday, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere — who was responsible for the BND at the time — denied the government had lied to the German parliament about supposedly known breaches to the agreement. De Maiziere, who has been accused of lying by the German media, was pictured Wednesday on the cover of German tabloid newspaper Bild with an elongated Pinocchio nose.

The spying allegations are particularly embarrassing for Merkel, who commented at the time it was revealed that her cell phone was tapped that "spying between friends is simply unacceptable." She's been branded hypocritical, particularly in light of Germany's political collaboration with France, which is also known as the "Franco-German Friendship." Merkel has vowed to "bring everything out into the open."

Follow Mélodie Bouchaud on Twitter: @meloboucho

Image via Wikimedia Commons