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Weissman writes: "When the victorious Americans taught the post-war Germans to be 'democratic,' I do not think this is what they had in mind."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (photo: unknown)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (photo: unknown)

Global Surveillance: Will the Germans Say Nein?

By Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News

24 July 13


erman Chancellor Angela Merkel must harbor terrible thoughts about Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who exposed the global spying of America's National Security Agency (NSA). Facing what seemed an easy re-election on September 22, Frau Merkel now suffers an endless barrage of embarrassing questions and home-grown details about Germany's messy relationship with the American spy-masters.

When the victorious Americans taught the post-war Germans to be "democratic," I do not think this is what they had in mind. The increasingly authoritarian Obamanistas will hardly enjoy being shamed by a model of working democracy in the land of Hitler's grandchildren. Nor will self-righteous liberals like Nancy Pelosi who cheer their chosen one for doing what they opposed George W. Bush for even thinking.

The irony is delicious. At the end of April, some three weeks before Snowden flew to Hong Kong with the down and dirty, twelve high-ranking German officials from the Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND, the country's foreign intelligence service, visited NSA headquarters in Maryland to be trained in how best to collect public and private data.

According to the dogged journalists at Der Spiegel, who interviewed Snowden on encrypted emails and studied his documents, BND chief Gerhard Schindler repeatedly expressed an "eagerness" to cooperate more closely with the NSA, to which the Germans looked for "guidance and advice." The Germans even met with senior members of the NSA's highly secretive Special Source Operations, which forms data mining alliances with U.S. companies, especially in Information Technology.

Der Spiegel also revealed that the Americans helped train Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, or BfV, which monitors movements Berlin considers extremist. Both the foreign and domestic intelligence services appear to be using the NSA's XKeyscore spying software, which captures both content and metadata for up to several days at a time.

The relationship cuts two ways. Germany plays a central role in the NSA's global data surveillance, but is also a major target. "Each month," the magazine reported in its first dispatch, "the US intelligence service saves data from around half a billion communications connections from Germany." Snowden's documents also reveal that the NSA spies on the institutions of the European Union.

Along with the spying, Snowden's documents raise the specter of American political interference. Der Spiegel cites an approving assessment from NSA agents in January: "The BND has been working to influence the German government to relax interpretation of the privacy laws to provide greater opportunities of intelligence sharing."

Mrs. Merkel at first tried to play down the issue and then denied all knowledge. But, as the details keep emerging, she finds herself in a box. "The German government either feigned ignorance, kept quiet about its complicity or … the intelligence agencies have gotten out of control," charged her Social Democratic challenger Peer Steinbrück.

A former finance minister generally seen as a moderate, Steinbrück accuses Merkel of giving in to BND and American pressure to interpret Germany's surveillance law "to make it easier to provide protected data to foreign services."

"The issue here goes to the core of our democracy and constitutional state," said Steinbrück. The chancellor herself must "demand a binding pledge from the U.S. government to cease spying on citizens, companies and possibly official locations in millions of instances."

The unlimited surveillance and data retention has absolutely infuriated Hansjörg Geiger, the former head of both the BND and BfV. "It is wrong, it is Orwellian," he said. Dr. Geiger wants a new code to regulate intelligence services within the EU and NATO. He would forbid political and economic espionage against other member states, and stop member states from doing any intelligence work on another's territory without permission and without observing local laws.

Geiger's comments are especially poignant, given the long-standing relation with U.S. intelligence going back to Reinhard Gehlen, Hitler's spy chief on the Soviet front whom the Americans made Germany's top spy. I can hardly wait for WikiLeaks to get hold of what American spooks and diplomats are saying about Geiger's new view.

In the meantime, Merkel's latest defense suggests one of the potential limits on Germany's democratic process. "I find it rather amazing that the impression is being created that we are cooperating with evil," said her spokesman, Georg Streiter. "I mean they are our friends."

"We have closely cooperated with our friends for decades. And if there are now different views, different interpretations of the law and different laws on personal data in America and Germany, then that doesn't mean they are suddenly evil."

As a matter of habit, I try never to use the word "evil," with all its religious and even Satanic overtones. But evil or not, American spy agencies in Germany have developed their imperial over-reach over those long decades of friendship, and have hardly changed their spots "suddenly." Many German leaders have helped them have their way, and will not be eager to rehash their past connivances.

Most observers still expect Merkel to get through the scandal and win re-election, but the beauty of democracy is that it sometimes gets out of hand. If it does, and if Germany says nein to global surveillance, it could more than embarrass those in Washington who have their own views on how to run the world. your social media marketing partner
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