Opposition parties in Germany have called for tough punishments to be given to suspects from the country’s intelligence service over allegations they worked with the US to spy on German citizens.
Both the Green and Left parties demanded a full investigation into the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) after reports were leaked to the media this week claiming the intelligence service had been cooperating with the National Security Agency (NSA) in matters of surveillance.
The parties also called for the resignation of Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière - a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) - after he was implicated in allegations of a cover-up regarding the scandal.
An investigation into the scandal has now been launched following pressure by the opposition for more information, a spokesman for Germany’s top prosecutor’s office confirmed.
Speaking to German news agency DPA, Green party parliamentary leader Konstantin von Notz said it was time for Chancellor Merkel to “show now whether she wants to explain it or cover it up," adding the party may file a lawsuit over the issue.
Interior Minister de Maiziere, who was in charge of the Chancellery from 2005-09, denied any knowledge of a cover-up shortly after the reports were leaked, but said the report should be discussed by a parliamentary committee.
The BND has been engrossed in a scandal with the NSA ever since US whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed details of widespread spying by the NSA in 2013.
Despite the cooperation agreement between the two intelligence agencies, even German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone conversations were monitored by the NSA in a joint operation with the British spy service GCHQ.
A CIA official based at the US embassy in Berlin was later expelled after another leaked report which surfaced last July stated that a number of German officials had spied on behalf of the NSA.
Spiegel Online also reported last week the NSA has provided the BND mail addresses and mobile phone numbers of individuals they were collecting information on after the interior ministry said it had “no knowledge of alleged economic espionage by the NSA or other US agencies in other countries” in response to a question posed by the opposition Linke (Left Party).
The Spiegel report, however, led to the German Chancellery issuing a statement saying it is “now checking whether parliamentary answers in this case remain totally valid.”
Up to 800,000 German citizens, including politicians, were among the list of names provided to the BND by the NSA, another report in Die Zeit stated.
In a separate scandal, it was reported the BND had also spied on French firms and the EU on behalf of the NSA. French aviation group Airbus later announced it is preparing to file a complaint after it was discovered the company was targeted in an industrial espionage case.
Last year, it was also revealed by former US Air Force drone pilot Brandon Bryant that the US military had been using its Ramstein Air Base in Germany’s Rhineland-Palatinate as the headquarters of its controversial predator drones programme.