US intelligence chief James Clapper has reportedly ordered a review into US cooperation with Germany’s Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) after a number of leaks to the media concerning a German parliamentary committee investigation into the National Security Agency (NSA).
The BND has been engrossed in a scandal with the NSA ever since US whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed details of widespread spying by the organisation in 2013, including the wiretapping of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone conversations in a joint operation by the NSA and British spy service GCHQ.
The Snowden revelations later triggered more leaks on the extent of the cooperation between the two agencies, resulting in the expulsion of a CIA official based at the US embassy in Berlin last July after a report surfaced claiming that a number of German officials had spied on behalf of the NSA.
Another report in Spiegel Online also claimed the NSA had provided the BND with the mail addresses and mobile phone numbers of individuals they were collecting information on.
According to another report in Die Zeit, up to 800,000 German citizens, including politicians, were among the list of names provided to the BND by the NSA.
Approximately 1.3 billion pieces of metadata per month of contact detail information and call times, particularly concentrated on foreign communications in crisis-hit parts of the world, were provided to the NSA, Die Zeit claimed.
A parliamentary committee investigation into the claims was launched but even that has not been safe from leaks, with Wikileaks revealing over 1,000 pages of minutes from the enquiry.
On Saturday, Bild newspaper reported that US spy chief Clapper has since ordered a review into relations with the BND, arguing Germany could no longer be trusted with secret information after documents, including Clapper’s name, had been leaked.
An unnamed US official was also cited in the newspaper warning that the German government’s actions are “more dangerous than what [Edward] Snowden did."
The German government is yet to comment on the report, which also said US intelligence agencies had cancelled joint projects with Germany because of the leaks.
"The German government puts great faith in the intelligence cooperation with the United States to protect our citizens," a government spokesman told reporters in response to a question about the report.
"The government doesn't comment on the details of that cooperation in public but rather in parliament committees."
BND president defends activities
On Thursday, the German parliamentary committee questioned BND president Gerhard Schindler over a report published by Bild newspaper claiming that the BND spied on French and European Union officials on behalf of the NSA from its monitoring station at Bad Aibling in southern Bavaria.
A number of European firms, including Airbus and Eurocopter, were also spied on at the request of the NSA to check if they were abiding by trade embargoes.
Although the report indicates the German government had been aware of spying on European arms firms since 2008, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, who was in charge of the Chancellery from 2005-09, denied any knowledge of a cover-up.
In response to the accusations, Schindler said that the NSA is a crucial partner in helping the BND prevent threats to national security.
Schindler also argued that if the German parliament blocks the BND’s cooperation with the NSA, the BND will not be able to protect Germany against national and international threats.
However, Schindler did accept that the BND made some mistakes in the cooperation process, such as not questioning the names that the NSA wanted to monitor from its Bad Aibling facility.
Schindler said that although BND officials first realised that they were monitoring European companies in 2010 and 2011, he was not informed on their inquiry until 2013, adding that officials stepped into action because of the “heavy-reliance” of BND on the NSA.
Chancellor Merkel last month defended the agency’s cooperation with the NSA, saying it was done "to the best of their knowledge and in good conscience."
All cooperation between the two agencies was carried out within the framework of an intelligence sharing agreement which was signed in 2002.