Germany's Spies Have NSA Envy: Currently Working To Build Their Own Comprehensive Snooping System

from the it's-not-actually-a-competition dept

One unfortunate knock-on effect of the revelations about the extent of NSA information gathering seems to be that the spies in other countries are starting to feel under-informed by comparison. Of course, many of them already knew about what was going on: in addition to the British and the Dutch, there are now reports that Germany was also kept informed at the highest levels (original in German.) That would probably explain the revelation by the news magazine Der Spiegel that Germany has been trying to beef up its own snooping capabilities for a while:

Last year, [Germany’s foreign intelligence agency] BND head Gerhard Schindler told the Confidential Committee of the German parliament, the Bundestag, about a secret program that, in his opinion, would make his agency a major international player. Schindler said the BND wanted to invest €100 million ($133 million) over the coming five years. The money is to finance up to 100 new jobs in the technical surveillance department, along with enhanced computing capacities.

Small beer compared to the NSA, but it’s a start. Der Spiegel’s article provides some details on how they do it in Germany:

The largest traffic control takes place in Frankfurt, in a data processing center owned by the Association of the German Internet Industry. Via this hub, the largest in Europe, e-mails, phone calls, Skype conversations and text messages flow from regions that interest the BND like Russia and Eastern Europe, along with crisis areas like Somalia, countries in the Middle East, and states like Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But the BND still has a long way to go before it attains NSA-like levels of snooping:

In contrast to the NSA, though, the German intelligence agency has been overwhelmed by this daunting wealth of information. Last year, it monitored just under 5 percent, roughly every 20th phone call, every 20th e-mail and every 20th Facebook exchange. In the year 2011, the BND used over 16,000 search words to fish in this data stream.

As in the US, the idea is that this targets foreigners:

German law allows the BND to monitor any form of communication that has a foreign element, be it a mobile phone conversation, a Facebook chat or an exchange via AOL Messenger. For the purposes of “strategic communications surveillance,” the foreign intelligence agency is allowed to copy and review 20 percent of this data traffic. There is even a regulation requiring German providers “to maintain a complete copy of the telecommunications.”

Here’s how the BND tries to achieve that:

If e-mail addresses surface that end in “.de” (for Germany), they have to be erased. The international dialing code for Germany, 0049, and IP addresses that were apparently given to customers in Germany also pass through the net.

Of course, as in the US, it doesn’t quite work out like that:

At first glance, it’s not evident where users live whose information is saved by Yahoo, Google or Apple. And how are the agencies supposed to spot a Taliban commander who has acquired an email address with German provider GMX? Meanwhile, the status of Facebook chats and conversations on Skype remains completely unclear.

Given this evident desire to create its own snooping apparatus, coupled with the fact that Germany has doubtless benefited from NSA spying, perhaps it’s no surprise the German government’s protests about its citizens being subject to extensive NSA surveillance have been muted. Maybe a little too muted: Der Spiegel quotes the question posed by Cornelia Rogall-Grothe, a state secretary in the German Interior Ministry, to the US Embassy in Berlin, in the wake of the revelations about NSA spying:

“Are US agencies running a program or computer system with the name Prism?,” the Interior Ministry official asked.

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Comments on “Germany's Spies Have NSA Envy: Currently Working To Build Their Own Comprehensive Snooping System”

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Anonymous Coward says:

it must be fairly obvious that, with all the countries doing this monitoring of ‘foreign’ citizens and the cooperation between all those countries, the information gathered on everyone is then complete. for example, if the UK collects all the info on the foreigners in Holland and Holland collects all the info on the foreigners in the UK, all the governments have to do is swop the data and every country has all the info on all of their own people! that is just the work around way of getting out of the shit when asked if the security services of the UK, for example, collect data on UK citizens. they can, in truth, say ‘NO’. they obviously leave out the part about ‘but we can all that info from Holland’ or wherever. the result is still the same. the people are being treated in a disgraceful manner by ALL governments! all rights are being removed (and i still say this is a plot using the entertainment industries as the willing fall guys, because they are getting what they want [Censorship!] as well!). we are so close to the 1984 scenario! we will end up destroying ourselves and it will all be through greed and the egotistical needs of a VERY privileged few. i must add that after being defeated twice already, i would have thought that Germany would have learned by now and been more careful in what they did. i would also have thought that having been to war twice to stop this sort of Global Domination, democratic countries would not have gone down the same road that started those wars, ie, ruling the people through fear!

Anonymous Coward says:

Biggest problem with the justification for these systems. Any group that is truly capable of pulling something off on a scale that would make this scheme worth it… aren’t going to be caught by this scheme.

They are going to be using things like disposable phones, code words on notes. Face to face meetings behind closed doors.

They aren’t going to be sending plain text emails to one another detailing their plans of building a nuclear bomb… They aren’t going to be sitting there using the same phone number to talk.

So in the end you have a bunch of random phone numbers being used to make a phone call to another random number. I suspect you’ll be lucky to get that much info with this scheme… So why do they need this again?

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Big Deal! This is old hat stuff for the Germans …

I’d get off that high horse if I were you, before you fall off and hurt yourself. Klaus Barbie:

After the war, United States intelligence services employed him for anti-Marxist efforts and also helped him escape to South America. The Bundesnachrichtendienst, the German intelligence agency, recruited him, and he may have helped the CIA capture Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara in 1967.

There’s lots of dirty laundry lying around on all fronts. It’ll be a long time before the dust settles, but at least Germany has tried to do the right thing (mostly) since those days. It’s sad to see this lapse of judgment on their part.

Anonymous Coward says:

Get Real, Man. That is the nature of the “Trade”. “Birds of a Feather Flock Together”, don’t you know?
There are many, not just Barbie, for instance:
The CIA’s Worst Kept Secret – [Gehlen Org] – by Martin A. Lee – post WWII Germany, etc., May 16, 2001.
How about the “snitches” relied upon by local law enforcement? You (John Q. Public) just needs to know and understand how real life works. If you stay alert, observe and act when appropriate (just a simple call to 911 – remember Kitty Genovese [New York], things can improve – maybe even to the point that our good people will not look so bad. Fortunately, in most cases, the good is done every day by the dedicated.

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