German Government Hires DC Law Firm To Threaten Its Own Parliament With Criminal Prosecution For Talking To Snowden

from the scandalous dept

Earlier this month, we wrote about how German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government was trying to block Ed Snowden from testifying before a German Parliamentary committee’s hearings into NSA surveillance. That fight is apparently getting nasty. German lawmakers have so far ignored the pressure, and have said that they still want to question Snowden (though it’s not yet clear how this will be done).

However, it seems the fight is getting nasty. It appears that Merkel’s government hired a DC-based law firm to send a ridiculous letter threatening German law makers with possible criminal prosecution in the US for talking to Snowden. No joke. The German government got lawyer Jeffrey Harris of the DC-based Rubin, Winston, Diercks, Harris & Cooke to send a notice with the following:

If you can’t read that, it says:

“We are of the opinion that if Snowden provides classified information or documents to the Bundestag or to German diplomats who interview Snowden, such acts give rise to criminal exposure under the laws of the United States. The United States would have jurisdiction to prosecute these acts regardless of where they occur. The fact that German legislators have immunity under German laws would not shield them from prosecution in the United States.”

This should be deeply offensive to pretty much everyone in the German government — even if the letter was apparently commissioned by the German government. The idea that they might face criminal prosecution for the simple act of investigating how the US spied on the German government is insulting in the extreme.

As the FreeSnowden site points out, the implications of such claims are equally ridiculous, as it also implies that anyone who has received any of the Snowden documents faces criminal charges in the US — which would include basically anyone who’s read any of the stories based on the Snowden documents:

If accurate, the ramifications of this advice would be enormous: should the the bodies – including the European Parliament and Council of Europe – that have already received testimony from Edward Snowden fear “criminal exposure under the laws of the United States”? Should Der Spiegel and the other media outlets that have seen and reported on large numbers of documents provided by Snowden?

As Der Spiegel makes clear this is all part of a calculated effort by Merkel to both stay in the US’s good graces, and to appear to be a strong unified front against Vladimir Putin’s recent aggressiveness in Russia. And, yes, there may be good diplomatic reasons for Germany to want to remain on good terms with the US. But there’s no reason why that should lead to completely ridiculous criminal threats against German lawmakers for wanting to talk to Ed Snowden.

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Comments on “German Government Hires DC Law Firm To Threaten Its Own Parliament With Criminal Prosecution For Talking To Snowden”

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Michael (profile) says:

The United States would have jurisdiction to prosecute these acts regardless of where they occur

Does this not mean that the United States recognizes the rights of other countries to prosecute people under their laws regardless of where they occurr?

You can’t tell me a few US senators haven’t broken some obscure German laws lately.

They should prosecute.

Seegras (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Actually, without diplomatic immunity, it would be possible to arrest US president Obama, and deliver him to the Hague International Criminal Court, for war crimes. Namely for authorizing drone strikes against civilians.

I don’t think the USA would want that.

On the other hand, lawyers can speculate what they want, or rather, what their client wants them to speculate…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Bush and Cheney have this problem going outside the US. Cheney cancelled his book signing in Canada over fear of being given a warrant to the Hague for war crimes.

When Obama is out of office it is likely he will have the same thing waiting on him should he leave the US borders.

pegr (profile) says:

And a huge amount of bad faith

Because you can only be prosecuted for having and/or distributing classified information if you have taken an oath to protect such information. Mere mortals (that is, those outside of the Intelligence Community) have not taken such an oath.

Don’t believe me? Believe John Gilmore:

“There is no prohibition, restriction, or penalty for any use, discussion, or publication of classified information by anyone who does not hold a security clearance.”

mcinsand (profile) says:

Re: yes! let's prosecute violating oaths of office!!!


>>…you can only be prosecuted for having and/or
>> distributing classified information if you have taken an
>>>oath …

I would really like to see that, and there is absolutely no sarcasm in this sentence. Think of the federal officials that took an oath to support and defend the US Constition as part of taking office, only to attack and undermine the Constitution instead. As I’ve said more than once, I firmly believe that violating the oath of federal office ought to be prosecutable as treason.

Anonymous Coward says:

The U.S. government should just tell Putin that he faces criminal charges for harboring a whistleblower (strikethrough) Spy and that the U.S. doesn’t care that he’s in Russia.

It’s always easy for big bullies to bully the small guy with big threats but when they have to bully someone that can defend themselves …

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“The U.S. government should just tell Putin that he faces criminal charges for harboring a whistleblower (strikethrough) Spy and that the U.S. doesn’t care that he’s in Russia.”

And then just wait for him to step out of Russia. Heck, why wait? Just go get him. Oh, wait, the US just does that to little countries with weak militaries. No wonder so many little countries are starting to want nuclear weapons. Way to go, USA.

Anonymous Coward says:

what needs to be found out here is who actually contacted the US law firm, how they were contacted and what was said. as this lies, it is the biggest and scariest claim that the USA has made to date, as far as i have read. i would like to see that threat carried out and what would happen. i would also like to know what the USA government would say and do if the situation were to be reversed. i think i can say pretty sure that there would be a giant middle finger given to whosoever tried it!
this is no less that the USA World Police trying to take over everywhere yet again! sooner or later they are gonna actually try something that really pisses people of another country right off and i dread to think what could happen then. whatever did, it would be definitely to the detriment of everyone, everywhere! although there have been country specific wars, have these morons in charge not learned anything in the 70 years of at least not having another world war? all they seem to want to do is bait the rest of mankind, just so the USA can take aggressive steps against whoever it is!!

Anonymous Coward says:

"deeply offensive to pretty much everyone in the German government"

How about “deeply offensive to pretty much everyone”?

So now people who have never set foot in the USA, and who never have been USA citizens, are under USA jurisdiction? Like, the whole world is under USA jurisdiction? Fuck them.

And then they wonder why people mistrust the USA.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why would the chancellor of Germany hire a foreign law firm to sue Germany’s lawmakers under the laws of another country?!
How can a human mind be in such a state that an action like that seems rational and reasonable? Just reading that legal notice gives me a headache.

Is the NSA or FBI or whatever brainwashing world leaders now or something?! I know that sounds like tinfoil talk, but so would “the government has flying robots that they send out to shoot anyone they don’t like” if they hadn’t been publicly bragging about it the other day.

Anonymous Coward says:

So, foreigners no longer have free speech rights then?

So, the defense hawks who insist that the constitution doesn’t apply to foreigners have now moved onto blatantly saying that foreigners don’t have free speech rights, even in their own countries?

This is exactly why I always say that the arguments that indefinite detentions, torture, etc of horrible evil terrorists is a slippery slope that will have harmful chilling effects on Americans when the government decides to start doing the same thing to US citizens, in the name of ‘terrorism’ of course.

Anonymous Coward says:

German Government Hires DC Law Firm To Threaten Its Own Parliament With Criminal Prosecution For Talking To Snowden


So much for Germany being a sovereign nation.

Angela Merkel is a pliable supine lickspittle of the US government who will unquestioningly click her heels and salute smartly when ordered to do so.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Surely a coincidence...

So the NSA gets caught scooping up as much of her communications as they can get their hands on, and other than some momentary false anger, she not only doesn’t want the NSA’s actions investigated, she’s doing everything she can to make sure that doesn’t happen.

At this point you have to wonder, just what did the NSA discover when they were trawling her communications, to have this much of a hold on her, and have her this desperate to brush everything under the rug?

gezzerx (profile) says:

Continued smear campaign

Just more propaganda & smear tactics on the part of the government to divert attention away from their own illegal activities which the NSA records prove ! !

The Government will continue its PR & propaganda smear campaign using the following tactics as quoted by Joseph Goebbels during the 1930’s & 1940’s.

?If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus
by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the tate.? AND

?The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over?

Disclaimer: Be advised it is possible, that this communication is being monitored by the National Security Agency, GCHQ or other third party organizations. I neither condone nor support any such policy, by any Government authority or organization that does not comply, as stipulated by the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Case says:

It gets worse

This should be deeply offensive to pretty much everyone in the German government — even if the letter was apparently commissioned by the German government.

It won’t offend anyone in the government, because making it look like the US has full control over what happens here is their new communication strategy. “We don’t want to know” didn’t work, since people actually DO want to know. So the new party line is “we sure would like to and are really doing our best, but unfortunately we simply can’t”

First, there was our very own vice chancellor apparently unaware of the role of this “government” thing in the safety of its citizens:
“Germany is a small country, where the American intelligence knows very well who is doing what. I’m sure the the American secret service would try to get him[Snowden] under their control. Who will guarantee that he will be safe here?
(own translation)

Apparently, questioning national sovereignty of the own nation wasn’t enough, so enter stage two: The head of the parliamentary committee on the NSA (who happens to be in Merkel’s party) suggests sending Snowden to Switzerland (apparently the Swiss are capable of guaranteeing someone’s safety) and then let the Swiss run a video conference, because “Switzerland has excellent security technologies” (and poor poor Germany doesn’t).

Rich Fiscus (profile) says:

This may be the funniest, most knee-jerk, worst considered thing any US official has said about the Snowden leaks. Let’s think about it for a second, clearly something Hayden didn’t bother to do.

Prosecuting German officials would create a worldwide media circus showcasing US bullying. It would also opens the door for Germany to charge a laundry list of US officials based on the evidence in the documents. Not charging them creates a worldwide media circus showcasing US bluster, weakness… oh and spying.

Check and mate.

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