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.
Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter
, and on Google+