Germany’s foreign surveillance agency has stopped sharing intelligence with its American counterpart after reports surfaced that accused the agency of spying on behalf of the American government.
The revelation came in a report released by the German parliament into information-sharing agreements between the government and American intelligence agencies. The review was ordered following news reports based on classified documents that revealed American intelligence officials had placed German government officials under surveillance, including bugging the cellphone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others.
After a review of Germany’s intelligence-sharing agreement with the United States, German officials found that the country’s own intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND, English translation: Federal Intelligence Service), had been receiving targeted telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and Internet protocol (IP) addresses from the National Security Agency (NSA) for years.
That data, known individually as a “selector,” had been passed in the form of lists as often as several times a day, Der Spiegel reports. In all, the NSA passed along 800,000 selectors to the BND for querying.
According to Der Spiegel, sometime around 2008, the BND realized that the NSA had occasionally been passing along selectors that were not covered under the BND’s internal rules or European law. But the agency only reviewed all the selectors provided by the NSA after news reports began to surface in 2013 that detailed some of the NSA’s controversial surveillance initiatives.
A BND review of 800,000 selectors provided by the NSA since 2002 found that the American agency had requested, among other things, intelligence on European politicians and defense contractors. Initially, news reports suggested that as many as 2,000 selectors were found to be in violation of European law or outside the purview of the BND, but an official investigatory committee established by German parliament found that number to be as high as 40,000.
According to the committee, the BND failed to notify officials in the German government about the problematic selectors. Instead, the BND requested the NSA to pass along requests for information related to selectors that were in compliance with European law, Ars Technica reported.
Last week, Reuters reported that the BND had stopped sharing surveillance information with the NSA after the American agency “refused to provide clear justification of each request for surveillance of individuals or organizations.” Reuters said it had learned about the BND’s decision to stop sharing information with its American counterparts via intelligence sources within the German government; those sources were not specifically identified.
Read more: TheBlot Magazine’s Ongoing NSA Coverage
Some of those selectors the NSA provided to the BND for surveillance included those related to defense contractors like Skybus and European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company. Those companies compete directly with several American defense contractors, including Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. In an article published last month, The Verge speculated that the placement of those selectors on request lists for the BND suggested American intelligence officials may have been surveilling defense contractors and other European companies for things like trade secrets.
If that speculation is true, it would prove a stark contradiction at a time when American officials have chastised foreign agencies — specifically those in China, Iran and North Korea — for bugging or disrupting computers used by U.S.-based companies for purposes of sabotage and stealing trade secrets.
Last May, the Department of Defense charged nearly half a dozen Chinese hackers with cyber espionage for allegedly stealing trade secrets from six American companies including Westinghouse Electric, U.S. Steel and Alcoa. Months later, federal investigators would publicly accuse North Korea of being behind a malicious cyberattack that compromised the entire computer network of Los Angeles-based Sony Pictures Entertainment, reportedly in retaliation for the studio’s then-forthcoming release of “The Interview,” a film lampooning North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Matthew Keys is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.