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18th Jan 2020

Germany defends intelligence co-operation with US

  • Anti-snooping protest in Berlin (Photo: Valentina Pop)

The German intelligence service (BND) has been co-operating "for decades" with the US, but only within legal boundaries, a German government spokesman said on Monday (8 July).

In an interview published on Sunday in Der Spiegel, fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden said the BND is "in bed" with the National Security Agency (NSA), supplying it with information as part of a secret surveillance programme tapping the Internet and phone data of US and European citizens.

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Government spokesman Steffen Seibert did not deny there is co-operation between the two services, but he said that the BND abides by German law.

"The BND has been co-operating for decades with partner agencies, including the NSA. We can only protect our citizens if we co-operate. This co-operation is following rules and laws very strictly and is subject to parliamentary control," he said.

He struck a more conciliatory tone compared to a week ago, when he spoke of "unacceptable" spying methods reminiscent of the "Cold War."

He said that after a phone conversation between Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Barack Obama, the two countries are now in "permanent contact" about the affair and decided to set up working groups between experts both on bilateral and EU-US level to clarify these "complex matters."

However, neither the German justice minister nor the interior minister have so far received any replies to questionnaires addressed to their US counterparts.

Justice minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger from the Liberal Party, Merkel's junior coalition partner, has been vocal in opposing any further trade talks between the EU and the US "as long as they are spying our economy."

Interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich will travel to Washington at the end of this week to discuss the matter with his American counterparts.

Seibert noted that"further questions" arising from the Snowden interview will be addressed within the relevant Bundestag committee, which already heard from the BND chief last week.

The meetings of the committee take place behind closed doors, however.

The members of this committee are also forbidden from saying anything about the content of the talks.

"Of course we still demand explanations. Us Liberals don't only expect the interior minister to deliver clear and comprehensive replies after his trip to Washington, but the government has to explain the extent of the cooperation between the BND and the NSA," Liberal MP Gisela Piltz told this website.

A member of the BND control committee, Piltz said she wants to improve the parliamentary scrutiny of this body, so that collaborators of the intelligence services who dare to speak up - like Snowden - are better protected.

Other Liberal politicians in Germany have demanded for Snowden to be granted asylum - but not the Liberal foreign minister Guido Westerwelle, who points out that the US is a democracy and the justice system there is independent, which gives no grounds for political asylum.

An opinion poll carried out by Emnid end of June showed that 50 percent of Germans consider Snowden to be a hero and 35 percent would hide him in their homes.

Snowden is still stuck in a Moscow airport and has reportedly received asylum offers from Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia.

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