Merkel defends her staff amid NSA spying scandal

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Reuters / Hannibal Hanschke)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has defended her staff’s conduct amid the BND/NSA spying scandal, following reports that her administration had purposely misled the public about Washington’s willingness to negotiate a “no-spy agreement” with Berlin.

“I can only say that everyone worked according to their best knowledge and conscience – that goes for today's chief of staff but also his predecessor,” Merkel said defending her chief of staff Peter Altmaier as well as predecessors Ronald Pofalla and Thomas de Maiziere.

The chancellor's statement follows allegations in the German media last week that just ahead of 2013 German general elections, her then-chief of staff Pofalla lied that Berlin and Washington would start negotiating an agreement not to spy on each other. In reality, as Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported based on email exchange between the governments, there was no firm commitment at the time in Washington to negotiate such a deal.

Fierce accusations followed from the German opposition, who accused Merkel’s government of making such statements to secure the vote result. The deputy leader of the center-left Social Democrats Torsten Schaefer-Guembel told Tagesspiegel that Pofalla was untruthful “for the purposes of electoral tactics.”

READ MORE: NSA 'asked' Germany's BND to spy on Siemens over alleged links with Russian intel

“If it’s true the US never held out the prospect of such a no-spy agreement between Germany and America, then the conservatives lied in the 2013 election campaign,” said SPD Secretary General Yasmin Fahimi said, adding more pressure on Monday.

Former Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger meanwhile told Der Spiegel that “in the end, the chancellery pulled the wool over people's eyes.”

Merkel also defended German intelligence cooperation with the NSA, insisting however that the rule of law remains her top priority.

“For me, it is a matter of course that intelligence agencies must keep to German laws when they are active in Germany,” Merkel said. “Enforcing that may perhaps be difficult, may take longer than we want, but it remains a political aim for me.”

Last week, Merkel has for the first time publically defended her government against the accusations that Germany’s BND foreign intelligence agency helped the National Security Agency eavesdrop on some of Europe’s top companies and politicians.

READ MORE: Merkel defends German intelligence agency over spying for NSA claims

She said it was imperative that the BND continued to work with the NSA and the US to help in the fight against international terrorism. However, she also added that it was not acceptable for friendly nations to spy on each other.

As an ongoing process, Merkel’s cabinet members have been testifying before the parliamentary investigation committee over allegations that the BND acted against national interests. In April, Der Spiegel based on Edward Snowden leaks reported that BND received thousands of so-called ‘selectors’ from NSA over the course of 10 years to spy on targets, among which were European politicians and companies such as European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), Eurocopter, and the European aviation consortium Airbus.