German intel service spied on foreign media incl BBC, Reuters for years – Spiegel

Germany's Federal Intelligence Service (BND) has snooped on western news media outlets and international news agencies for years, German Der Spiegel weekly reports, citing the papers linked to a parliamentary investigation. The BND refuses to comment.

The BND has spied upon more than 50 phone and fax numbers as well as e-mail addresses of journalists and editorial offices of various news media outlets around the world since 1999, Der Spiegel says, citing the documents of the German parliament’s commission investigating the US surveillance in Germany and the US cooperation with local intelligence.

According to the papers reportedly seen by Der Spiegel, the list of surveillance targets included particularly more than a dozen of contacts of BBC journalists in Afghanistan as well as the BBC central office in London and the office of the BBC World Service.

The list also featured the mobile phone numbers of Reuters journalists and offices in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria as well as a contact of the New York Times office in Afghanistan, Der Spiegel reports.

Meanwhile, the BND refused to comment on the issue. However, Der Spiegel’s report provoked an angry reaction from the Reporters without Borders activist group that called the actions of the BND a “disastrous violation of the freedom of the press” and a “new dimension of constitutional violations.”

Reporters Without Borders also expressed concern that German intelligence could continue its surveillance over foreign journalists. It added that it is now preparing to file a constitutional complaint against a spy law adopted by German lawmakers in October 2016.

At that time, the German parliament approved a bill granting the intelligence agencies wider powers, including spying on EU facilities, but also introducing broader oversight. Critics of the legislation immediately lambasted the law as “unconstitutional.”

In the meantime, the BBC said it was “disappointed” by the actions of the BND and called “upon all governments to respect the operation of a free press.”

"We are disappointed to hear these claims," a BBC spokesperson said, adding that the “BBC's mission is to bring accurate news and information to people around the world, and our journalists should be able to operate freely and safely, with full protection for their sources.”

The BND was also sharply criticized by some German MPs. "Here comes something we feared for a long time. Monitoring of journalists,” Konstantin Notz, a lawmaker from the Green Party, said in a Twitter post.

Harald Petzold, an MP from the Left Party, called the actions of the BND “an attack on press freedom … not compatible with our constitution,” adding that the German intelligence service had “developed a dangerous life of its own.”

In 2013, the former NSA employee Edward Snowden disclosed US mass surveillance to the global public, revealing in particular that the NSA targeted US allies in Paris and Berlin. At that time, Germany expressed its outrage over the actions of US intelligence.

However, German media disclosures soon revealed that the NSA had provided German intelligence services with spying software in exchange for data sharing, which meant that the BND assisted the NSA in conducting its global surveillance programs.

In 2015, Der Spiegel already reported that the BND targeted many ‘friendly’ states and organizations, including the Ministries of Interior of Poland, Austria, Denmark and Croatia; US diplomatic missions at the EU and UN, as well as the US Treasury Department and Department of the Interior in Washington.

Inside Germany, the embassies and consulates of France, Great Britain, Sweden, Portugal, Greece, Spain, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, and even the Vatican were tapped, the magazine said at that time.

The revelations prompted a parliamentary investigation into the activities of the NSA in Germany and its cooperation with the BND that has been lasting for three years by now. The German parliament’s commission that makes the investigation is due to file its final report on the matter until the second half of June.

Last week, the commission questioned German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose testimony was the latest in the three-year investigation.