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15 Jul, 2013 21:55

Exploring natural spy habitat: German activist grilled over satirical NSA-agent-spotting walk

Exploring natural spy habitat: German activist grilled over satirical NSA-agent-spotting walk

A Blockupy activist who posted plans for a light-hearted public walk around a US spy center in Germany to “observe intelligence agents in their natural habitat” received a visit from the secret service questioning him if he was a terrorist.

Twenty-eight-year-old Daniel Bangert created a tongue-in-cheek Facebook group called the "NSA spy protection league,” as if the spies were an endangered animal species.

For the organization’s first event, Bangert planned a stroll around the nearby Dagger Complex in Darmstadt, on the outskirts of Frankfurt, to take part in some spy spotting.

The US army intelligence facility collects European data for American intelligence agencies, and Bangert believes it could have been used by the National Security Agency to covertly gather data of German citizens – a practice revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden last month.

Ahead of the walk, Bangert joked that the NSA was spying on the group on Facebook, Germany’s The Local newspaper reported.

A few days before the event, the joke became reality.

"I was still very sleepy when the phone rang - it was 7:17 in the morning - and a police officer started asking questions about what I was planning," said Bangert.

"Then the doorbell rang and I saw out the window that a police van was parked outside. The officer on the phone said I should open the door to the others."

Bangert says he was interviewed at length by a uniformed police officer, who was aware of the event which was scheduled online. At the end of the questioning, the officer told the activist that the walk would have to be registered with the police, as a public event.

"I asked them why, but they could not really explain it to me. They couldn't help me understand what the difference was between going for a walk and meeting up to play football - which you don't have to register for,"
said Bangert.

Certain that this would be the end of his troubles, Bangert was surprised when the policemen returned several hours later - this time with a secret service agent.

The activist was subjected to questioning once again. Bangert says the agent inquired about his political views and asked him if his co-walkers planned acts of violence to be directed at the heavily guarded base.

Bangert says he was then advised to take the event off the internet, to prevent it from escalating. The Blockupy activist was baffled.

“All there is, is a fence, with nothing behind it - everything is underground. No one is interested," he said.

Despite the advice, Bangert and around 80 other participants went ahead with the walk on Saturday. Although Bangert enjoyed the nice weather, he said the group did not manage to lay their eyes on any actual spies - despite trying to lure them with bird calls and other naturalist tricks.

"Taking part in the walk was not enough, just to know that NSA spies are there - everyone agreed they wanted to see NSA spies with their own eyes. We will see what we can do," said Bangert, who plans to organize another event in the coming weeks.