War on Whistleblowers: Berlin Gets Serious in the Search for Moles

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Nikolaus Blome, Matthias Gebauer, Hubert Gude, Frank Hornig, Gordon Repinski and Marcel Rosenbach, Dec 1, 2014 (Photo Gallery).

The German government has had enough of reading about state secrets in the media. SPIEGEL has learned that officials are now preparing to file a criminal complaint against unknown persons and has undertaken other efforts to identify moles as well.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s intelligence coordinator, Klaus-Dieter Fritsche, was visibly troubled as he arrived in room 2400 of Germany’s parliament building. It’s the last straw, Fritsche told the gathered lawmakers with a steely voice and dark expression. Because of the ongoing betrayal of official secrets, Fritsche said, the German government will be filing a criminal complaint. The situation in which classified information has repeatedly found its way into the public domain cannot be allowed to continue, he added.

The parliamentarians, members of a confidential panel which supervises the financing of Germany’s intelligence agencies, reacted with concern. Several weeks previous, Merkel’s chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, had uttered a similar threat to Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, after internal papers from the NSA investigative committee found their way into the media. “Should it happen again,” Merkel’s top aide said, the government would resort to recourse in criminal law. The NSA committee is currently investigating US spying activities on German soil … //

… On the Prowl: … //
… NATO Cooperation in Danger: … //

Redacted Documents:

  • But the government’s broadening demands for secrecy have become most evident when it comes to the NSA parliamentary investigation. Important witness testimony, for example, has not been cleared for the public, limiting what journalists may write. In one of the most recent committee sessions, the testimony of one witness, a BND agent, was even classified as top secret. As a result, parliamentarians on the committee had to turn in their notes following the session and the final report may not cite the agent’s testimony. In other instances, government representatives present at the hearings stopped testimony that they believed was too sensitive.
  • Preparation has also been made difficult for lawmakers on the NSA committee. It has become clear that BND witnesses have been able to study files that were either not made available to committee members or were only made available shortly before the session in which they were discussed. Furthermore, many of those documents that are made available have been redacted to the point that they can no longer be understood. Even the itinerary put together for the wife of an NSA director during his visit to Berlin was heavily redacted.
  • Finally, the government has also prevented important issues from even being examined in the first place because they allegedly had nothing to do with the investigative committee’s work. Opposition lawmakers on the committee have even filed a complaint with Germany’s high court due to concerns that they are unable to fulfill their control function in the absence of testimony from Edward Snowden — testimony that has thus far been prevented.

Mishaps and Legal Violations:

  • Even parliamentarians on the investigative committee belonging to parties in Merkel’s governing coalition (made up of her conservatives paired with center-left Social Democrats) have come to believe that the secrecy is excessive. The government, for example, considered pressing charges for the betrayal of state secrets against Christian Flisek, the senior Social Democrat on the committee. The government is of the opinion that he went too far during a media interview.
  • There has always, of course, been a tension between journalistic freedoms and the state’s need for confidentiality. Governments, such as that of Angela Merkel’s, are fond of pointing out “core areas of executive responsibility” that need to remain classified. As a practical matter, however, it is the executive itself which decides how broad such areas are.
  • And that is the fundamental problem. Few would dispute the need for some state activities to remain secret in a parliamentary democracy. It remains justified, however, to ask how big such areas should or must be. In the past, “national security” has all too often been used as an excuse to cover up mishaps and legal violations perpetrated by government officials.
  • It is clear that media disclosures often serve to undermine the public’s faith in state institutions. And that viewpoint has become widespread in the higher echelons of Germany’s security apparatus. They are, however, the same agencies that were unaware of the secret American surveillance performed on Angela Merkel’s mobile phone. Until SPIEGEL reported on it.

(full text).


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… and this:

… und noch dies:

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