German Spy Agency Supplies NSA with Daily Trove of Surveillance Data

Wednesday, August 07, 2013
Barack Obama and Angela Merkel (photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP)

Germany’s foreign intelligence agency has shared enormous amounts of metadata with the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), according to secret documents taken by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.


The documents, shown to the German newspaper Spiegel, revealed that the NSA collected 500 million pieces of metadata in December 2012 alone from the German spy agency Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND).


But the intelligence sharing continued “day after day and month after month,” with the BND passing on “massive amounts of connection data,” including telephone numbers, email addresses and IP connections, Spiegel reported.


The BND gathered the metadata from two locations known as signals intelligence activity designators (SIGADs), which the NSA operated at one time before turning responsibility over to German intelligence officers, according to the NSA documents.


Although the BND and NSA have been working hand-in-hand—with American agents providing German agents with training as well as its secret surveillance technology—the issue as to whether it is Germany or the U.S. that is the primary director of this intelligence gathering remains murky. The BND took over NSA-operated surveillance sites controlled by the BND on German soil and has been passing along its collected data to the NSA, yet the German government claims it does not know from where in Germany the metadata was obtained, and is waiting for the Obama administration to provide it with answers.


In spite of Spiegel’s report that the NSA documents released by Snowden indicate an ongoing, long-term transmission of data from the BND to the NSA, BND President Gerhard Schindler stated publicly that data relating to German citizens was only passed on to the U.S. in two instances in 2012. The BND has also assured Germans that all data transmitted to the NSA “is purged, in a multistep process, of any personal data about German citizens it may contain.”


The German government is trying to quell outrage on the part of its concerned citizenry, much as the Obama administration has done in trying to assure skeptical Americans that their privacy has not been violated by the NSA’s surveillance program. The controversy has become fodder for political parties opposed to Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose administration insists German agencies have acted in full compliance with the country’s data privacy laws.


Indications that much of the transmitted data may have come from surveillance conducted in the Middle East and Afghanistan could provide the Merkel government with a degree of cover, given that both global hotspots are legal targets for BND spying.

-Danny Biederman, Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Mass Data: Transfers from Germany Aid US Surveillance (by Hubert Gude, Laura Poitras and Marcel Rosenbach, Spiegel)

'Key Partners': Secret Links Between Germany and the NSA (Spiegel)

U.S. and Britain Eavesdropped on World Leaders at 2009 Summits (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Concerned U.S. Allies Want Privacy Guarantees in Wake of NSA Revelations (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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