Turkey asks German spies for help in rounding up July coup plotters

Recep Tayyip ErdoğanThe Turkish government has sent an official request to German intelligence for assistance in cracking down on the members of the so-called Gülen movement, which Ankara claims is behind July’s failed coup plot. The movement consists of supporters of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, who runs a global network of schools, charities and businesses from his home in the United States. The government of Turkey has designated Gülen’s group a terrorist organization and claims it has stealthily infiltrated state institutions since the 1980s. The administration of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accuses Gülen’s supporters of orchestrating the July 15 coup that included an armed attack on the country’s parliament and the murder of over 200 people across Turkey.

According to German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (known by its Turkish initials, MİT) has secretly contacted its German counterpart, the Federal Intelligence Service (BND). The Turks’ request, said Spiegel, involves the provision of assistance to investigate and arrest supporters of the Gülen movement living in Germany, some of whom are German citizens. There are over three million people with Turkish citizenship, or of Turkish descent, currently living in Turkey. Citing “a dossier of classified documents”, Spiegel said that the MİT had asked the BND to investigate a list of 40 individuals for possible links to Gülen, and to extradite to Turkey another three whom Ankara claims have direct ties to the July coup. The documents also allegedly contain a request for MİT officials to pressure German lawmakers to be more critical of Gülen supporters in Germany. Requests for cooperation were also sent by MİT to nearly a dozen state governments in Germany, but all were declined, said Spiegel.

The Turkish government has arrested, fired or demoted tens of thousands of people since July, for alleged links to the Gülen movement. Some European officials, many of them German, have accused President Erdoğan of using the failed coup as an excuse to purge his opponents of all political persuasions in the country. On Sunday, the head of Germany’s Committee on Parliamentary Oversight, Clemens Binninger, said he would launch an investigation into the joint projects between German and Turkish intelligence agencies following the failed July coup. Another member of the Committee, Hans-Christian Ströbele, said he would personally set up a panel to probe any communication between German intelligence agencies and the MİT. By working closely with Turkish intelligence, German spy agencies were risking “becoming complicit in criminal activity”, said Ströbele.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 August 2016 | Permalink

German intelligence spied on EU and NATO allies, report finds

Bad Aibling - IAA major parliamentary inquiry into the operations of Germany’s main intelligence agency has concluded that it spied on nearly 3,500 foreign targets in recent years, most of which belonged to allied countries. The inquiry was initiated by the German government in response to a number of recent public controversies involving the Bundesnachrichtendienst, Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, known as BND.

In 2015, the BND was found to have secretly collaborated with the US National Security Agency (NSA) in spying on several European governments and private companies. According to German investigative magazine Der Spiegel, the BND used its facilities at Germany’s Bad Aibling listening station to help the NSA spy on, among other targets, the palace of the French president in Paris, the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels, and the France-based European conglomerate Airbus. In response to the revelations, Airbus filed a criminal complaint against the German government, while Belgium and Switzerland launched official investigations into the joint BND-NSA activities. The extent of the BND-NSA collaboration prompted widespread public criticism in Germany. In response to the criticism, German Chancellor Angela Merkel promptly fired the director of the BND in April of this year. Additionally, the German chancellor authorized a parliamentary inquiry into the operations of the BND, which was completed last spring.

The resulting 300-page report has not been made public. But summaries leaked to the German media reveal that the BND spied on 3,300 targets until the end of 2013. Nearly 70 percent of these targets belonged to countries that are members of the European Union or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and are thus some of Germany’s closest international allies. The targets allegedly included “hundreds of diplomatic missions” in Europe and elsewhere, as well as heads of state, government ministers, aides to foreign cabinet officials, and heads of foreign militaries. The report summary also states that the BND targeted non-governmental organizations and private corporations that are operate in the areas of aviation, weapons design, transportation, advertising and the media.

Last month, the German cabinet approved draft legislation that aims to reform the BND. The legislation explicitly bans the agency from spying on foreign governments or corporations for the benefit of German companies. It also prevents it from spying on targets within the European Union, unless the operation pertains to “information to recognize and confront threats to internal or external security”. The legislation also calls for the establishment of a new independent oversight body consisting of senior judges and representatives of the Office of the Federal Prosecutor, whose job will be to evaluate and approve the BND’s proposed espionage activities against foreign targets.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 12 July 2016 | Permalink

German cabinet approves spy service reform in wake of NSA controversy

BND - IAThe senior executive body of the German government has approved draft legislation that reforms the country’s intelligence services, following revelations that Germany helped the United States spy on European states. The legislation is seen as a response by the German government to a number of recent public controversies involving the Bundesnachrichtendienst, Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, known as BND.

In 2015, the BND was found to have secretly collaborated with the US National Security Agency (NSA) in spying on several European governments and private companies. According to German investigative magazine Der Spiegel, the BND used its facilities at Germany’s Bad Aibling listening station to help the NSA spy on, among other targets, the palace of the French president in Paris, the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels, and the France-based European conglomerate Airbus. In response to the revelations, Airbus filed a criminal complaint against the German government, while Belgium and Switzerland launched official investigations into the joint BND-NSA activities.

The extent of the BND-NSA collaboration prompted widespread public criticism in Germany. In response to the criticism, German Chancellor Angela Merkel promptly fired the director of the BND in April of this year, in a move that surprised many. Gerhard Schindler, who had headed the BND since 2012, was replaced by Bruno Kahl, a senior official in the German Federal Ministry of Finance, who did not come from within the ranks of the BND. Additionally, the German chancellor authorized a parliamentary inquiry into the operations of the BND, which was completed last spring. The resulting 300-page report forms the basis of the draft legislation that was approved on Tuesday by the German cabinet.

The new legislation bans the BND from spying on foreign governments or corporations for the benefit of German companies. It also prevents it from spying on targets within the European Union, unless the operation pertains to “information to recognize and confront threats to internal or external security”. This is taken to mean operations relating to suspected terrorist activity that directly threatens German national security. The legislation also calls for the establishment of a new independent oversight body consisting of senior judges and representatives of the Office of the Federal Prosecutor, whose job will be to evaluate and approve the BND’s proposed espionage activities against foreign targets.

The legislation will need to be finalized through its approval by the German Federal Parliament, known as the Bundestag. The body is expected to approve the legislation before the beginning of its official summer break in mid-July.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 29 June 2016 | Permalink

German intelligence chief fired in surprise move

BND GermanyThe head of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency has been removed from his post in a move described by observers as surprising. Gerhard Schindler, 63, had led Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, known as Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND, since 2012. Founded 60 years ago with direct input from the United States Central Intelligence Agency, the BND is today responsible for collecting intelligence abroad in the service of German national interests. Headquartered in the southern German city of Pullach, near Munich, the BND is directly subordinate to the office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

On Tuesday, the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper said that Chancellor Merkel had ordered Schindler’s removal from the BND. Several regional television stations followed with similar reports. The Süddeutsche Zeitung cited unnamed government sources as saying that Schindler’s sudden removal from his post was unexpected, as the career intelligence officer was scheduled to retire in two years.

However, intelNews readers will recall that last year Schindler was severely criticized in Germany, after the BND was found to have secretly collaborated with the US National Security Agency in spying on several European governments and private companies. According to German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, the BND used its Bad Aibling listening station to help the NSA spy on, among other targets, the palace of the French president in Paris, the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels, as well as French-based European conglomerate Airbus. In response to the revelations, Airbus filed a criminal complaint against the German government, while Belgium and Switzerland launched official investigations into the joint BND-NSA activities.

In the months that followed the revelations, Schindler appeared to have convinced the Chancellery that he was not personally responsible for the BND-NSA collaboration, which many political figures in Germany said had subverted Germany’s national interest. In response to criticism, Schindler said that some departments inside the BND had taken on “a life of their own” and promised to reform the agency. On Tuesday, however, his tenure came to an end. It is believed that he will be replaced by Bruno Kahl, a senior civil servant in Germany’s Federal Ministry of Finance, who is a close associate of the country’s Minister of Finance, Wolfgang Schäuble.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 April 2016 | Permalink

German court sentences intelligence officer who spied for CIA

Markus ReichelA court in Germany has sentenced a former officer of the country’s intelligence agency, who spied for the United States and Russia from 2008 to 2014. Regular readers of this website will recall the case of ‘Markus R.’, a clerk at the Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND, Germany’s external intelligence agency. The 32-year-old was arrested in July 2014 on suspicion of having spied for the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency. Germany’s Office of the Federal Prosecutor said at the time that Markus R. voluntarily made contact with the CIA in 2008 and offered his services to the American spy agency. He began working for the United States as a double agent soon afterwards. Soon after Markus R.’s arrest was made public, the German government ordered the immediate removal from Germany of the CIA chief of station –who was essentially the top American intelligence official in the country. Berlin also instructed its intelligence agencies to limit their cooperation with their American counterparts “to the bare essentials” until further notice.

On Thursday, Markus R., identified in some German media as Markus Reichel, was sentenced for selling over 200 classified German government documents to the CIA between 2008 and 2012, for which he said he received €80,000 ($90,000). During his trial, Reichel also admitted giving German government documents to personnel at the consulate of the Russian Federation in Munich in the summer of 2014. Among the documents that the former BND clerks is said to have given the CIA was a list of thousands of German intelligence operatives —including agents— stationed abroad, which contained their operational cover names and real identities. But Reichel was caught when German counterintelligence officers intercepted correspondence between him and his handlers and then used the information to set up a successful sting operation.

During his trial, Reichel issued a formal apology for engaging in espionage against the German state. He told the court that he had been motivated by boredom and by “lust for adventure”, which he said he did not get working for the BND. He also said he was frustrated by the lack of confidence that his superiors and colleagues had in him. “At the BND, I had the impression that no one trusted me with anything”, said Reichel. “But the CIA was different. You had the opportunity to prove yourself”, he added. Reichel was found guilty of treason against the German state and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 March 2016 | Permalink

German spy agency tapped Finnish phone lines in early 2000s

FinlandGerman intelligence, possibly with the collaboration of the United States, monitored communications lines connecting Finland with at least five countries in the early 2000s, according to leaked documents. The documents, aired this week by Yle Uutiset, the main news program of the Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle), is based on information contained in “leaked German intelligence documents” that were first made public in May 2015. As intelNews reported at the time, the intelligence collection was described as a secret collaboration between Germany’s BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst) and America’s National Security Agency (NSA). According to Austrian politician Peter Pilz, who made the initial allegations, the BND-NSA collaboration was codenamed EIKONAL and was active from 2005 to 2008. Pilz said at the time that many European phone carriers and Internet service providers were targeted by the two agencies. Belgium and Switzerland have already launched investigations into EIKONAL.

Now new information provided by Yle seems to show that the secret BND-NSA collaboration targeted Finnish communications as well, focusing on at least six separate communications transit lines. The lines are believed to carry telephone call and possibly Internet traffic from Finnish capital Helsinki to a number of cities in France, Belgium, Hungary, Luxemburg, and China, said Yle Uutiset. Although the targeted lines are known to carry telephone and Internet traffic, it is unknown at this time whether EIKONAL targeted both kinds. But Yle said the interception lasted for most of the first part of the 2000s and involved large amounts of communications data.

The station contacted Tuomas Portaankorva, Inspector General of SUPO, the Finnish Security Intelligence Service. He told Yle that, speaking broadly, he was not surprised to be told that Finnish telecommunications lines had been monitored by foreign intelligence agencies, Western or otherwise. He went on to caution that, even though Finnish lines had been targeted, it was not possible to conclude that Finland was indeed the target of the surveillance operation. Yle also spoke to Vesa Häkkinen, spokesman for the from Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who told the station that SUPO, and not the ministry, was the proper official body to be consulted about EIKONAL. “If there is reason to suspect that these actions were directed at the Finnish state”, said Häkkinen, “we would undertake appropriate action”.

Author: Ian Allen| Date: 20 January 2016 | Permalink | News tip: Matthew Aid

German spy agency says Saudi Arabia is ‘source of regional instability’

Prince Mohammed bin SalmanA report by Germany’s primary intelligence agency warns that internal power struggles and broader geopolitical changes are turning the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia into a major source of regional instability. The report was produced by the German Federal Intelligence Service, known as BND, and is entitled: “Saudi Arabia: A Sunni Regional Power Torn Between a Paradigm Shift in Foreign Policy and Domestic Power Consolidation”. It explains the energy-rich Kingdom’s new forceful approach to regional problems as an outcome of both domestic and external factors.

On the domestic scene, the BND report connects the changes in Saudi Arabia’s regional stance with an unfolding power-struggle between two factions inside the country’s royal family. On the one side is the ‘traditionalist’ faction led by King Salman, who was enthroned in January of this year following the death of his predecessor, King Abdullah. This faction is being challenged by a group of royal family members led by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who currently serves as the country’s minister of defense. According to the BND report, Prince Mohammed, who is second-in-line to the throne, is trying to solidify his position in the royal succession by promoting a more radical and militarized foreign policy. This, says the BND, can be seen in Saudi Arabia’s ongoing military intervention in Yemen, as well as in its highly interventionist policy in support of anti-government rebels in Syria.

The German intelligence report suggests that Prince Mohammed’s policies are also the result of a widespread view among some senior members of the Saudi royal family that the United States is gradually disengaging from the Middle East, and that the country is not any more a strong guarantor of Saudi Arabia’s security. As a result, the Kingdom is “prepared to take unprecedented risks” in the military, diplomatic and financial domains in order to project itself as a strong regional actor and “avoid falling behind in regional affairs” in its struggle for dominance against its neighboring rival, Iran.

But this new policy, says the BND, comes with considerable financial demands, which are challenging the limits of Saudi Arabia’s financial might. This year alone, notes the German report, the Kingdom is expected to announce a budget deficit that will be in the neighborhood of $120 billion. This is angering many senior members of the royal family who are opposed to Prince Mohammed’s aggressive regional stance. These ‘traditionalists’ have repeatedly criticized the prince’s “impulsive policy of intervention”, which they claim is jeopardizing the Kingdom’s relationship with important regional allies, as well as with Washington.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 4 October 2015 | Permalink