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

Ex-Yugoslav spy testifies in German trial about 1983 murder of dissident

Josip Perkovic Zdravko MustacA former officer in the Cold-War-era Yugoslav intelligence service has begun testifying at a trial concerning the 1983 murder in Germany of a Yugoslav dissident by assassins sent by authorities in Belgrade. Stjepan Đureković, who was of Croatian nationality, defected from Yugoslavia to Germany in 1982, while he was director of Yugoslavia’s state-owned INA oil company. Upon his arrival in Germany, he was granted political asylum and began associating with Croatian nationalist émigré groups that were active in the country. He was killed on July 28, 1983, in Wolfratshausen, Bavaria. His killing was part of an operation codenamed DUNAV, which was conducted by the Yugoslav State Security Service, known by its Serbo-Croatian acronym, UDBA.

In 2009, following testimonies by several former UDBA agents, who were arrested in connection with the crime, the Office of the German Federal Prosecutor issued a European Arrest Warrant for Josip Perković, a former senior official in the UDBA. He is accused of having played a central role in organizing Đureković’s assassination. In 2014, Croatia, where Perković has been living since the demise of Yugoslavia, agreed to extradite Perković to Germany. The agreement materialized after heavy pressure was exercised on Croatia by the European Commission, after the country’s admission into the European Union.

Perković is now co-defendant in the trial taking place in Munich, along with another former UDBA intelligence official, Zdravko Mustać (see photo). Tuesday’s proceedings included testimony by another former UDBA man, Vinko Sindicić, who named both Perković and Mustać as direct accomplices in Đureković’s murder. Sindicić told the court that Perković was acting on orders to kill the German-based dissident, which came directly from the office of UDBA Director Zdravko Mustać. He added that Perković helped organize the logistics of Đureković’s assassination, including the location in Munich where the killing actually took place. Sindicić told the court that a female UDBA operative living in Munich was also involved in organizing the operation, and that the weapons used to kill Đureković had been secretly transported to Germany through Jadroagent, an international shipping and freight company based in Yugoslavia. During his testimony, which lasted for several hours, Sindicić claimed that the two men who carried out Đureković’s murder were UDBA assassins Branko Bijelić and Luka Sekula. The former died in 2004, but the latter still lives in Sweden and has yet to be extradited to Germany in connection with the murder trial.

It is worth noting that Sindicić spent a decade behind bars for his role in a failed attempt to kill another Yugoslav dissident émigré, Nikola Stedul, whom the UDBA tried to kill in the United Kingdom in 1988. Further charges against him were dropped in 2000, in a trial where he stood accused of complicity in the murder of yet another exiled Yugoslav dissident, Bruno Busić, who was killed in Paris in 1978. Both Perković and Mustać deny any involvement in Đureković’s assassination.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 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 nuclear power plant found to be infected with computer viruses

Gundremmingen nuclear power plantThe computers of a nuclear power plant in southern Germany have been found to be infected with computer viruses that are designed to steal files and provide attackers with remote control of the system. The power plant, known as Gundremmingen, is located in Germany’s southern district of Günzburg, about 75 miles northwest of the city of Munich. The facility is owned and operated by RWE AG, Germany’s second-largest electricity producer, which is based in Essen, North Rhine-Westphalia. The company provides energy to over 30 million customers throughout Europe.

On Tuesday, a RWE AG spokesperson said cybersecurity experts had discovered a number of computer viruses in a part of the operating system that determines the position of nuclear rods in the power plant. The software on the system was installed in 2008 and has been designed specifically for this task, said the company. The viruses found on it include two programs known as “Conficker” and “W32.Ramnit”. Both are responsible for infecting millions of computers around the world, which run on the Microsoft Windows operating system. The malware seem to be specifically designed to target Microsoft Windows and tend to infect computer systems through the use of memory sticks. Once they infect a computer, they siphon stored files and give attackers remote access to the system when the latter is connected to the Internet. According to RWE AG, viruses were also found on nearly 20 removable data drives, including memory sticks, which were in use by employees at the power plant. However, these data drives were allegedly not connected to the plant’s main operating system.

RWE AG spokespersons insisted this week that “Conficker”, “W32.Ramnit”, and other such malware, did not pose a threat to the nuclear power plant’s computer systems, because the facility is not connected to the Internet. Consequently, it would be impossible for an attacker associated with the viruses to acquire remote access to Gundremmingen’s computer systems. The company did not clarify whether it believed that the viruses had specifically targeted at the power plant. But they insisted that cyber security measures had been strengthened following the discovery of the malware, and said that they had notified Germany’s Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), which is now looking into the incident.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 29 April 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

Revealed: Decorated Nazi commander became Mossad assasin

Otto SkorzenyA notorious lieutenant colonel in the Waffen SS, who served in Adolf Hitler’s personal bodyguard unit, worked as a hitman for the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad after World War II, it has been revealed. Austrian-born Otto Skorzeny became known as the most ruthless special-forces commander in the Third Reich. Having joined the Austrian branch of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party at 19, at age 23 Skorzeny began serving in the Waffen SS, Nazi Germany’s conscript army that consisted largely of foreign-born fighters. In 1943, Hitler himself decorated Skorzeny with the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, in recognition of his leadership in Operation EICHE, the rescue by German commandos of Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who had been imprisoned at a ski resort in the Apennine Mountains following a coup against his government.

Skorzeny survived the war and ended up living in Spain under the protection of the country’s far-right dictator, Francisco Franco. The Mossad, Israel’s covert-action agency, which had made it a priority to arrest or kill senior Nazis who had survived the war, intended to kill Skorzeny. However, two veteran Israeli intelligence observers, Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, revealed on Sunday that, instead of killing Skorzeny, the Mossad decided to recruit him. Based on “interviews with former Mossad officers and with Israelis who have access to the Mossad’s archived secrets”, Raviv and Melman allege that Isser Harel, who directed the Mossad from 1952 to 1963, decided that the former Waffen SS commander would be a useful asset against other Nazis operating in Europe and the Middle East. Specifically, Harel planned to use Skorzeny as a trap to lure a number of Nazi scientists who were secretly working for Egypt’s missile program.

According to Raviv and Melman, a Mossad team was sent to Spain to meet Skorzeny. After a tense incident that involved Skorzeny pointing a loaded weapon at two Mossad operatives, the former Nazi soldier agreed to cooperate with Israel in return for assurances that his name would be removed from the Mossad’s assassination list. Raviv and Melman claim that one of Skorzeny’s most high-profile operations as an agent of the Mossad culminated in the assassination of Heinz Krug in Munich in 1962. Krug was a German rocket scientist who was working for the Egyptian government under the tutelage of Dr Wolfgang Pilz, another rocketry expert who had put together a top-secret missile program for Cairo. Krug was targeted for assassination by Yitzhak Shamir, Israel’s future prime minister, who was then commander of the Mossad’s clandestine operations service.

Krug, who was worried for his life after receiving threatening messages from individuals he believed were connected with the Mossad, reached out to Skorzeny in hopes that the former Waffen SS commander could give him advice on enhancing his personal security. But Skorzeny, operating on orders of the Mossad, shot dead the German scientist in a remote wooded area outside Munich. A Mossad team then poured acid on Krug’s body before burying it in a grave that had been dug in preparation for his killing. According to Raviv and Melman, Skorzeny also sent German scientists in Egypt a number of mail bombs designed by the Mossad, which killed a number of people. Raviv and Melman also state that they received oral confirmation from Rafi Eitan, a legendary Mossad operations officer, that he “met and ran Skorzeny” on behalf of the Israeli intelligence agency.

Skorzeny died of cancer in Spain in 1975. He was 67. It is believed that the Mossad never tried to kill or kidnap him.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 March 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

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