German Intelligence caught spying on journalist's emails

By EDRi · May 7, 2008

(Dieser Artikel ist auch in deutscher Sprache verfügbar)

The German Federal Intelligence Service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND),
has been recently under pressure for having illicitly monitored the e-mails
between Spiegel correspondent Susanne Koelbl and Afghanistan’s Commerce
Minister Amin Farhang.

The German parliamentary commission in charge with investigating the
activities of the secret services (PKG) criticised BND, believing the agency
had been compromised by this case that it considered “a grave breach of
basic rights”. “The trust between the PKG and the leadership of the BND has
been violated by this,” stated PKG. The commission also considered it
unacceptable that Uhrlau, the BND president, had not informed the German
government or the commission about the case and that even BND’s leadership
had learned about the case only a year after the operation took
place, which represented a violation of the internal policy requiring
official clearance.

Although Uhrlau publicly apologised to Susanne Koelbl, apparently, the
target was not the Spiegel journalist this time, but Amin Farhang,
Afghanistan’s commerce minister, who exchanged e-mails with the reporter
between June and November 2006. Koelbl’s correspondence was retrieved by
using a “Trojan horse” software which invaded the minister’s computer system
and which was sending copies of his e-mail messages to the BND. Furthermore,
Spiegel has learned that the BND was performing more extensive spying
activities in Afghanistan having actually monitored the entire computer
network of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. BND specialists had
succeeded in retrieving several government e-mail addresses, confidential
documents and even passwords.

Der Spiegel, after having asked Farhang’s permission to reveal his name,
stated that the minister had been a secret source for some of its articles
in the recent years. The magazine called the case “a grave encroachment on
press freedom” and threatened to take legal action against the BND.

The Afghan government was shocked by the case. “I am appalled and disgusted
by these methods, which have no place in a constitutional state,” commented
Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta. German Foreign Minister
Frank-Walter Steinmeier has called his Afghan counterpart to apologize for
the monitoring operation. The German Foreign Ministry said Steinmeier would
also contact Farhang to express his regrets personally.

This espionage action is not the first for the BND in relation to
journalists. In 2006 it came out that German reporters were placed under
surveillance by the intelligence agents to find out sources of leaks from
the BND. As a result of the big scandal the followed this discovery, the BND
president was changed. Ernst Uhrlau, the new president, had pledged to make
the service more transparent.

“It hasn’t even been three years since the BND’s last scandal, over
systematic domestic spying on journalists. (That scandal) led to an
internal directive forbidding surveillance of reporters. The directive is
still in force, according to the BND. But we now know that only a short
while later, in June 2006, a new half-year bugging operation was mounted
against a German journalist – this time in Afghanistan. There are hints
that she was not the only one” wrote Die Tageszeitung.

It appears Uhrlau will keep his job although he seems to have lost control
over some of the agents and had failed to inform the Chancellery, which is
responsible for supervising the BND’s activities.
However, a draft law would be drawn in the coming months to give the
Parliament powers to monitor the agency, as stated Hans-Peter Uhl, a deputy
from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative party.

German spy agency rapped over Afghan email monitoring (24.04.2008)

German Spies Put Afghan Ministry under Surveillance (26.04.2008),1518,549894,00.html

Germany Apologizes for Spying on Afghan Minister (26.04.2008),2144,3294534,00.html

BND Agents ‘Knew What They Were Doing’ (25.04.2008),1518,549765,00.html

Agency Admits Spying on Afghan Politician and SPIEGEL Journalist