Germany: The secret service’s 300-million-euro surveillance plan

By EDRi · September 23, 2015

This is a shortened English version of the German article originally published by Andre Meister on Translation and changes by Kirsten Fiedler and Nikolai Schnarrenberger.

Fibreoptic surveillance, scanning of Internet traffic in real time, cracking encryption, hacking computers: Germany’s foreign intelligence agency “Bundesnachrichtendienst” (BND) is massively expanding its internet surveillance capabilities. On 21 September, the German blog published the classified 300 million euro investment programme “Strategische Initiative Technik” (Strategic Initiative Technology – SIT). Members of the German Bundestag and civil society have criticised the agency’s new powers and demand an end of the programme.

In May 2014, shortly after the German Parliament’s US National Security Agency (NSA) inquiry committee began its work, German media reported that the BND was investing in a 300 million euro programme called “Strategic Initiative Technology” (SIT). The official timetable of the BND indicates that in 2014, preparations for the launch of SIT were undertaken. The actual launch of the programme is under way right now.

In the document, it is explained that:

With its technical modernisation programme, the BND intends to respond to the technological developments as indicated. The last technical modernisation programme ran out in 2008, and subsequent single measures could not prevent an investment backlog which has grown huge by now.

It is not entirely clear what kind of “technical modernisation” expired in 2008. The operation Eikonal, the joint initiative of BND and NSA to route and scan internet traffic massively at the Telekom in Frankfurt terminated in 2008, as we know. At that time, the BND received hardware and software from the NSA, while the BND offered access to the Internet node DE-CIX in Frankfurt: surveillance technology in exchange for data. But the NSA wanted more spying capabilities than the BND initially intended to grant. Therefore, 38 000 selectors were allegedly used, which officially violate ”German and European interests”. As a result, the BND stopped the transfer to the NSA to end the project.

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The BND now wants to be able to perform wiretapping on its own. The Snowden revelations about skills and financial resources of the Five-Eyes Intelligence Services, an intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, aren’t seen as a warning but rather transformed into a wish-list for the BND: The German agency wants to play “on an equal level with the western partner services”:

The BND’s plans are in synchronicity with those of other intelligence services. To avoid losing important intelligence capabilities and to encounter novel security threats, our partner countries have made substantial investments in their intelligence services. The US has gradually increased the NSA budget by more than fifty percent to nearly eleven billion dollars since 2004. The main partners in Europe, France and the UK, invested several hundred million euro in technical modernisation programmes since 2009 and 2011 (500 million euro, respectively 650 million pounds sterling) and significantly increased the budget of its intelligence services step by step in the last few years. If the BND can not keep its capabilities in step with the state of the art, it is endangered to fall back behind countries like Italy or Spain, causing negative consequences for the knowledge exchange within the Community and the risk of isolation.

The technical wish-list as requested by the BND is divided into five areas:

  1. SIGINT (Signal Intellicence): Similarly to the intelligence services of the Five Eyes, the BND invests a major part of its resources in ”signals intelligence” (SIGINT). BND explains that ”technical intelligence“ can only be ”the cornerstone of a modern and efficient Federal Intelligence Service, aligned to future challenges”. The search for “a needle in a haystack” is only successful if the search is carried out in a targeted manner and in real-time.
  2. Internet operation skills (CYBER) are to be increased. The technical possibilities to explore the Internet as a public information space are used extensively for the investigation of communications and content that are directed against Germany.
  3. In the field of sensor technology, technological progress is used for the investigation of atomic, biological and chemical etc. weapons on mission areas.
  4. The increasing use of biometrics and the consequent risk of human intelligence (HUMINT) operations are to be responded with new methods and systems.
  5. With the expansion of integrated data analysis (AIDA) programme, new kinds of analytic tools will be put in place. According to the BND, traditional intelligence methods are ”not up to the new requirements both in terms of the amount of data, and to the content of the individual particles”. Therefore, the BND wants to develop new approaches to monitor social media.

Data protection experts criticised the programme, in particular the plans for AIDA, and believe that the storage and processing of self-published data represents a new designated use, which needs a new legal basis. Despite this uncertain legal situation, the BND is moving ahead with the project and has commissioned a feasibility study. According to the BND documents, this study should include the “launch of the observation and analysis of selected information channels” – i.e. the observation of social networks such as Facebook and blogs. These should be analysed “with regard to simple, defined issues”. The result is to be “incorporated into the production process of the BND and be evaluated there”. Strategic Initiative Technology: We Unveil the BND Plans to Upgrade its Surveillance Technology for 300 Million Euros (23.09.2015)