Germany’s intelligence agency, the BND, spied on French officials and the EU’s headquarters on behalf of US intelligence, German media reported Thursday (30 April). Asked to comment, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that it is very difficult to keep secret services under control.
The reports suggest that the US eavesdropping station at Bad Aibling spied on France’s presidential palace and foreign ministry, and the European Commission.
The National Security Agency (NSA) is also reported to have spied on some European firms.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere denies claims of a cover-up. De Maiziere has been heavily criticised in Germany for allowing US intelligence services to break the country’s strict privacy laws, and use Germany as a base for spying on European governments, including his own.
The BND reportedly collected information on European businesses at Washington’s behest, to check if they were breaking trade embargoes.
Journalists asked Juncker, who appeared in front of the press today with visiting Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, to comment on the revelations.
“One day I said at a College meeting that we should have a secret service, because agents are here. I don’t know if German agents are active here, but I don’t want to make specific comments, although I’m a kind of specialist in secret services. I know they are very difficult to be kept under control,” Juncker said.
He obviously referred to the scandal with the Luxembourg secret services, who brought down his government in July 2013. An inquiry revealed that SREL, the Luxembourg state intelligence service, conducted illegal wiretapping operations between 2007 and 2009, as well as covert operations in Iraq, Cuba and Libya.
Juncker said it was up to the German authorities to deal with the issue. He also answered positively when asked if he agreed that spying between allies is a “no-go”.
The question was in fact a reminder of Merkel’s phrase who pronounced it during the NSA scandal in July 2014, with reference to the US. Ironically now Germany appears to be in the same uncomfortable position as the USA.
Questioned as to how this would affect the ongoing Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks, Juncker said he didn’t have any evidence of the allegations, and that it would be irresponsible of him to give a clear-cut answer on this.
Minutes later, Juncker’s spokesperson Margaritis Schinas said smilingly that the executive would be “a little bit disappointed if its activities would not attract the interest of others”. But he added that it’s up to the national authorities to investigate, as the commission doesn’t have a secret service.
“I can confirm that we don’t spy on anybody,” Shinas said.
Concerning how the Commission protects its information, he said “we are on the ball on the issue”.
De Maiziere called for the internal BND report to be presented to a parliamentary committee, “the sooner the better”.
The huge scale of NSA surveillance in Europe – including joint spying operations with the UK’s GCHQ – was revealed in 2013 by US whistleblower Edward Snowden.
There was outrage in Germany because of the scope of NSA spying, which reports indicated included snooping on Chancellor Merkel’s mobile phone conversations. The revelations strained German-US diplomatic ties.
Last July, Germany expelled a CIA official based at the US embassy, as reports surfaced of German security officials having spied for the NSA.
Germany’s leftist Die Linke party accused the German government on Wednesday of “lying” in connection with NSA activities.
The revelations are especially poignant for Die Linke, as the successor to the Socialist Unity Party (SED), which governed the Communist German Democratic Republic (GDR), until 1989. The SED oversaw a vast domestic surveillance apparatus, through its intelligency agency, the Stasi.
German media reports speak of NSA attempts to spy on Airbus and Eurocopter, now known as Airbus Helicopters, via the BND.