Turkey calls German spying ‘completely unacceptable’

Protesters gather near Germany's intelligence office (BND) in Berlin. July 2013 [Mike Herbst/Flickr]

Protesters gather near Germany's intelligence office (BND) in Berlin. July 2013. [Mike Herbst/Flickr]

The latest leaked spying records reveal that Germany’s BND intelligence agency considers Turkey a target, complicating relations between Ankara and Berlin at a time when the German government is considering arming Iraq’s Kurdish minority. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Revelations over spying activities by the German foreign intelligence office Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) are undermining relations between Germany and Turkey at an already difficult time.

According to a document acquired by Der Spiegel, the BND has been systematically wiretapping its NATO ally Turkey since at least 2009.

The Turkish foreign minister accused the German government of jeopardising cooperation between the two countries by spying on Turkey. Such surveillance activity is “completely unacceptable”, explained the ministry on Monday (18 August) in Ankara. The BND’s bugging operation must be stopped immediately.

The German government compiles a so-called “order profile” every four years in cooperation with the BND. But the German government will not renew the document until the fall of this year because of the NSA affair. Now, Turkey is up in arms, after the leaks show it is mentioned in the document as an official reconnaissance target.

Yesterday, Ankara called on the German government to provide a comprehensive explanation for the events. The Turkish government summoned German ambassador Eberhard Pohl on Monday morning, a move which is considered a strong signal at the diplomatic level.

Under secretary Erdo?an I?can? made “Turkey’s concern” quite clear, said a Turkish diplomat speaking to the German news portal Spiegel Online.

“It was very specifically not a summons,” said a spokesman for the Foreign Office in Berlin. The conversation, which Turkey had requested, “took place in a friendly atmosphere”, said the spokesman.

So far the German government has only provided vague reactions to the developments. On Monday, the German government’s deputy spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz said, the government will conduct talks with its allies who express an interest to do so.

The BND revelations have surfaced at critical time: last week, Berlin said it would consider sending weapons to Iraqi Kurds, to assist them in their fight against the extremist Sunni Arab group Islamic State (IS).  

>>Read: Germany open to sending military aid to Iraq government

According to the German government, spying on Turkey does not violate the dictum voiced by Angela Merkel that surveillance among friends is unacceptable.

“Over the past few years we have never claimed that such behaviour applies to all NATO states”, Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung wrote, citing government sources.

Turkey is not comparable to the United States or European partners like France and Great Britain. What happens in Turkey has direct relevance to Germany’s internal security, the sources explained.

This includes the activities of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) or left and right-wing extremist Turkish groups in Germany, as well as trafficking of drugs and human beings, they said. Government sources also indicated reports that the Turkish government is attempting to promote political goals via Turkish clubs and associations.

But the Turkish Community in Germany reacted with “outrage”. Safter Ç?nar, the organisation’s chairman, and Gökay Sofuo?lu, said the German government and the BND see all Turkish clubs in Germany as terror suspects and henchmen for the Turkish government.

Bundestag MPs defend surveillance activities

Jürgen Trittin, an MP from the German Green party, and former faction chief, believes intelligence gathering in Turkey is justifiable.

Germany’s national security is “directly affected” by the tensions in the border area between Turkey and Syria, he said, not to mention the fact that soldiers from the German Bundeswehr are stationed there.

“[Germany] cannot be blamed for the fact that a secret intelligence service is collecting information there”, Trittin argued in a statement for Berliner Zeitung.

Patrick Sensburg, a center-right politician, and chairmain of the NSA investigation committee in the Bundestag, indicated the invaluable nature of reconnaissance in the Iraqi border area. It is extremely important, Sensburg said, to have a reliable basis for political decisions.

“In that case I would like to refer to own intelligence information”, said Sensburg.

News that Germany was spying on Turkey recently reached the public through Markus R., who has been in custody since July for working as a double agent. He stole at least 218 documents and sold them to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for €25,000.

Among the leaked documents is a paper suggesting the BND recorded telephone conversations of Secretary of State John Kerry and his predecessor Hillary Clinton as a “by-catch” during espionage in the Middle East. In one case, a recording of Clinton was not immediately erased, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported.

The German government is expected to report on the situation in the Bundestag’s assigned Parliamentary Control Panel. The panel was already informed of a portion of the information in July, the Süddeutsche’s report said, and it will be filled in on the remaining information shortly.

This was contradicted by the deputy chairman of the Parliamentary Control Panel André Hahn from the German Left Party.

These wiretapping activities were a “solitary decision”, Hahn told Deutschlandfunk radio. In the panel, Hahn said “neither Clinton’s name nor that of Kerry were mentioned and Turkey was also not referred to as a target of surveillance.”

At the 24-25 October EU summit German Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded that the United States strike a "no-spying" agreement with Berlin and Paris by the end of the year, saying alleged espionage against two of Washington's closest EU allies had to be stopped.

Merkel said she wanted action from US President Barack Obama, not just apologetic words following revelations that the US National Security Agency had accessed tens of thousands of French phone records and monitored Merkel's private mobile phone.

Germany and France will seek a "mutual understanding" with the United States on cooperation between their intelligence agencies, and other EU member states could eventually take part.

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