BND scandal: Bundestag committee issues ultimatum

Radar domes in Bad Aibling help the German intelligence service conduct surveillance. [novofoto/Flickr]

The Bundestag’s NSA investigation committee has demanded lists of search terms Germany’s intelligence service, the BND, allegedly spied on for Washington.

The committee is planning its first hearing with witnesses, amid allegations that the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) helped its US counterpart spy on European companies and institutions.

Two BND employees are expected to be summoned for questioning to determine “who knew what when and reported what to whom”, the chairman of the parliamentary committee, Patrick Sensburg, told Tagesspiegel on Sunday (3 May).

Across party lines, committee members are also calling for access to so-called “Selector Lists”.

These include contested search terms that the BND allegedly spied on for the NSA while monitoring satellite communication data.

The deciding factor for Bundstag MPs is a list of around 2000 search queries that the two BND witnesses had additionally blocked as problematic after the Snowden revelations.

Selector lists to be provided by Thursday

On Sunday, Christian Flisek, the Social Democratic Party’s head in the NSA investigation committee, presented the German government with an ultimatum.

“I can understand that the federal government wants to coordinate with the Americans. But I expect the list with the selectors to be presented to us by Thursday (7 May),” Flisek told Tagesspiegel.

The German government must reach a sovereign decision, he said. It must even act against the will of the United States, if necessary, in the event that the latter does not agree to providing the selector lists, Flisek warned.

If the German government does not grant the committee access, “then I assume there will be a joint lawsuit from all factions”, Flisek indicated.

>>Read: Juncker on Germany’s BND scandal: ‘It is very difficult to keep secret services under control’

The Green Party has already threatened to sue the government if it refuses to give the committee access.

Konstantin von Notz, who specialises in internet policy for the Greens, along with the SPD’s vice chairman Ralf Stegner, also want to bring Chancellor Angela Merkel in for questioning before the committee of investigators.

Leader of the Left Party Bernd Riexinger said the chancellory’s chiefs of staff from the past few years should also be questioned under oath.

But the committee’s chairman Sensburg said such summons are not yet planned, just as no new interrogation is expected with BND president Gerhard Schindler.

“Responsibilities at the leadership level, and at the political level if need be, will only be addressed should the allegations become more solid,” said Sensburg.

The SPD’s vice faction chairman in the Bundestag, Eva Högl, called for a reorganisation of the legal basis for intelligence service work.

“We need to redesign the BND law, particularly the surveillance of foreign communications,” she told Tagesspiegel. “Here, we as the SPD will develop concrete proposals in the next few weeks.”

After all, she said, it concerns massive intrusions on the personal rights of those affected.

Europeans have reacted angrily to allegations that a US intelligence agency had tapped the servers of internet companies for personal data, saying such activity confirmed their fears about American Web giants' reach and showed that tighter regulations were needed just as the EU and US conducting trade talks.

In July 2013, Paris prosecutors opened a preliminary inquiry into the NSA's programme, known as Prism, after Britain's Guardian newspaper and German magazine Der Spiegel revealed wide-scale spying by the agency leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

In Germany many are particularly sensitive about surveillance, given the state's history of spying on its own people during the Cold War. Protests over data privacy and the NSA continue as more and more is revealed about surveillance practices in recent years.

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