'Project 6' CIA Spies Operating in the Heart of Germany
Part 2: Letter of the Law Not Always Applied
The American search request suggests that the letter of the law is not always applied in the war on terror. Among the individuals identified by the intelligence agencies was Stefan Buchen, a journalist with North German Broadcasting (NDR). As the CIA agents wrote in their letter, Buchen's telephone number had been "identified due to its association with Abdul Majeed al-Zindani," a radical cleric in Yemen who the United States believed was a key supporter of former al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
The Americans do not describe what exactly the reporter's "association" to the red-bearded Islamist was. But even if there was such an association, it should be relatively easy to explain. The NDR journalist has been conducting research in Arab countries for many years. He was in Yemen in 2010 to track down two Germans who young Muslims from Germany had been instructed to smuggle into radical Koran schools in Yemen. Buchen was doing his research into the isolated environment of Islamists, canvassing their mosques in the capital Sana'a. In the end, he did manage to find one of the two men.
Buchen was a "journalist from Hamburg who specializes in investigative journalism on terrorism," the CIA officials claimed, including his passport number and date of birth in their letter. They also wrote that "our agency believes Buchen may have visited Afghanistan multiple times in the past five years."
The BfV, which considers its collaboration with other agencies to be "in need of secrecy," assures that such projects are conducted "exclusively on the basis of the provisions of German law." At least the BND confirms the existence of P6, but it also notes that the cooperative venture ended in 2010. It was "not a project to monitor telecommunications traffic," and the German agencies had consistently acted "on the basis of their legal authority."
'Significant Security Interests'
In fact, Section 19 of the German Act on the Protection of the Constitution prohibits the release of personal data to foreign agencies, even if they can claim "significant security interests." But the law also states that the intelligence service requires a so-called file order "for every automated file." In addition, before such an order can come into effect, the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information must be consulted.
Peter Schaar, who has held this office for almost 10 years, is unaware of any of this. "I have no knowledge of such a database, nor was any of this reported to me in the context of a file order," says Germany's top data privacy official. If the database had been declared, he adds, he would probably have objected. In Schaar's opinion, a construct like P6 is "at least comparable with the counter-terrorism file," a collection of data about suspicious terrorist structures, to which dozens of German government agencies have had access since 2007. "Anyone who conducts such a project would certainly have to guarantee that all activities are fully documented and subjected to a data privacy review," says Schaar.
Another supervisory body was also seemingly kept in the dark about Project 6. Several longstanding members of the parliamentary control committee of the German parliament, the Bundestag, cannot recall having been informed about a jointly organized exchange of data involving the BfV, the BND and the CIA -- neither in Neuss nor in any other secret location. By law, the German government is required to inform the committee about "events of special importance" -- a phrase that remains open to interpretation.
A Productive German-American Collaboration
Security experts among the opposition, at any rate, are irritated. The committee has met several times since the NSA affair began, and representatives of the government and the intelligence services were repeatedly asked about the nature and scope of cooperation with the Americans and British. However, the term "P6" was never mentioned. "The administration should have informed us about this, at least within the last three months," says Left Party politician Steffen Bockhahn, "if this isn't an especially important procedure, what then?"
Even the termination of Project 6 has had no effect on the productive German-American collaboration. Last year, the BfV alone sent 864 data sets to the CIA, NSA and seven other US intelligence agencies.
They returned the favor in the same year by sending the Germans information on 1,830 occasions. It included communications data, which the Americans had intercepted in the arenas of global jihad and, with the help of the BND, forwarded to the German domestic intelligence service. The BfV stores relevant telephone data in a state-of-the-art IT system. A program called Nadis WN, created in June 2012, is accessible to the BfV and its 16 state agencies.
The functions of the P6 software are apparently also integrated into this program. Officially, no one on the German side knows what happened to the data from the project that was sent from the United States.
BY MATTHIAS GEBAUER, HUBERT GUDE, VEIT MEDICK, JÖRG SCHINDLER and FIDELIUS SCHMID
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
- Part 1: CIA Spies Operating in the Heart of Germany
- Part 2: Letter of the Law Not Always Applied