Spying Together: Germany's Deep Cooperation with the NSA
Part 2: German Aid for US Drone Attacks?
The list includes addresses that appear to have fallen into the surveillance crosshairs and were only later revealed to be German. This indicates that the filtering system the BND reportedly uses does not reliably prevent German targets with .com and .org domain names from being monitored, and that those names must be removed retroactively.
In response to questioning about the close cooperation in Bad Aibling, the BND said that the Joint SIGINT Activity and the Joint Analytical Center were discontinued "in 2012 and 2011, respectively." In addition, the BND noted in a statement, no joint surveillance took place prior to the facility's discontinuation: "Even before, signals intelligence was performed exclusively by the BND."
Bad Aibling also plays a central role in the question of whether the NSA is collecting data in Germany. A map from the spy program Boundless Informant, published by SPIEGEL in the summer of 2013, indicates that the NSA collects vast amounts of data in Germany and points to primary metadata collection points (or "SIGADS"), identified by the codes US-987LA and US-987LB.
The document shows that these two SIGADS sent some 500 million points of metadata from Germany to NSA databases during a four-week period from the end of 2012 to the beginning of 2013. One document, which explains the program, says that data is collected "against" a target country.
The NSA has never explicitly commented on the two collection sites, but according to the BND, there is an explanation that refutes the accusation that the US spied on Germany. The BND believes "that the SIGADs US 987-LA and US 987-LB refer to Bad Aibling and to a signals intelligence site in Afghanistan." That would mean, the BND says, that the 500 million data points might have been collected by the BND outside of Germany and then transferred to the NSA. Still, the German intelligence agency noted that it couldn't say for sure whether that would account for all of the data listed by the NSA.
Should the BND's explanation be correct, it would mean that the formulation used by "Boundless Informant" -- and SPIEGEL's own interpretation -- were misleading. But it would also provide yet more evidence for the enormous exchange of information between Germany and the NSA.
In the Wharpdrive program, BND specialists are taking the lead. According to one document from the Snowden archive, Germany's cooperation with the NSA's Special Source Operations is meant to provide "unconventional special access" to fiber-optic cables.
'High Interest Target Areas'
In that same document, the Americans express their respect, praising the Germans for operations undertaken "under risky conditions" and noted that the BND "offered NSA unique accesses in high interest target areas."
A 2006 document verifies that the BND and the NSA not only work closely together, but that they are also often on equal technological footing. At the time, US intelligence workers visited a BND office in the town of Schöningen, Lower Saxony. The office is just a few kilometers away from the city center's half-timbered houses. The site's location near the former border with East Germany used to help the BND eavesdrop on its communist neighbors.
As Germany got consumed by hosting the World Cup in the summer of 2006, BND analysts gave presentations to their American colleagues about which electronic tools they used. The equipment, the Americans noted in meeting minutes, were sometimes more effective than the NSA's own.
As far back as 2006, the BND was working in Schöningen on algorithms that could detect patterns or anomalies and thus enable it to exploit social networks for intelligence purposes. With a subject line on meeting notes reading "Visitors impressed with software demos," the Americans expressed high regard for their German colleagues. They also praised the intercepts from Afghanistan that the "BND shares on a daily basis."
Indeed, NSA staff seemed to be pleased with much of what the BND does in Afghanistan. There is no other issue in Snowden's documents that is the subject of as much praise for the BND, the role it plays and what it shares. There are numerous instances in which the agency lauds the Germans for leadership and for the monitoring of additional civilian and military targets that they have taken on.
A presentation on the cooperation among 14 intelligence services in Afghanistan shows that the partners have the ability to exchange intelligence in "near real time," including the contents of encrypted mobile phone conversations and so-called "target packages" containing information on targets.
When SPIEGEL reported last summer on the sharing of target information, the BND did not deny this activity. But it did challenge the conjecture that the data might serve as the basis for American drone attacks. The situation remains a complicated one: It's not possible to target a drone attack based on a mobile phone number's having accessed a cell phone base station, but drones can be turned into flying mobile phone base stations by equipping them with what are known as IMSI catchers -- phones then automatically connect to an IMSI catcher when the drone flies overhead. This also means that metadata supplied through BND surveillance could very well contribute to guiding the deadly drones to their targets. Indeed, the former head of NSA and CIA Michael Hayden recently confirmed, "We kill people based on metadata."
New documents also indicate the high significance of German surveillance to the US military in Afghanistan. Germany and 13 of its allies deliver intelligence to a unit on the American military base in Bagram. This is home to the NSA's "Cryptologic Services Group," a unit that feeds intelligence to controversial units like the secret Task Force 373, who had the mission of capturing or killing high-value Taliban or al-Qaida targets.
These connections between the BND and NSA raise difficult questions about the German government and its foreign intelligence service, such as whether Germany participated indirectly in death squad operations, which can result in the deaths of civilians or police.
The government has declined to comment on such questions. So far, there have merely been general statements, like the one made most recently by German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière at an event in Berlin. He described the United States as Germany's most important ally and said, "If it were up to us, we would continue it in absolute terms and even intensify it."
There is substantial evidence in Snowden's documents that German authorities are trying to do just that. In April 2013, a BND delegation led by an official named Dietmar B. visited the NSA. The BND "is eager to present its SIGINT capabilities ... with the goal of expanding the partnership," an NSA document notes. The document says that officials welcome "the BND's eagerness to strengthen and expand cooperation with NSA."
Other documents state that the BND offers "language assistance" in African languages. It is also clear that the BND shares the results of its monitoring of two foreign ministries as well as Internet telephony originating from a crisis-plagued country in the Middle East.
There was only one point on which the United States expressed reserve: A request by the Germans to use information from NSA surveillance in "open court." The document, from April 2013, said there were concerns that the disclosure of surveillance capabilities in a German court could have ramifications and that the "desired and planned level of cooperation" could not be maintained.
In this instance, Germany's adherence to its own constitution seems bothersome to the Americans.
By Hubert Gude, Andy Müller-Maguhn, Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach, Jörg Schindler and Fidelius Schmid
Translated from the German by Charles Hawley and Daryl Lindsey
- Part 1: Germany's Deep Cooperation with the NSA
- Part 2: German Aid for US Drone Attacks?
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