Cover Story How the NSA Targets Germany and Europe
Part 2: Spying on the European Union
An NSA table (see graphic), published for the first time here by SPIEGEL, documents the massive amount of information captured from the monitored data traffic. According to the graph, on an average day last December, the agency gathered metadata from some 15 million telephone connections and 10 million Internet datasets. On Dec. 24, it collected data on around 13 million phone calls and about half as many Internet connections.
On the busiest days, such as Jan. 7 of this year, the information gathered spiked to nearly 60 million communications processes under surveillance. The Americans are collecting metadata from up to half a billion communications a month in Germany -- making the country one of the biggest sources of streams of information flowing into the agency's gigantic sea of data.
Another look at the NSA's data hoard shows how much less information the NSA is taking from countries like France and Italy. In the same period, the agency recorded data from an average of around 2 million connections, and about 7 million on Christmas Eve. In Poland, which is also under surveillance, the numbers varied between 2 million and 4 million in the first three weeks of December.
But the NSA's work has little to do with classic eavesdropping. Instead, it's closer to a complete structural acquisition of data. Believing that less can be extrapolated from such metadata than from intercepted communication content would be a mistake, though. It's a gold mine for investigators, because it shows not only contact networks, but also enables the creation of movement profiles and even predictions about the possible behavior of the people participating in the communication under surveillance.
According to insiders familiar with the German portion of the NSA program, the main interest is in a number of large Internet hubs in western and southern Germany. The secret NSA documents show that Frankfurt plays an important role in the global network, and the city is named as a central base in the country. From there, the NSA has access to Internet connections that run not only to countries like Mali or Syria, but also to ones in Eastern Europe. Much suggests that the NSA gathers this data partly with and without Germany's knowledge, although the individual settings by which the data is filtered and sorted have apparently been discussed. By comparison, the "Garlick" system, with which the NSA monitored satellite communication out of the Bavarian town of Bad Aibling for years, seems modest. The NSA listening station at Bad Aibling was at the center of the German debate over America's controversial Echelon program and alleged industrial espionage during the 1990s.
"The US relationship with Germany has been about as close as you can get,"American journalist and NSA expert James Bamford recently told German weekly Die Zeit. "We probably put more listening posts in Germany than anyplace because of its proximity to the Soviet Union."
Such foreign partnerships, one document states, provide "unique target access."
'Privacy of Telecommunications' Is 'Inviolable'
But the US does not share the results of the surveillance with all of these foreign partners, the document continues. In many cases, equipment and technical support are offered in exchange for the signals accessed. Often the agency will offer equipment, training and technical support to gain access to its desired targets. These "arrangements" are typically bilateral and made outside of any military and civil relationships the US might have with these countries, one top secret document shows. This international division of labor seems to violate Article 10 of Germany's constitution, the Basic Law, which guarantees that "the privacy of correspondence, posts and telecommunications shall be inviolable" and can only be suspended in narrowly defined exceptions.
"Any analyst can target anyone anytime," Edward Snowden said in his video interview, and that includes a federal judge or the president, if an email address is available, he added.
Just how unscrupulously the US government allows its intelligence agencies to act is documented by a number of surveillance operations that targeted the European Union in Brussels and Washington, for which it has now become clear that the NSA was responsible.
A little over five years ago, security experts discovered that a number of odd, aborted phone calls had been made around a certain extension within the Justus Lipsius building, the headquarters of the European Council, the powerful body representing the leaders of the EU's 27 member states. The calls were all made to numbers close to the one used as the remote servicing line of the Siemens telephone system used in the building. Officials in Brussels asked the question: How likely is it that a technician or service computer would narrowly misdial the service extension a number of times? They traced the origin of the calls -- and were greatly surprised by what they found. It had come from a connection just a few kilometers away in the direction of the Brussels airport, in the suburb of Evere, where NATO headquarters is located.
The EU security experts managed to pinpoint the line's exact location -- a building complex separated from the rest of the headquarters. From the street, it looks like a flat-roofed building with a brick facade and a large antenna on top. The structure is separated from the street by a high fence and a privacy shield, with security cameras placed all around. NATO telecommunications experts -- and a whole troop of NSA agents -- work inside. Within the intelligence community, this place is known as a sort of European headquarters for the NSA.
A review of calls made to the remote servicing line showed that it was reached several times from exactly this NATO complex -- with potentially serious consequences. Every EU member state has rooms at the Justus Lipsius building for use by ministers, complete with telephone and Internet connections.
Unscrupulous in Washington
The NSA appears to be even more unscrupulous on its home turf. The EU's diplomatic delegation to the United States is located in an elegant office building on Washington's K Street. But the EU's diplomatic protection apparently doesn't apply in this case. As parts of one NSA document seen by SPIEGEL indicate, the NSA not only bugged the building, but also infiltrated its internal computer network. The same goes for the EU mission at the United Nations in New York. The Europeans are a "location target," a document from Sept. 2010 states. Requests to discuss these matters with both the NSA and the White House went unanswered.
Now a high-level commission of experts, agreed upon by European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding and US Attorney General Eric Holder, is to determine the full scope of the routine data snooping and discuss the legal protection possibilities for EU citizens. A final report is expected to be released in October.
The extent of the NSA's systematic global surveillance network is highlighted in an overview from Fort Meade, the agency's headquarters. It describes a number of secret operations involving the surveillance of Internet and international data traffic. "In the Information Age, (the) NSA aggressively exploits foreign signals traveling complex global networks," an internal description states.
Details in a further, previously unpublished document reveal exactly what takes place there. It describes how the NSA received access to an entire bundle of fiber-optic cables, which have a data-transfer capacity of several gigabytes per second. It is one of the Internet's larger superhighways. The paper indicates that access to the cables is a relatively recent development and includes Internet backbone circuits, "including several that service the Russian market." Technicians in Fort Meade are able to access "thousands of trunk groups connected worldwide," according to the document. In a further operation, the intelligence organization is able to monitor a cable that collects data flows from the Middle East, Europe, South America and Asia (see graphic).
But it is not just intelligence agencies from allied nations that have willingly aided the NSA. Revelations related to the Prism program make it clear that agents likewise access vast quantity of data from US Internet companies.
- Part 1: How the NSA Targets Germany and Europe
- Part 2: Spying on the European Union
- Part 3: NSA 'Alliances With Over 80 Major Global Corporations'