A spying scandal that consumed German telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom is also now spreading to other top German companies, including the country's national railway, Deutsche Bahn and, now, national airline Lufthansa, which has admitted to spying on a former board member and journalist for a financial daily.
Last week, news broke that the security firm Control Risks, working for Deutsche Telekom, spied on a journalist from the Financial Times Deutschland newspaper. Now it has been revealed that Lufthansa also monitored an employee of the business paper in order to identify leaks coming from the airline's board, according to a report to be published in Monday's issue of SPIEGEL. In order to solidify evidence that a member of its control board had contact with the journalist, the company examined the frequent flyer's passenger data. The company had identified him in the mid-1990s after, as a journalist for the business magazine Capital and later for the FTD, he repeatedly reported on confidential board information.
According to information obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE, the Lufthansa board ordered the company's own security department to track down the source of the leaks inside the company. The journalist became suspicious to the company because of a flight from Düsseldorg to Hamburg where he met with his informant, a longtime workers' representative at the company. Because the two had little time to meet, they held their meeting in the airline's lounge at the Hamburg Airport. The controller, who was apparently already suspected by the company as being the source of leaks to FTD was recognized by a coworker. In order to identify the journalist he had spoken to, company workers checked flight data and quickly found him. The sensitive information can be pulled up in an internal computer system called "Corona," where passenger data is stored for up to one year.
When contacted by a SPIEGEL reporter, a Lufthansa spokesperson defended the company's actions. "Nothing illegal happened here," he assured. Because high level industry representatives had been members of the supervisory board at the time, the circle of potential informants had to be narrowed down, the company said. The company noted that the passenger data has to be available to several thousand employees and that, for that reason, it is less protected than Deutsche Telekom's phone records. Besides, if customers board a Lufthansa plane, they have to assume that they can be seen and recognized by other passengers. The FTD's informant quit his position on the supervisory board shortly after being identified by Lufthansa -- "for health reasons."
The spying affairs come on the heels of a series of scandals over dodgy business practices and corruption in Germany. VW executives have been accused of corruption, Siemens has been accused of paying hundreds of millions in bribes to win business, supermarket chain Lidl has admitted to spying on its employees and the former head of Deutsche Post is under criminal investigation for tax evasion in a mass probe. The damage to German industry's overall image could not be any greater.
Most recently, last week, news broke that Deutsche Bahn had contracted Control Risks for 43 different jobs since 1998, paying the company around €800,000. And earlier this month, authorities launched an investigation into Deutsche Telekom, including former CEO Kai-Uwe Ricke and former supervisory board head Klaus Zumwinkel, after the company admitted to spying on employees and journalists following a SPIEGEL exposé that revealed the company's practices.