The German government's deployment of reconnaissance jets to spy on a camp of anti-globalization activists attending protests at last week's G-8 summit has prompted an outcry in Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition.
The kerfuffle began in earnest after protesters alerted Hans-Christian Ströbele, a Green member of the German parliament, that they had seen a reconnaissance jets conduct a flyover of the camp in Reddelich near Heiligendamm.
The jets had been deployed in order to monitor the area for signs of a possible terrorist attack or danger to G-8 leaders meeting at Heiligendamm as Germany hosted the group's annual summit. On Tuesday, Germany's Defense Ministry confirmed that two of the jets, which are currently being used to monitor Taliban activity in Afghanistan, had been deployed during the summit to monitor the area surrounding the massive security fence that had been erected to separate G-8 leaders from protesters. One of the planes flew over the G-8 protest camp at the lowest permitted altitude of 150 meters (492 feet) on June 5, one day before the summit kicked off.
Spying on Protesters
Ströbele claimed the flyover had violated the German constitution. "It crosses all limits of acceptable technical help for the police, if reconnaissance fighter jets are used like in Afghanistan to spy on protesters," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE.
In a newspaper interview published on Wednesday, the leading domestic policy spokesman for the Social Democrats (SPD), the junior partner in Merkel's coalition government, accused the Defense Ministry of acting recklessly.
While the decision to spy on protesters at the camp may not have violated the German constitution, politically the move was "extremely dumb and insensitive," Dieter Wiefelspütz of the SPD told the Passauer Neuen Presse newspaper. In pointed comments directed at Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung of the Christian Democrats (CDU), Wiefelspütz added: "It's a provocation. Jung shouldn't aggravate us." He said police could have managed the same kind of reconnaissance using their own helicopters and accused the defense minister of lacking "political instinct."
The Defense Ministry, which confirmed the deployment of the Tornado jets at Ströbele's request, stated: "The flight was carried out just like other flights in the context of the technical administrative assistance that had been requested by the G-8 organizing staff of the state of Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania." The purpose of the reconnaissance flights in May and June of 2007 was "to recognize changes in the condition of the soil and manipulations near important street sections by comparing the photo material." The aerial photos, including some of Camp Reddelich, were passed on to "Kavala," the special police force charged with providing security and order during the G-8 summit.
The Green Party's spokesman for defense issues, Winfried Nachtwei, said the deployment crossed the line of technical administrative assistance and said he would seek to address the issue in Germany's parliament, the Bundestag.
In separate post-G-8 fallout, senior members of the Green Party are also displeased about the way protesters at the G-8 summit were treated after violent riots broke out on June 2 in the German port of Rostock, located near Heiligendamm. Renate Künast, who heads the Greens' parliamentary group, said she would take up the issue in the Bundestag. Many protesters, she said, were "unjustly" arrested and were not provided with access to attorneys.
Detained protesters were also placed in cages that Künast said evoked images of "animal husbandry." Those detained, she said, were under "constant video surveillance, they could be seen (in the cages) from all sides, there was no gender separation and the lights were on constantly."
"These are inhumane accommodations," she said.