Media Report Berlin Denies Military Knew About Prism

A media report on Wednesday alleged that a NATO document proves the German military knew about the NSA's Prism surveillance program in 2011. But both Berlin and the country's foreign intelligence agency deny the account, saying there was a NATO program with the same name in Afghanistan.

Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière with General Major Markus Kneip in Afghanistan.

Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière with General Major Markus Kneip in Afghanistan.

The German government has so far claimed that it knew nothing of the United States' Prism spying program, revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden last month. But parts of a confidential NATO document published by daily Bild on Wednesday show that the German military, the Bundeswehr, may have already been aware of the National Security Agency's operations in 2011, the paper alleged.

The document, reportedly sent on Sept. 1, 2011 to all regional commands by the joint NATO headquarters in Afghanistan, gives specific instructions for working together on a program called Prism, which the paper said was the same as that run by the NSA. According to Bild, the document was also sent to the regional command in northern Afghanistan, for which Germany was responsible at the time under General Major Markus Kneip.

Should the media report be confirmed, Berlin's claims of ignorance will prove to have been false. But on Wednesday afternoon, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert denied the Bild story, saying that the document referred to a separate program that had been run by NATO troops, and not the US. The programs were "not identical," he said.

The BND, Germany's foreign intelligence agency, also weighed in with a statement, saying that the program had not been confidential and was also not the same as the NSA's Prism operation. "The program called Prism by the Bild report today is a NATO/ISAF program that is not identical to the NSA's program," it said. "The BND had no knowledge of the name, range or scope of the NSA program."

A Separate Prism Program?

According to the document cited by Bild, as of Sept. 15 that year, regional commands were instructed to apply for monitoring telephone calls and e-mails, according to the document, in which Prism is named at least three times. "Existing COMINT (communications intelligence) nominations submitted outside of PRISM must be resubmitted into PRISM IOT," it reads.

It also states that access to the Prism program is regulated by the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS), which is used by various US intelligence services to transmit classified information.

"Coalition RCs (regional commands) will utilize the US military or civilian personnel assigned to their collection management shop ISRLO (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Liaison Officer)," it goes on. In Bild's assessment, "military or civilian personnel" stands for US intelligence service staff.

Keeping Track of Terrorists

The purpose of all this was to "submit the telephone numbers and email addresses of terrorists into the surveillance system," the paper reports.

It also claims to have seen documents indicating that the BND, Germany's foreign intelligence agency, provided such telephone numbers to NATO, where they were ultimately fed into the surveillance system as well.

The reason for the NATO order was that the NSA's director had tasked the US military with coordinating surveillance in Afghanistan, Bild reported.

The German Defense Ministry told the paper that it had "no information and knowledge of such an order," but would be looking into the matter.

In response to the report, Green party parliamentarian and defense spokesman Omid Nouripour told SPIEGEL ONLINE that Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière must clarify the situation. "These circumstances destroy the government's line of defense" on the NSA scandal, he said. Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right coalition can "no longer claim it didn't know anything about Prism."

As more details emerge about the scope of the NSA's worldwide spying program and Germany's alleged role in the surveillance, the scandal is becoming a central issue in the country's campaign for the upcoming general election. Germans are particularly sensitive about data protection because of their history of state encroachment on civil liberties, first under the Nazis and then in communist East Germany. And if it turns out that Berlin knowingly tolerated and participated in the NSA activities, many would see it as a betrayal by the government.


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peterboyle.4848 07/17/2013
1. Betrayal or ?
Only the truly naieve are surprised that their government would lie to them. That being said, there are only 2 ways to look at this. First is that the German Security Service agree totally with the US paranoia, and are happy to feed them 'targets' that the BND could not legally track themselves. Second is that the top people in both government and the military want to keep America happy and will do whatever the US wants. Either way, the cat is clawing its way out of the bag. Instead of recriminations the question should be "How much paranoia is legitimate, and what rights and freedoms need to be given up to protect the nation?" That should be a decision of the People, not the Politicians of the Military. A previous article reported teh case of a young German who used Facebook to invite friends on a walk...and got visited by US and German authorities. Just how paranoid are these people that they are monitoring everyone? In light of the current situation one would think that they would at least lay low during the storm. But instead, they do things like that. Are they arrogant or stupid? Either way, it does not bode well for privacy or freedom. In fact it is a lot like the Stasi knocking on your East German door saying "We know what you are doing. We are watching you." It is up to free people to demand not only answers, but also dramatic change in how the Security Services operate.
extrainformation 07/17/2013
2. PRISM is a computer program
The PRISM in the NATO documents stands for Planning Tool for Resource, Integration, Synchronization, and Management. It's a "Web-based management and synchronization tool used to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of theater operations". Source: The PRISM mentioned in the Powerpoint presentation that Snowden leaked is probably the same or a closely-related computer program. The Director of National Intelligence said that "PRISM is not an undisclosed collection or data mining program. It is an internal government computer system used to facilitate the government's statutorily authorized collection of foreign intelligence information from electronic communication service providers under court supervision, as authorized by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) (50 U.S.C. § 1881a)." Source: So, PRISM isn't specifically about internet or telephone surveillance.
peskyvera 07/17/2013
3. optional
The more something is denied, the more we know it is true.
tsklinger 07/19/2013
4. #2 - PRISM is a computer program
Blah blah blah. I don't care what "PRISM" stands for, what that lying dirtbag Clapper says or what the so-called law is. Dress it up all you want with your propaganda - it doesn't change the fact that PRISM is used to spy on every last soul on earth. If the NSA doesn't have the capability to do that literally, it's working on it. FISA is unconstitutional on its face; it is a secretive court that has rubberstamped all but six of 1,000 requests for surveillance and is the very thing the founders of the US were trying to avoid. It is fascism on a global scale, and it must go.
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