Germany the Vassal State
Earlier this year, Germany’s attorney-general Harald Range has suspended the investigation into the NSA phone tapping affair. Due to Edward Snowden’s revelations, it had emerged that the NSA had wire-tapped even chancellor Merkel’s mobile phone. The reason for suspending the investigation? “We can’t prove it, and the Americans won’t tell us anything”.
You’re not alone, Angela!
Cartoon by Steve Bell
Of course documented proof does exist, and US officials have even admitted to tapping Ms. Merkel’s phone. Former CIA and NSA chief Michael Hayden brazenly declared in an interview with German news magazine “Der Spiegel” that he wasn’t prepared to apologize for tapping Merkel’s phone – he was only prepared to apologize for the fact that the activity had become public knowledge!
He couldn’t have made it any clearer that Germany is essentially a US vassal state.
Former NSA chief Hayden: Yo, vassals! This is how much power you have!
Photo credit: Luis M. Alvarez / AP Photo
Since then, a plethora of NSA and BND-related scandals (BND = Germany’s spook agency “Bundesnachrichtendienst”) has emerged. First it turned out that the BND has been given a list of so-called “selectors” by the NSA, which the agency used to spy extensively on European politicians and industries on behalf of the NSA. In other words, it is alleged that Germany’s BND has apparently carried out political and industrial espionage across Europe on a vast scale on behalf of the US. Let us just say to this that it seems extremely unlikely that any Islamic terrorists are hiding out at the board of directors of Airbus or in Francois Hollande’s or Angela Merkel’s cabinet.
Cartoon by Stuart Carlson
A parliamentary investigation committee in Germany hasn’t been able to unearth any tangible evidence for this either. According to the testimony of witnesses, millions of such selectors have accumulated over the years. Of those received by the BND since August 2013 alone, at least 13,000 were clearly directed against German interests, and several thousand had to be considered “legally problematic”. Alas, as the BND employee (a “Mr. T.”) charged with examining the selector list told the parliamentary committee:
“Of the entire process, neither written nor electronic proof exists. The original database of the selectors has been “erased”. The printout with the 2000 legally problematic search terms? Only one copy was made. There is no written report, no copies of the data, no back-up, nothing.
Mr. T.’s computer cannot be looked at either. According to T.’s statements, he used a computer on loan for his special mission. A laptop that wasn’t connected to the BND’s intra-net. Why? “The amount of data was too large”, T. explains. The computer he borrowed has moved to some other department a few months ago. Also, he never asked what had happened to his explosive findings.
How extremely convenient. Meanwhile, between the lines, Germany’s attorney-general sounded downright relieved when he announced he couldn’t pursue any of the NSA related investigations further.
Germany’s attorney-general Harald Range – he probably has never given as many interviews as last week.
Photo credit: picture alliance / dpa
“Netzpolitik” Journalists Investigated for Treason after Revealing the Machinations of the Spook Agency
A week ago, Hans-Georg Maassen, the president of Germany’s “Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution” (another spook agency) brought criminal charges against journalists working for the online publication “Netzpolitik”. Allegedly, the journalists are guilty of treason. Their offense? They reported on the spook bureaucracy’s plans to vastly expand internet surveillance of Germany’s citizens.
Hans-Georg Maassen, spotting treasonous activities in the distance.
Photo credit: John MacDougall / AFP
As Christian Stoecker writes in Der Spiegel:
“It sounds as if someone had made it up. Data from the innermost circles of power are flowing abroad, documents about secrets are becoming public. The chancellor can read her own telephone protocols on the internet. The secret service, which is supposed to engage in counter-espionage domestically, is evidently powerless. The attorney-general declares himself unable to investigate the perpetrators. He doesn’t have sufficient evidence.
This is the reality of the Federal Republic in 2015. Ministries and the chancellor herself have been wire-tapped, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution has utterly failed. The other large secret service, the BND, even cooperates with the likely perpetrators. Attorney-general Harald Range declares himself as unable to investigate.
But there is a different topic in connection with which the Office for the Protection of the Constitution and the attorney-general have proved to be considerably more agile: when it comes to intimidating journalists.
The attorney-general is now investigating two journalists of the blog Netzpolitik.org, which is specialized in the machinations of secret services, for suspected treason. The investigation is based on criminal charges brought by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution.
Based on confidential documents, Netzpolitik.org has twice reported on plans by the secret service to expand internet surveillance in Germany. This was undoubtedly embarrassing for the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, if probably not as embarrassing as the fact that while it wants to listen in on people itself, it cannot even protect members of the government against wire-tapping by others.”
The situation in short is this: When spook agencies themselves break the law, or are helping their spook friends from across the pond to break it, no investigations are possible. When journalists uncover a plot by the spooks to transform Germany into yet another Orwellian surveillance state, there suddenly seems to be plenty of willingness to investigate said journalists quite thoroughly and charge them with having committed a major offense.
Constitutional protection in action…
Never mind that it wouldn’t be possible to have even the tiniest shred of a democratic debate over the unbridled over-zealousness of the spook agencies if not for whistleblowers occasionally dragging some of their plans into the sunlight. Evidently, the spooks are not interested in democratic debate over their activities. They seem not to have realized yet that these days, “just trust us” is no longer enough.
Cartoon by Kostas Koufogiorgos
Scoring a Giant Own Goal
Luckily, this clumsy attempt at intimidating whistleblowers and journalists appears to backfiring mightily. German politicians, always acutely aware of the mood of voters, want to be reelected after all. So they were forced to react to the uproar these events have created over the past week or so. First Germany’s justice minister Heiko Maas informed attorney-general Rangel that he thought that the “Netzpolitik” reports didn’t represent treason. Now chancellor Merkel has also distanced herself from Mr Range, by announcing that Mr. Maas has her full support with respect to the issue.
Unfortunately for both of them, Mr. Range has decided that he doesn’t want to end up as the scape-goat. While deciding to put the investigation on ice for the time being, he let it be known that the justice minister’s intervention represented an “unbearable attack by politicians on the independence of the judiciary”. The above mentioned Mr. Maassen of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution is also back-pedaling, by pointing out that his criminal charges weren’t explicitly aimed at the Netzpolitik journalists, but against “persons unknown” (namely the whistleblowers inside the agency who conveyed the explosive documents to Netzpolitik).
Justice minister Heiko Maas: “Let me look….no, not good for re-election.”
Photo credit: Peter Rigaud
It seems that the people involved were all aware of how delicate and tricky the proceedings were and so tried to cover their behinds early on. However, someone has to be the fall guy, and Range seems to have been picked for this role. It remains to be seen if he actually falls. As he explains the situation, he was simply unable to act differently – after all, he couldn’t simply ignore a charge brought by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. And so he ordered an independent expert assessment that was supposed to clear up whether the documents concerned did in fact represent state secrets (apparently, the verdict was yes). Range was put in a bind, because he received conflicting orders from his assorted masters.
Regardless though of how it all shakes out in the end on the scape-goat level, Germany’s citizens should be relieved to learn that this attempt to intimidate whistleblowers has failed rather spectacularly. After all, even if Mr. Range’s actions were driven by necessity rather than by choice, one mustn’t loose sight of the fact that the charges attempted to do just that: they were meant to set an example, so as to get people to keep quiet about what the spooks are up to.
Obviously, a secret service has a lot of secrets, and many of them cannot be just revealed willy-nilly. While we personally believe that the statist system that produces such agencies is highly questionable by itself, we are trying to be realistic about this. For now, it is what it is. However, it should be blindingly obvious by now that the “Deep State” has abused the irrational terrorism paranoia that suffuses the Western world in order to expand its powers and reach well beyond its purported tasks.
Some worthless junk gets caught up in the nets …
Cartoon by Mike Thompson
The potential dangers of ubiquitous surveillance are far greater than the alleged benefits – in fact, as far as we can tell, the benefits have so far added up to a big fat zero. Putting in place an apparatus so obviously prone to abuse is dangerous for a number of reasons.
Firstly, one cannot rely on the political dispensation remaining benign. Secondly, when politicians themselves are routinely wiretapped, who’s to say they aren’t already blackmailed? This is precisely what former NSA employee Russell Tice has for instance alleged (and since Tice was the person breaking the original Bush wiretapping scandal, he seems a credible witness). Thirdly, when people feel they are under surveillance, they begin to exercise self-censorship. This a danger for civilization itself, as the free flow of ideas is an essential pillar on which it rests.