One of the profound revelations from the data released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was that in addition to spying on its own citizens, the NSA engaged in aggressive espionage on some of America's closest allies, most notably Angela Merkel and her Blackberry. It now turns out that Germany had been returning the favor.
According to Germany's Spiegel, Germany's foreign intelligence service had long spied on numerous official and business targets in the United States, including the White House. The magazine said it had seen documents showing that the intelligence service, the BND, had a list of some 4,000 so-called selector keywords for surveillance between 1998 and 2006. These included telephone or fax numbers, as well as email addresses at the White House as well as the US finance and foreign ministries.
Other monitoring targets ranged from military institutions including the US Air Force or the Marine Corps, space agency NASA to civic group Human Rights Watch. Additionally, hundreds of foreign embassies as well as international organisation like the International Monetary Fund were not spared, Spiegel said.
Germany reacted with outrage when information leaked Snowden revealed in 2013 that US agents were carrying out widespread tapping worldwide, including of Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone. Ironically, Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany where state spying on citizens was rampant, declared repeatedly that "spying among friends is not on" while acknowledging Germany's reliance on the US in security matters.
But to the great embarrassment of Germany, it later emerged that the BND helped the NSA spy on European allies. Berlin last June approved new measures, including greater oversight, to rein in the BND following the scandal.
In other words, spying was, is and will remain business as usual in a world where information is commoditized, and espionage is more valuable than ever. Of course, with the US relationship with Europe in general, and Germany in particular in a very sensitive position, we doubt this report will get much airplay in the popular US press.