Sunday 30 March 2014
Secret documents newly disclosed by the German newspaper Der Spiegel on Saturday shed more light on how aggressively the National Security Agency and its British counterpart have targeted Germany for surveillance.
A series of classified files from the archive provided to reporters by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, also seen by The Intercept, reveal that the NSA appears to have included Merkel in a surveillance database alongside more than 100 others foreign leaders. The documents also confirm for the first time that, in March 2013, the NSA obtained a top-secret court order against Germany as part of U.S. government efforts to monitor communications related to the country. Meanwhile, the British spy agency Government Communications Headquarters targeted three German companies in a clandestine operation that involved infiltrating the companies’ computer servers and eavesdropping on the communications of their staff.
Der Spiegel, which has already sketched out over several stories the vast extent of American and British targeting of German people and institutions, broke the news last October that Merkel’s cellphone calls were being tapped by the NSA – sparking a diplomatic backlash that strained US-Germany relations. Now a new document, dated 2009, indicates that Merkel was targeted in a broader NSA surveillance effort. She appears to have been placed in the NSA’s so-called “Target Knowledge Base“ (TKB), which Der Spiegel described as the central agency database of individual targets. An internal NSA description states that employees can use it to analyze “complete profiles“ of targeted people.
A classified file demonstrating an NSA search system named Nymrod shows Merkel listed alongside other heads of state. Only 11 names are shown on the document, including Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko, and Colombia’s Alvaro Uribe – the list is in alphabetical order by first name – but it indicates that the full list contains 122 names. The NSA uses the Nymrod system to “find information relating to targets that would otherwise be tough to track down,” according to internal NSA documents. Nymrod sifts through secret reports based on intercepted communications as well as full transcripts of faxes, phone calls, and communications collected from computer systems. More than 300 “cites” for Merkel are listed as available in intelligence reports and transcripts for NSA operatives to read.
But the NSA’s surveillance of Germany has extended far beyond its leader. Der Spiegel reporters Marcel Rosenbach and Holger Stark – together with The Intercept’s Laura Poitras – described a separate document from the NSA’s Special Source Operations unit, which shows that the Obama administration obtained a top-secret court order specifically permitting it to monitor communications related to Germany. Special Source Operations is the NSA department that manages what the agency describes as its “corporate partnerships” with major US companies, including AT&T, Verizon, Microsoft, and Google. The order on Germany was issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on March 7, 2013. The court issues annual certifications to the NSA that authorize the agency to intercept communications related to named countries or groups; it has provided similar authorization, Der Spiegel reported, for measures targeting China, Mexico, Japan, Venezuela, Yemen, Brazil, Sudan, Guatemala, Bosnia and Russia.